Man has been using herbal medicine to heal himself since the beginning of time. The human race would not be here today if it were not for the healing power of plants. (Yes I did just put that entire sentence in italics!) Many of today’s modern pharmaceutical drugs are made from synthetically produced chemicals that were originally isolated from plants. For example salicylic acid from white willow bark, the synthetic analogue of which is aspirin. Morphine is extracted from the opium poppy.
In traditional herbal medicine, plants parts are usually used in their whole form rather than extracting specific active constituents. A single plant can contain hundreds of constituents and we do not yet know how many are active and how they interact as a group. By using the whole plant part we are getting the full synergistic effect of all elements of the plant. What this means is that the herb has a balancing effect on the body, easing it towards wellness by supporting its natural function.
For example, pharmaceutical diuretics (used to lower blood pressure) can often cause our potassium levels to drop so that people taking these drugs may need to take a potassium supplement to counteract this side-effect. Dandelion, on the other hand, is a herbal diuretic that does not have this side-effect because it actually contains potassium. We see this time and time again in herbs (and food) – nature bundles everything we need into a neat little package, so why start messing with it by taking bits out?
I don’t want to give the impression that all herbs are safe and anyone can take them. Some herbs are very strong and should only be used with the advice of a qualified herbalist. Many herbs interact with medications (some positively and some negatively). If you have a serious medical condition then I suggest you see a qualified health practitioner instead of trying to cure yourself with a nice cup of chamomile tea!
What I hope to highlight is that many herbs are safe and easy to use and can be kept as a herbal first aid kit for you and your family to use for minor ailments. Instead of running to the doctor for antibiotics at the first sign of a sniffle, become comfortable with the many natural alternatives that are out there (probably just lying around your house).