Herbal medicine: how does it work?

Being familiar with the different forms of herbal supplements can help you make the best choice for your personal use.


Healing with herbs is the oldest therapy in the world and remains the medicine on which many countries, including China and India, largely rely. Herbalists in the western tradition combine the examination methods of conventional medicine with a "mind and body" approach to diagnosis and treatment. The results can be remarkable.

The underlying aim of all herbal medicine is to restore the body to a state in which it is better able to heal itself. The right herbs can promote health by correcting imbalances within the body. In this �holistic� approach, the aim is not simply to relieve your complaint, but also to improve your overall health and vitality by encouraging your body to work as efficiently as possible.

A herbal practitioner will usually do more than prescribe herbs for an illness. As part of the treatment he will also make recommendations about changing your diet and lifestyle and reducing the amount of stress in your life. The goal is to prevent, as well as to treat, illness.

Herbal medicine has been in use since prehistoric times and is known to have flourished in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. It has enjoyed a renaissance in the west in the last century. In controlled laboratory experiments, scientists have documented how a number of herbs traditionally used by herbalists have important medicinal properties. The herbs in question include garlic for combating heart disease and St John�s wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is used to treat depression. With such scientific reassurance, there has been increasing interest in herbal medicine among the pharmaceutical manufacturers Infact, they have been scrutinizing �phytochemicals� � the hundreds of thousands of substances contained within the plant world � in their quest to find new drugs.


The approach to healing with herbal medicine is different in many ways from that of  conventional medicine. It aims to work with the body, to gently nudge it into balance rather than attempting to actively tip the scales. For example, in the case of a fever, conventional doctors advise taking drugs such as aspirin or Paracetamol to suppress the temperature. However, herbalists take the view that a fever can sometimes be helpful, not harmful � it is one of the body�s natural defense mechanisms. Many harmful bacteria and viruses are known to be compromised and even killed by a higher than normal body temperature. The herbal medicine approach is to encourage a cleansing sweat so that the fever is not suppressed. At the same time, the fever is treated to prevent it from becoming dangerously high.


Similarly, in the case of food poisoning, vomiting and diarrhoea are considered by herbalists to be effective protective mechanisms. They allow the body to quickly rid itself of any harmful organisms in the digestive tract. Unlike conventional medicine, which would recommend drugs to halt diarrhea and vomiting, herbal medicine aims to control these symptoms by recommending medicines that inhibit absorption from the digestive tract. The object is to make it more difficult for any harmful agent to enter and circulate throughout the bloodstream. As in conventional medicine, the patient would be encouraged to drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration; however, the diarrhoea or vomiting would not be completely



Herbs are nutritional foundation nutrients and good alternative medicine to nourish the body's deepest and most basic elements. Medicinal herbs have been used safely and effectively since the time of recorded history, for an endless list of reasons from health, healing, weight loss/gain/maintenance, to survival and more. Herbs can offer the body nutrients it does not always receive, either from a poor diet, or environmental deficiencies in the soil and air. They are great body balancers that help regulate body functions.


The orthodox medical approach is to identify and isolate the �active ingredient� within a plant, then to artificially synthesize it for formulation into a drug. However, herbalists believe that it is important to prescribe the whole herb: the balance of substances within a whole herb or a mixture of whole herbs works as a combination to heal � in other words, that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The belief is that the components of a herb will balance one another � one part can modify the potentially harmful effects caused by another part.


A herbalist would argue that, in much the same way as vitamins, minerals and other nutritional supplements can never replace whole foods, an isolated active ingredient is a crude and poor substitute for the gentler healing power of the complete herb. What is more, the whole herb is safer because the dose it delivers of any one active ingredient will be much lower than if the ingredient were isolated and formulated into a drug.

Your body views plants as food and utilizes them very efficiently, taking almost all the valuable active principles and organic compounds right into your body's cells. In contrast, your body does not recognize synthetic drugs as food and often utilizes only 5 to 10% of what you take in, leaving the rest to float around in your bloodstream and cause unpleasant side effects.


Herbal supplements are available in several convenient forms and are safe and effective when used according to package directions; they are not mysterious at all, just a natural, healthy aid to achieving optimum health.

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