Herbal medicine is arguably the oldest form of medicine and has been used by man for millennia.
Herbal medicine is the use of plant materials to enhance well being and treat disease. Today, people all over the world are still using herbal remedies, which have been past down through the generations, which increasingly, scientific research is validating.
Herbs are used as medicines for both man and beast, they are used to flavour food, enhance taste and are common ingredients in natural skin care products, soaps, potpourris, ointments, food and many other areas of human life. They have even found their way into remedies for our pets and livestock.
Up until about 200 years ago, before western medicine was conceived of, herbal remedies where the only medicine available to man for treatment of illnesses and diseases. The Chinese and Egyptians developed traditional systems of medicine (Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, respectively) which incorporate a systematic approach to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Since the early 19th century, methods of chemical analysis became more sophisticated and chemists began making their own synthetic versions of the ingredients originally found in herbs, beginning the transition from raw herbs to synthetic pharmaceuticals.
Today, pharmaceutical companies are still heavily researching herbs/plants for ‘new medicines’ that may prove useful in treating many of today’s diseases, for which orthodox medicine has little or no answers.
Since the advent of drug manufacture, users of pharmaceutical drugs have increasingly experienced more and more side-effects as well as resistance to these modified forms of medications.
This begs the question, why try to fix something, when it’s not broken? Herbal medicine is working as well today as it has for hundreds of years and with respect to side-effects, herbal medicine causes far fewer adverse reactions and related health problems than their synthetic counterparts. In addition, herbal medicines are more easily tolerated because the constituents are not of a synthetic type, which are known to have potential long term, and sometimes irreversible side effects.
This is not to say that taking any old herb is safe, far from it. Herbal medicines need to be treated with great respect and due diligence, as they too can cause harm if not used appropriately. However, herbal medicines in general do not pose the same risks of side-effects or adverse reactions as their synthetic counterparts. The human metabolism is designed to metabolise naturally occurring substances, and is not always able to metabolise synthetic drugs fully, potentially causing a myriad of health problems and occasionally deadly side-effects.
Choosing a good, qualified medical herbalist can present a challenge, as this profession is not well regulated in many countries. It is important therefore to make sure that the herbalist you seek is a member of a professional association. In Australia there are several associations such as ANTA, ATMS, and others. Europe, Canada and the US also have professional associations that will be able to help in finding a qualified, reputable medical herbalist.
It is important to take time and care in choosing the right herbalist - your health and wellbeing depends on it.
By Dr Danny T. Siegenthaler DTCM, DAc, BSc (Hons)
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