History of Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine is the oldest form of healthcare known to mankind. Herbs had been used by all cultures throughout history. It was an integral part of the development of modern civilization. Primitive man observed and appreciated the great diversity of plants available to him. The plants provided food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Much of the medicinal use of plants seems to have been developed through observations of wild animals, and by trial and error. Indeed, about 25% of the prescription drugs dispensed in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from plant material. Some are made from plant extracts; others are synthesized to mimic a natural plant compound.
Prior to the discovery and subsequent synthesis of antibiotics, the herb echinacea (which comes from the plant commonly known as purple coneflower) was one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the United States. For centuries, herbalists prescribed echinacea to fight infection. Today, research confirms that the herb boosts the immune system by stimulating the production of disease-fighting white blood cells.
The use of plants as medicine is older than recorded history. Marshmallow root, hyacinth, and yarrow have been found carefully tucked around the bones of a Stone Age man in Iraq. These three medicinal herbs continue to be used today. Marshmallow root is a demulcent herb, soothing to inflamed or irritated mucous membranes, such as a sore throat or irritated digestive tract. Hyacinth is a diuretic that encourages tissues to give up excess water. Yarrow is a time-honored cold and fever remedy that may once have been used much as aspirin is today.
Throughout the Middle Ages, home-grown botanicals were the only medicines readily available, and for centuries, no self-respecting household would be without a carefully tended and extensively used herb garden. For the most part, herbal healing lore was passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Mother taught daughter; the village herbalist taught a promising apprentice.
By the seventeenth century, the knowledge of herbal medicine was widely disseminated throughout Europe. In 1649, Nicholas Culpeper wrote A Physical Directory, and a few years later produced The English Physician. This respected herbal book was one of the first manuals that the layperson could use for health care, and it is still widely referred to and quoted today. Culpeper had studied at Cambridge University and was meant to become a great doctor, in the academic sense of the word. Instead, he chose to apprentice to a pharmacist and eventually set up his own shop. He served the poor people of London and became known as their neighborhood doctor. The herbal he created was meant for the layperson.
Administering Herbal Treatment
Herbs and prepared herbal compounds are available in different forms with their own particular characteristics. Your health food store will have individual herbs as well as complex herbal formulations, including raw herbs, tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, lozenges, and ointments. Here's a look at what's available.
If the label says tincture, the preparation contains alcohol. In a tincture, alcohol is employed to extract and concentrate the active properties of the herb. Alcohol is also a very effective natural preservative. Because the body easily assimilates a tincture, it is a very effective way to administer herbal compounds. Tinctures are concentrated and cost-effective. However, the full taste of the herb comes through very strongly in a tincture. Children and adults may find the taste of some herbs unpleasant. Goldenseal, for example, is bitter tasting.
Another concern when using tinctures is the presence of the alcohol. If you wish to lessen the amount of alcohol in a tincture before giving it to your child, mix the appropriate dose with one-quarter cup of very hot water. After about five minutes, most of the taste of the alcohol will have evaporated away, and the mixture should be cool enough to drink.
Extracts can be made with alcohol, like tinctures, or the essence of the herb can be leached out with water. When purchasing a liquid extract of an herb, the only way to be certain of the extraction process (alcohol or water) is to read the label. Extracts offer essentially the same advantages and disadvantages that tinctures do. They are the most concentrated form of herbal treatment and therefore the most cost-effective. They are easy to administer, but have a strong herbal taste.
Capsules and Tablets
Capsules and tablets contain a ground or powdered form of raw herb. In general, there seems to be little difference between the two in terms of clinical results. Because finely milled herbs degrade quickly, it is important that herbs be freshly ground and then promptly encapsulated or tabeleted, within twenty-four hours of being powdered. When making your selection, read the label to make sure fresh herbs have been used in the product. With the exception of certain herbal concentrates in capsule form, both capsules and tablets tend to be much less strong and potent than tinctures and extracts.
There are many delicious blends of herbal teas on the shelves of your health food store; they need no introduction here. You'll find loose herbs ready for steeping, herbal formulations aimed at specific conditions, and convenient pre-bagged teas. Some are just for sipping; some are medicinal. When your child is ill, a comforting cup of herbal tea (medicinal or not) is a wonderful way to give additional liquids.
Herbal-based, nutrient-rich, naturally sweetened lozenges are readily available in most health food shops. You'll find cold-fighting formulas, natural cough suppressants, some with decongestant properties. Many are boosted with natural vitamin C. Choose lozenges made without refined sugar.
Ointments, Salves, and Rubs
From calendula ointment (for broken skin and wounds) to goldenseal (for infections, rashes, and skin irritations) to aloe vera gel (to cool and speed the healing of minor burns, including sunburn) to heat-producing herbs (for muscle aches and strains), there's a wealth of topical herbal-based products on the market. Your selection will depend on the condition you are treating.
Echinacea is best known for its immune enhancing ability, but has proven very effective in many other areas as well.
· Colds, coughs and flu and other upper respiratory conditions
· Enlarged lymph glands, sore throat
· Urinary tract infections
· Other minor infections
· May help combat herpes and candida
· Wounds, skin regeneration and skin infections (external use)
· Psoriasis, eczema and inflammatory skin conditions (external use)
Echinacea stimulates the immune system and promotes T-cell activation while it increases the activity of the immune system. It helps white blood cells attack germs and these effects may decrease if taken for more than a few weeks.
Echinacea is generally not recommended for use by people with diseases of the immune system such as HIV, multiple sclerosis, or tuberculosis. The German government recommends against using Echinacea if you have these conditions. Some researchers believe that Echinacea could actually worsen these immune system problems.
Even though there are some restrictions on taking Echinacea the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
||Medicinal Herb Garden at Dauset Trails features Echinacea, Basil and Luffa (pictured from front to back) as well as Burdock, Calendula, Cayenne Pepper, Elecampane, Flax, Garlic, Chamomile, Lemon Balm
Marshmallow, Mint, Motherwort, Rosemary, Stinging Nettle, Valerian, Wood Betony, and Yarrow.|