There are so many herbs to choose from, and all are unique in what they offer. Here we provide a very general guideline as to the theory behind their use for medicinal purposes.
The use of naturally occurring medicines for health is called “herbalism.” Most such medicines come from plants, although other substances are also included, such as honey.
We know that medicinal treatments have been practiced since the days of the cavemen. All over the world, archeologists have found evidence that ancient man used herbs as medicine, from the Sumerians to ancient Egypt and India to the New World.
Early shamans likely observed animals changing their food preferences when feeling ill, nibbling at plants that they had previously rejected. Humans experimented with these to improve their own health.
Today, researchers are more scientific, trying to isolate in a lab the particular part of a plant that creates a beneficial effect. In both cases, however, it is work done over time that produces remedies counted on by the ill and injured.
Literally thousands of herbs are said to have some medicinal properties, but the basic biochemistry tends to be divided into a few specific categories.
Alkaloids (like caffeine) affect the central nervous system. Polyphenols (like those found in pomegranates) are said to increase mental cognition and perhaps longevity, among other attributes.
Terpenoids serve as expectorants and humectants, and can be used to treat conditions like bronchitis. Glycosides can help expel poisons and toxins from the body.
Herbal medicine is still common in the developing world, where access to pharmaceutical alternatives can be undependable and expensive. However, even in the developed world, medicinal herbs are becoming more common.
In Europe, herbal remedies are more accepted by the mainstream and are made available to the public alongside modern drugs.
In the United Kingdom, medicinal herbalists are trained in state-funded universities. Moreover, the BBC offers a TV program that shows viewers how they can grow their own drugs.
Drug development often utilizes knowledge of herbs and their healing properties to determine avenues for future research.
One of the most commonly-known examples began when someone thousands of years noted that willow bark seemed to help with pain relief and other remedies.
Over time, the bark was studied, the development of acetylsalicylic acid commenced, and Bayer AG began marketing it as “aspirin.” Now it can be found in most medicine cabinets worldwide.
As the medicinal properties of herbs are currently being studied, both the results and the opinions about the validity of the process are varied. There is also the issue of regulation in many parts of the world and determining who is responsible for the accuracy of the claims made and any detrimental properties that also may be a risk.
But one thing is for sure: more and more people are turning to the medicinal properties of herbs to cure whatever is ailing them today.
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