Herbal medicine, also called as Herbalism, is a research and use of the medicinal abilities of plants. Herbal Medicine or Herbalism ranges from fungal substances to minerals, animal parts etc. The study that involves all medicines obtained from natural resources is called Pharmacognosy. Herbalism has many other synonyms such as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbology or phytotherapy, which is the use of plants to cure human ailments.
History of Herbal Medicine or Herbalism
The use of plants as medications started much before written human history. Many of the herbs and spices used by us for food also have the ability to give out useful medicinal compounds. Studies reflect that spices are highly used in tropical climate as pathogens in those conditions are abundant and the spices selected have the most effective antimicrobial activity. Many of the common weeds such as "nettle", "chickweed", etc. have medicinal properties.
There is a huge amount of archaeological evidence indicating that human beings were using plants as medicines during the Paleolithic Age.
Understanding Herbal Medicine or Herbalism
Herbs have the capability to amalgamate broad range of chemical substances that perform important biological activities. They also defend against attacks from insects, fungus, herbivorous animals etc. Many of these chemicals are beneficial for health when taken by humans and have the ability to be effective in treating a variety of diseases. Chemical ingredients in plants affect the human body through chemical processes that are similar to those chemical compounds that are used in normal medications. Thus, it can be said that herbal medicines are not too different from conventional drugs when one talks about their functioning. This makes herbal medicines as effective as normal standard medications.
Modern Herbal Medicine or Herbalism
The use of herbal medicine or herbalism for treatment of diseases is widespread among nonindustrialized communities.
Many of the medications currently used by practitioners have a history of being used as herbal medications. Some of the medications are opium, aspirin, quinine etc.
According to an estimation done by WHO, around 80% of people in some of the countries in Asia and Africa use herbal medicine or herbalism for primary healthcare. Also modern medications used are extremely expensive for almost everyone whereas herbal medicines can be grown from seed or obtained from natural resources at little or no cost.
The use of drugs and dietary supplements obtained from plants has skyrocketed recently. According to another estimation done by the WHO, 25% of modern drugs used in the USA are obtained from plants.
Philosophy of Herbal Medicine or Herbalism
The philosophy of herbal medicine has four approaches to the use of plants as a medication. The following are the approaches:
- The Magical: In this approach, the practitioner is regarded as a person who has god gifted powers that allows him/her to use herbs in such a way, which is unknown to a person, that it affects the soul of the person.
- The Energetic: This approach includes Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, etc. Herbs are looked upon as having actions which affect the energy of the body. The practitioner usually has extensive training in it.
- The Functional Dynamic: This approach was used by early Physio-Medical practitioners. In this approach, it is believed that herbs perform a function, which may not be connected to a compound, but may be linked to a physiological action.
- The Chemical: In this approach, the practitioners called Phytotherapist, try to explain actions of herbs related to their chemical ingredients. It is generally believed that a specific combination of metabolites in the herb is responsible for its action. This phenomenon is called "synergy".
Benefits of Herbal Medicine or Herbalism
- Herbal medicines very rarely cause side effects. In fact, a lot of herbal medications are used to treat those people who have had allergic reactions or suffer from allergies.
- People using herbal medications do not get dependent on it. Herbal medications do not have any constituents that are habit forming.
- These medications are much safer than conventional medications. They are found in nature and do not have the ingredients that causes an individual to become habituated to it.
- They are more affordable than conventional medications because they are obtained from natural resources and are abundant in nature.