Herbs for Health

Herbal remedies have their roots in ancient cultures. Herbalism involves the medicinal use of plants to enhance general health and wellbeing and to treat diseases. There are over 750,000 plants on Earth but only a few of these have been studied scientifically in depth.

Conventional medicine and pharmacology look for the active ingredient or ingredients in a plant and seek to isolate each one. Therefore most of the research that is done on plants focuses on identifying and isolating active ingredients, rather than studying the medicinal properties of whole plants.

However it is often the interactions of the constituents in a pant that provide its effectiveness and this is only rarely explored by modern scientific research. Much of what we know about the qualities of plants and how they work on the human body comes from the depth of experience that has been built up by actual work with the herbs (and in this sense is true empirical medicine). This is often based on traditional uses for the herbs that have been handed down through the generations. It has frequently been borrowed from traditional cultures and then further explored and extended by present day herbalists.

Herbalists use the leaves, flowers, stems, berries, and roots of plants to prevent, relieve, and treat illness. From a scientific research perspective, many herbal treatments are considered experimental. However, herbal medicine has a long and respected history.

Many familiar medications of the twentieth century were developed from ancient healing traditions that treated health problems with specific plants. For example, Vincristine (an anti-tumor drug), digitalis (a heart regulator), and ephedrine (a bronchodilator used to decrease respiratory congestion) were all originally discovered through research on plants. These plants had been used in traditional herbal approaches, in some cases, for centuries before they were 'discovered' by scientific research.

Similarly traditionally used herbs could have impact on infectious diseases. For example, the Chinese herbal remedy Artemisia annua, used in China for almost 2000 years has been found to be effective against resistant malaria and could create a breakthrough in preventing almost one million deaths annually, most of them children, from severe malaria.

In South Africa, the Medical Research Council is conducting studies on the efficacy of the plant Sutherlandia Microphylla in treating AIDS patients. Traditionally used as a tonic, this plant may increase energy, appetite and body mass in people living with HIV.

There is much that herbs are able to do for the improvement of health and the treatment of diseases. The modern drugs Vincristine, digitalis and ephedrine all have the potential for serious side effects and can indeed be lethal and if you are taking these drug you need to know about the drug, how it works and its potential side effects. It is the same for herbs and although many are essentially safe you need to understand what it is that you are taking and exercise reasonable precautions.

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The Health Gazette

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