Herbal medicine, also known as herbalism, is a traditional medicinal practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. This discipline is also known under many other names such as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology and phytotherapy. Herbal medicine falls into the realm of folk medicine, which is typically gathered and transmitted informally as general knowledge. However, a couple of years ago, researchers identified that among 122 compounds used in mainstream medicine, which were derived from plant sources, as much as 80% of them were used in the same or related manner as in the folk medicine.
The philosophy of herbal medicine
Most of the modern herbalists explain beneficial herbal actions as the effect of secondary metabolites in the plant. Moreover, herbalists claim that no single ingredient of the herb enhances its therapeutic effects, but various active ingredients working in synergy may contribute to human’s health.
Herbalists use plant's seeds, leaves, bark, berries, roots or flowers to treat diseases and enhance the general health and wellbeing. For many years, herbalism was used completely outside of the conventional medicine but in the recent years, owing to the advances in clinical research, the herbal medicine is used along with the conventional medicine for the treatment and prevention of diseases.
Benefits of herbal medicine
Herbal medicine is used to treat many conditions. Most commonly, it is prescribed in treatment of dermatitis, asthma, premenstrual syndrome, arthritis, migraines, menopausal symptoms, persistent fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome.
The exact benefits of herbal medicine depend on the type of the herb used in treatment. For example, Ginko biloba, an herb most commonly used to treat circulatory disorders and enhance the memory also improves the blood circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets.
Kava kava, improves the mood, the subjective feeling of well-being and relaxation. It is very beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and other nervous disorders. Echinacea improves the immunity and decreases one’s odds of getting a cold by 58%. St. John's wort is a great antidepressant useful in the treatment of mild depression. Valerian, on the other hand, treats sleep problems but may provoke side effects such as morning drowsiness.
Side effects of herbal medicine
One of the greatest benefits of herbal medicine is that it usually has fewer side effects than conventional medicine. On the other hand, herbal products are unlabeled, and they often may contain additives and contaminants. When considering herbal medical treatment, one should seek for standardized herbal supplements and consult with the doctor first. Pregnant and lactating women should pay special attention.
The common misconception is that since herbs are natural they do not provoke any kind of side effects. However, this is not completely true, since herbs can be toxic in excessive amounts. Similarly, some people may experience allergic reactions or other undesired effects such as sleepiness, upset stomach and similar.