Medicinal herbs and plants, however, gathered for the production both of modern drugs and of herbal remedies are not generally found in garden cultivation, but are gathered from the wild in many countries throughout the world, or cultivated in commercial plantings for specific purposes. Their use in the manufacture of medicinal drugs is limited as this method aims to make synthetic replicas of the active ingredients by chemical means. In contrast, great volumes of raw herbs and plants are required for drying for herbal teas, for powder used in tablets or for the liquid plant extracts which provide the bottled medicines we find in health food shops and in herbal dispensaries.
Professional herbalists have the responsibility of undertaking considerable study in order to learn which herbs are best prescribed and in what doses, as well as learning the cautions which are required as to those plants which are best avoided. Their professional recommendation is therefore generally advised.
Each herbal substance possesses specific properties, whether it is the root, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits or seeds or the whole plant itself. There can be some variance in the quantities and qualities of these properties, depending upon the growing conditions and methods used in plant production. Appropriate information is detailed, for the benefit of consumers, upon the label of every product.
Constituents of Medicinal Herbs:
The most well known medicinal herbs have been thoroughly researched as to their active constituents. This information provides us with a reason why these plants have been satisfactorily used in traditional medicine for so many centuries but this is not the only reason. It is because when the plant substances are administered in their entire form with the organic chemicals arranged and proportionate to nature’s recipe, it provides a natural balance and a mysterious ‘x’ factor or life factor, known as ‘synergy’ which no amount of analysis or scientific investigation has been able to explain. Isolating the identified ‘active constituents’ is not as effective as methods which keep the plant whole.
Herbalists depend upon their herbal material being of high quality, organically grown where possible. It is either dried for use in teas, powdered for tablets or produced as liquid extracts or medicinal tinctures. These methods guarantee their success in healing as the vital ingredients are supported by other properties which provide a safe chemical balance with no ‘side effects’.
As well as the mineral, vitamin and protein content of plants the most important of the active constituents found in medicinal herbs fall into certain categories, each with special function in healing.
Phenols – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant and perhaps antiviral.
Flavonoids – help circulation, are antioxidant and protect the liver.
Volatile Oils – from which come our essential oils each with a wide variety of applications.
Tannins – these astringent plants are used to stop bleeding and check any infection.
Coumarins – have a wide range of actions some keeping the blood the and in others are muscle relaxants.
Saponins – similar to chemicals in body hormones, oestrogen and cortisol – caution is required. Proanthocyanins – compounds which are antioxidant and help the heart and circulation Anthraquinones – these have irritant laxative action used to ease bowel movements.
Glycosides – cyanogenic, in high doses are poisonous – but in small doses to treat cancer and lung problems.
Glycosides – cardiac, affect the heart and also are diuretic.
Polysaccharides – in roots, bark and seeds soothe irritations and some help the immune system. Glucosilinates – found only in the brassicas – radish, cabbages etc.
Bitters – stimulate the salivary glands and digestive organs to improve appetite.
Alkaloids – give mixed reactions – with a strong effect in pain relief but care must be used to avoid negative reactions.
Generally the herbalist relies upon the traditional uses as a basis for prescribing herbal medicine or herbal supplements. Because most herbs have a wide range of therapeutic use, both external and internal, there may sometimes be a confusion or even an apparent contradiction as to choice of a remedy. For example, thyme, is a natural antiseptic, but also relieves headaches and gotu kola can be applied externally to eczema or as a tonic for brain and nervous system. Traditional uses often vary in the different countries of their origin.
However, many herbs remain in the Materia Medica used by orthodox doctors and so can be referenced there as well as in the Herbal Materia Medica now available from Britain. Research into herbs is also very advanced in Australia and some European countries. In addition, the extensive research commenced by the Russians may soon be available to the west. The ancient systems of both Chinese medicine and the Indian Ayurveda are becoming known to us to add further growth and a new dimension to the healing sciences.
For those who wish to avoid modern medicinal drugs and the side effects which are common to all of them, safe herbal medicine is the answer. When used as a supplement to a healthy diet with plenty of naturally produced fresh fruit, salads, vegetables, nuts and grains it provides a natural way of supplying the body with the variety of elements required both in maintaining physical health and relieving any symptoms of illness.
Public confidence in using herbs as a safer and more natural alternative to the artificially produced drugs is growing steadily. Millions are now enjoying the benefits of a healthier and more natural lifestyle as their health is gradually built up and physical discomforts diminish.