Herbal medicine, also called herbalism, herbology or phytotherapy is the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Archaeologists have found evidence of the use of medicinal plants dating back over 60,000 years to the Palaeolithic era. Written evidence has been found from the Sumerians and also Indians who listed medicinal plants over 5,000 years ago.
Ancient cultures from all around the world have left records of the use of plants to treat illness and to promote health. Medical papyri have been found in Egyptian tombs. From Egypt western knowledge of herbal medicine spread to Greece. By 100 B.C the Greeks already had a well developed herbal based theory that related herbs to different temperaments, seasons and elements such as Earth, Fire and Water. The Romans took over this knowledge and added much knowledge themselves.
Evidence from the East also shows that herbalism has been practiced there since ancient times. Archaeologists have found evidence of these practices in China at sites that date from the Shang Dynasty over 1500 years before the birth of Christ. Over 224 medicinal plants and preparations have been found in early Chinese medical text many of which form the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine still practiced today. In India herbal knowledge can be found in Ayurvedic medicine which was recorded in sacred Indian texts knows as Vedas dating back as much as 5000 years. It is estimated that up to 90% of the population of India still use forms of Ayurvedic medicine today. The World Health Organization has estimated that as much as 80% of people in Africa and Asia use herbal medicine as an important part of their primary health care today. The market for herbal products and supplements in present day America is in excess of $2 Billion a year.
There are many benefits to using herbal medicine. Modern medicine often treats only the symptoms whereas herbal remedies are designed to treat the underlying cause. Practitioners of herbal medicine look at the person holistically taking health, diet and lifestyle factors into account before choosing a treatment. Herbal remedies are used to restore the body to its natural state of balance and health and also to promote general well being. Herbal preparations usually contain a variety of herbs that have been chosen to work synergistically thus enhancing the effect. Modern medicines tend to simplify both the person and the ailment and often different medicines clash causing serious and sometimes even fatal interactions. Herbal medicines, however, generally work very well both with other herbal preparations and with other prescription drugs.
Cost is another excellent reason to look at herbal alternatives. Whereas Americans can spend up to $2 Billion on herbal remedies they spend ten times more on prescription medication. Herbal remedies have also been found to have far fewer side effects and are also available without an expensive visit to a doctor in order to get a script.
Herbs can be used to treat a very wide range of problems – only some examples are listed below.
Heart Disease – Garlic, Kelp, Alfalfa
Digestive Problems – Caraway, Chicory, Clove, Ginger, Red Pepper, Rosemary
Respiratory Problems- Gingko, Horehound, Dandelion, Eucalyptus, Thyme
Skin Problems- Allspice, Aloe, Basil, Mint and Turmeric