The question ‘Is herbal medicine safe?’ is often asked. To be able to answer that question for you, it is best if you understand what herbal medicine actually is.
What Is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine is not just going to the pantry and shaking out some oregano and declaring you’re cured with you home made medicine. Actually, it is based from ancient forms of healing. Our ancestors used what was found in nature to heal and to prevent ailments with their own natural home remedies. Native Americans truly believed and still believe that all we need in life, Mother Earth will provide; meaning, there is no need to take synthetic pills to cure. What is interesting is that some synthetic drugs have been based on aspects of nature.
Not all herbs are created equal. Some herbs are not for human consumption. At least not the way they are presented in nature. Perhaps some of these have hidden properties, but they have not been discovered yet. It may be that they are only to be combined with certain properties to make them safe. That is one of the funny things about nature; you never can underestimate it and the powers that have yet to be uncovered. Some herbs are merely for spicing up that stew or to make your house smell better. However, some may truly have medicinal properties. A few examples of these herbs would be:
- Garlic – Garlic has been used in many cooking dishes, but it has shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Peppermint – Not only useful as a breath freshener but it also helps reduce nausea and flatulence.
- Ginger root – Also helps with nausea especially during morning sickness.
- Oats & Oat Straw – These wonder herbs are full of calcium and magnesium so they help relieve anxiety, restlessness, and irritated skin.
Eventually there was a thought that it was time to come up with standards for practical medicine and drugs. This was instilled to protect the general public from fraudulent drugs and doctors and hopefully protect them from further illness or even worse, death. It was not uncommon for a traveling “doctor” to come rolling into town with the new elixir that would cure everything from baldness to the intestinal disorder. However, many were later found to be nothing more then watered down whiskey or a combination of herbs and extracts. These standards are met during the production of modern medical medicines, but different when it comes to herbal medicines.
The standardization of dosage and purity is not mandated in the United States. What is interesting is that products made with herbs to the same specifications may still vary because the result of biochemical variations in the plant. Plants have chemical defense mechanisms against predators that may have lethal effects in humans. A couple of examples would be poison hemlock and nightshade; this is why these herbs are not available on the market. A couple of other cases of negative herb use include liver failure when black cohosh was ingested and chronic licorice ingestion which has led to major potassium depletion.
Are We, The Human Race, To Blame?
Once again, this could be a case of we are our own worse enemy. We tend to jump into things without doing the research beforehand, and there are cases with herbal medicine that seem to follow suit. Some patients will be taking medicine prescribed by their doctor that will lower blood pressure but then read an article that claims that a certain herb has been proven to do the same. They think it would be great to double up with both before consulting their doctor or herbalist and ingest both. This can result in dangerously low blood pressure which can be just has harmful as high blood pressure. It is known that some herbs and certain fruits interrupt with the cytochrome P450, which is vital in drug metabolism.
There are arguments on both sides of this issue. Herbal medicine seems to become more and more popular with not only followers of alternative medicine but also those who want to enhance their present lifestyle. Herbal medicine continues to prove safe and effective under proper use, and could be even more so if patients can bridge the gap between their modern medical practitioner and their desire to understand and hopefully benefit from herbal medicine.
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