Herbal medicine is the use of plant and herb extracts for their therapeutic value. Most plants contain and produce chemical substances that aid in healing and other physical treatments.
Herbal medicine is the oldest form of healthcare and constitutes a key role in the development of modern medicine as we know it today. Back when technology was still unheard of, primitive men utilised the vast flora around them to the fullest extent, observing both plant and animal life and their components, eventually giving birth to herbal medicine. In a study by the World Health Organization on herbal medicine use, about 80% of the world's populace still rely on herbal medicine to cure certain ailments and about 74% of the drugs we use today contain at least one botanical element. For instance, Chinese Herbal Medicine's use of ephedrine to cure respiratory conditions still exists in the present time. Ephedrine remains an active ingredient in most of the commercial drugs that are being prescribed to relieve asthma symptoms.
Herbal medicine is defined by three schools of thought: Ayurvedic Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Herbalism and Western Herbal Medicine. While both Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine have moved on to advanced forms, western herbal medicine remains a part of folk treatments. Herbal medicine is, first and foremost, holistic. It aims to address not just a particular symptom, but also to help the whole body rejuventate strengthen itself. And while there is no scientific evidence that all herbal medicines claiming to have healing powers are actually effective, the number the herbal medicines that have been placed under clinical testing have proved their worth. The list of known kinds includes echinacea, which is used to temper colds, St John's wort, used to treat mild depression (without using Prozac), and hawthorne berries, which help in the recovery process from mild heart failures.
Is herbal medicine a direct substitute to modern medication? It depends. While herbal medicines are extracted naturally from plants, not all are safe to use; particularly if they are taken with other types of treatments that may not be complementary. Also, herbal medicine is often used only for mild ailments. If the symptoms are more serious, it is best to consult a trained practitioner of herbal medicine who can tell you which ones are appropriate and recommend dosage levels and frequency. Presently, most of the recommended herbal medicines fall outside of standard drug regulations, thus, not all of their claims to fame are guaranteed and true. And even as common sense tells us that herbal medicine has been around for thousand of years, giving an impression that it is quite an authority, it is not recommended to self-diagnose.
Always keep in mind that herbal medicines are still medicines and, therefore, share the likelihood of having side effects as regular commercial drugs. Some of us have this misconception that because herbal medicines are natural, they are 100% safe. This is not true all the time. The best defense against the possible side effects herbal medicines might give is to educate ourselves with the basics on the herbal medicine in question and to use it with caution.