What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicines are known to be a effective alternative to traditional medication for treatment of certain ailments. The use of plants to treat human ailments and diseases abound in history. The use of herbal plants also forms the origin of several areas of modern medicine. Most conventional drugs today originate from plant sources aside from those that are produced artificially.

About a century ago, most of the few effective drugs that were available were plant based. Such good examples of plant-based medication include aspirin that was taken as an ingredient from willow bark.

Digoxin from foxglove, quinine from cinchona bark, and morphine from the opium poppy are also good examples of plant-based medicines. And as the study and development of newer drugs continues, drug companies also continue to look into the large scale pharmacological screening of herbs in order to isolate ingredients that become the new breed of medicines to combat a wide range of diseases.

Although the conventional understanding of herbal medicine and conventional pharmacotherapy may be similar in some points, both certain differences:

Use of whole plants

Practitioners of herbal medicine generally make use of whole and unpurified plant extracts containing several different ingredients. They believe that using herbal plants as a whole can work together synergistically and that the effect of the whole herb is greater than the effects of its components if separated.

Herbalists also believe that the toxicity of the medication is reduced when whole herbs are used instead of isolating only the active ingredients. Although it is often experienced that no two samples of a particular herbal medication may contain similar proportions of ingredients, practitioners still believe that this will not cause any clinical problem.

Herb Mixing

Herbalists often practice mixing several different herbs. They believe that the principles of synergy and buffering apply in combining herbal plants. It is claimed that mixing different herbs will even improve its effectiveness and can help reduce some adverse effects. This greatly contrasts with conventional pharmological practice, where mixing of different ingredient is generally avoided if possible.

Safety, efficacy, and suitability of medicinal herbs to treat certain diseases and ailments may all depend on the opinions of medical and health professionals in countries where herbal remedies are accepted and used.

In some countries, medical professionals only accept historical, empirical evidence as the only necessary standard for the use of herbal medicine in their treatments. Other countries would even ban all herbal remedies as dangerous or of questionable value because of lack of sufficient empirical evidence.

Many countries believe that treatment of serious diseases and ailments using an herbal formula may require the intervention of a medical professional to ensure a patient’s safety and health. An untried herbal medication not regulated by the concerned government agencies can prove to be a hazardous alternative if it is not investigated fully as to what its effect will be.