With the chemical invasion our bodies are constantly subjected to in the form of pollutants, more and more people are turning to natural or herbal sources of medication for a variety of ailments. Coupled with dissatisfaction at the cost of prescription medication and doctor visits, not to mention the chemical side-effects, there is an interest in returning to herbal or organic remedies.
Herbal medicines use plant or plant extract – root, leaf, bark or flower -- to effect a cure. These medications are available as pills, powders, capsules, teas, syrups, liquid extracts or even dried plants. In fact, the origin of most modern medicine can be predated to the use of plants for healing purposes. Willow bark, Echinacea, foxglove and cinchona bark are some common plant-based medications. African and Native American cultures used herbs in their healing rituals.
Why should I be aware of this?
Herbs are increasingly used for their natural efficacy. Herbal medicines cause no side-effects whatsoever. From skin problems to peptic ulcers to PMS, arthritis, insomnia, migraine and asthma – herbal medicine has a remedy for all ailments.
Herbal medicine and health
Ayurveda believes in everything that encourages the art of living in harmony with cosmic law. Mind, body and spirit are all interlinked, believes Ayurveda. Therefore, any healing that is undertaken on a physical level needs to address the patient as a whole. The oldest surviving medical system in the world encourages us to eat satvic type of food – wholesome fruits and vegetables – as opposed to tamasic, which is spicy, greasy, rich food.
According to Ayurveda, each living being in the universe is a combination of five basic elements – space, air, fire, water and earth -- called the panchamahabhootas. It is important to balance these elements in order to maintain good health. Each element corresponds to one aspect of our being – earth is the solid structure of our body; water is in all our body fluids; fire controls the functioning of our digestive enzymes; air denotes movement; and, space corresponds to spaces within the body. There are three doshas, or energy levels – vata, pitta and kapha – that play an important role in the maintenance of the body.
An Ayurveda physician will examine the tongue, eyes, pulse, skin and general appearance before arriving at a diagnosis. It involves diagnosis of the roga (disease) as well as the rogi (patient).
All about Herbal medicine
Conventional medicine Vs Herbal medicine
The foundation of herbal medicine is that the body is continually striving for balance and natural therapies support this process. There are a few significant ways in which herbal medicine differs from its conventional counterparts:
Use of the whole plant
Plant extracts that contain hundreds different constituents have been clinically shown to work work better for multifactorial conditions and offer a large margin of safety. The effect of the whole herb is greater than that of its individual parts, as different consituents potentiate each other.
In herbal medicine, herbs are also combined to increase their curative powers in concentration and potency. That this process is wholly natural and poses no health hazards to the user is another feather in the cap of herbal medicine.
Method of diagnosis
Practitioners of herbal medicine also use both traditional and modern methods to diagnose ailments. For eg. in treating arthritis, they focus on the ‘elimination habits’ of the individual. An accumulation of metabolic waste products is often seen as the underlying cause of the arthritic problem. In this case, a combination of herbs promoting the flow of bile and bowel motility, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties may be prescribed.
Practitioners of herbal medicine also take detailed case studies of the patient before they prescribe treatment. These details often include, apart from symptoms of the ailment the patient is currently suffering from, appetite, digestion, temperament, sleep patterns and other coexsiting health complaints. Diet and lifestyle factors apart, the doctors also take into account the emotional attitudes of the patient and recommend suitable changes to encourage holistic healing.
Getting to the root cause
Herbal medicine has a different treatment approach, in that, it focuses on the root problem rather than just treat symptoms, as in conventional modern medicine. The aim is to uncover the ‘underlying’ cause of the disease and promote general well-being.
The World Health Organization recently estimated that 80% of people the world over use some form of herbal medicine in their primary healthcare.
Treatment of Cancer
Advanced research done in US, Germany, France, Japan and China has considerably increased the efficacy of herbal medicine which now plays a vital role in prevention and treatment of cancer. The process is carried out by inhibiting cancer-activating enzymes, stimulating DNA repair mechanism, promoting production of protective enzymes, inducing antioxidant action and by enhancing activity of the immune cells.
What can I do about it?
- Although herbs are known to virtually no side-effects when compared to conventional medicine, some herbs can be very potent. Do not use such medication indiscriminately, or without the advice of a practitioner.
- Some herbs contain active ingredients that do not mix well with conventional medicine, so do mention all other prescription medication you are currently taking, so your doctor is able to work out a combination that does not cause negative interaction.
- Do not use herbal medicines for an extended period of time without the guidance of a practitioner.
Herbs can be dangerous and in some cases even fatal if used without proper guidance. Every plant and herb has a purpose, that purpose just may not have anything to do with medicinal remedies. Misidentification of plants poses one of such dangers. Some herbs look extremely alike and it takes a trained eye to identify the right one.
Also some plants have so many varied species that identification can be difficult. Some herbs are dangerous, some even poisonous and yet others which can be harmful if taken over a long period of time.
Some herbs which can cause harm are:
- Aconite is very toxic and there is no known antidote.
- Aloe can heal external wounds and burns, but dangerous when taken internally
- American or Black hellbore is a violent narcotic that effects the heart and can lead to death
- Angelica is carcinogenic. It can cause skin cancer
- Arnica can affect the heart when taken internally
- Autumn crocus in slightest over-doze can be lethal.
There are some unique herbs which help cleanse, purify, consecrate, and even protect your homes.
Frankincense and/or Myrrh – Can be used together or separately for protection, cleansing, and have been used during exorcisms. They bring peace, protection, and create sacred space.
Dragons blood - Used for purifying, protection, consecration, cleansing, and virility. This also is found in resin form, and a little goes a long way. It has a wonderful warm aroma.