The term herb refers to a plant used for medicinal purposes. The medicinal benefits of herbs have been known for centuries. Man has always been dependent on herbs.
The healing properties of herbs have not changed through the centuries – what was a healing herb a few hundred years ago is still a healing herb today. Many of the benefits of herbs are not so much based on scientific study but rather on the consistent observations made by practitioners through the centuries.
In China, herbal therapy is the most important traditional treatment method today. We are now seeing an increased acceptance and popularity of herbal use in Western countries.
The recognition of their worth is widely increasing as many people seek greater understanding of their body and mind and thereby assume more responsibility for their own health and well being. Herbal medicines have soared in popularity. People are looking for safe, effective and time-proven medicine.
While herbs are usually milder than synthetic drugs and have fewer side effects, they are neither completely safe nor poisonous. Some are even dangerous if taken improperly or for extended periods of time.
Most problems stem from overuse and misuse. Herbs, when properly used, are safe, gentle and effective. Herbs should be treated like other medicines in that it is important to follow the recommended dosages.
Herbs are not under the same strict control as pharmaceutical drugs. Herbal preparations can vary widely, making the concentration of ingredients often inconsistent.
Toxic impurities have been found in some cases. You should be careful in using herbal products because they are largely unregulated meaning there are no guidelines to ensure dosage, purity or safety of the herbs.
Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 that limits government control over these products. The act reclassified herbs as dietary supplements which means that herbs are not subject to premarket approval and human clinical trials.
If you take herbal supplements, inform your physician of the type and dose to determine whether there is a risk in taking the herb or of an interaction with other medications you may be taking.
It is inappropriate to take any kind of medication-herbal or not- without first seeing a doctor and getting the right diagnosis.
Traditional doctors and pharmacists may have little training in herbal medicine, if that is the case ask your practitioner for a reference to an alternative practitioner.
Practitioners with knowledge of herbs include herbalists, homeopaths, naturopaths, osteopaths, chiropractors and doctors of Oriental medicine.
Choosing the Right Herb
Herbs include leaves, bark, berries, roots, gums, seeds, stems and flowers. They can also be found in the form of tablets, capsules, liquid beverages, bark pieces, powders, tinctures, fluid extracts, creams, lotions, salves, and oils.
Your basic safeguard is to look for the word “standardized” on the label. Labels on a standardized product state the content of active constituents versus drug concentration ratio, assuring a consistent dose. Standardized products in any form are your best bet.
The next thing to look for is how fresh the herb is. The fresher the herb, the better. Light, moisture and air rob herbs of their effectiveness. Tinctures are another good choice, which does a good job in preserving the plant. Capsules made from freeze-dried herbs are superior to air-dried herbs. Skip the loose herbs sold in bulk, they are likely to have lost all their medicinal properties.
Before using any herb, it is important that you follow these important guidelines:
- Do not self-diagnose. Be sure you have received a correct diagnosis from a conventional doctor before seeking alternative care. Proper medical care is critical to good health. Be cautious of those who call themselves an “herbalist,” “herb doctor,” “health counselor,” or “master herbalist.” These job titles are not regulated.
- Work with your doctor. If you are currently on medication, you must work with your doctor before discontinuing any drug or starting any herbal treatment. Make sure your doctor knows about any herbal supplements you are taking. There could be possible interactions with other treatments you are receiving.
- If you’re pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) or breast-feeding, avoid herbal remedies unless your doctor gives you the ok. Substances in these remedies may pass to your baby.
- Do not be fooled by the word “natural”. Natural is not the same as safe. Just because herbs are natural substances does not’t mean that they can be used indiscriminately. There are many perfectly natural plants that are highly toxic and poisonous. Before trying any herbal remedy, be sure that you know what it does, how to use it, and the possible side effects. Never exceed the recommended dose.
- Keep in mind. Although many herbs are effective on their own they work even better if they are part of a comprehensive treatment plan focusing on diet and lifestyle factors.
For more information on how to use herbs for alternative medicine, treatment and healing, please see our how to use herbs guide. Scroll down for a list of common herbs, and conditions you can treat or remedy with herbs.
Best Herbs For Alternative Medicine
Here is a list of commonly used herbs that are popular in alternative medicine. Click on the name of the herb to read more about it.
Best Herbs For Common Health Problems
Here is a list of common ailments and conditions that can be helped or in some cases treated or even cured naturally with herbs. Click on the condition to discover which herbs are beneficial.
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