Most people are familiar with herbs as foods - for example, basil and oregano in sauces, parsley as a garnish. However, for thousands of years many cultures around the world have used herbs and plants not just to eat but to treat illness.
Herbal remedies are a type of alternative medicine that originates from plants and plant extracts. Used to heal illnesses and disease and to address psychological concerns, herbal remedies have been around for centuries, and were the precursor to modern medicine. Recent archaeological evidence shows that even prehistoric man used plants to heal. A Neanderthal excavation site in Europe revealed a satchel with pollen from eight plants and herbs; seven of which are still recognized today for their medicinal values. Today, the World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the world's population uses some form of herbal medicine.
Herbal remedies are obtained from a wide variety of natural resources including plant leaves, bark, berries, flowers, and roots. Herbal medicine remains a popular alternative throughout China and the far east, and is growing in popularity throughout the United States.
Many of the prescription drugs now come from plants that ancient cultures used medicinally. (The word drug comes from the Old Dutch word drogge, meaning "to dry," because pharmacists, doctors, and ancient healers often dried plants to use as medicines.)
Herbs come in various forms, depending on their medicinal purpose and the body system involved. You can buy herbs individually or in mixtures formulated for specific conditions. Herbs may be prepared as tinctures or extracts, capsules or tablets, lozenges, teas, juices, vapor treatments, or bath products. Some herbs are applied topically with a poultice or compress. Others are rubbed into the skin as an oil, an ointment, or a salve.
Most herbal remedies are used to treat minor health problems, such as nausea (spearmint, peppermint and ginger), colds, cough, flu, (garlic, slippery elm bark, licorice, and echinacea) headache (feverfew), aches and pains (dandelion), stomach and intestinal disorders (chamomile, licorice and senna), menstrual cramps (dandelion), insomnia (valerian root), and skin disorders (comfrey).
Some herbalists have reported success in treating certain chronic conditions, including peptic ulcers, inflammation of the colon, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and respiratory problems. However, if you have a serious disorder and are considering an herbal remedy, don't discontinue ongoing medical treatment without consulting your health care practitioner about any prescribed drugs you're taking, because these may interact with herbal remedies.
Now to the best of my knowledge, there is no resistance build-up effect by bacteria and germs against herbal remedies, but there are plenty of times someone takes the wrong herbs for the problems they're having.
One example of an ailment that is usually treated incorrectly is kidney stones. Most kidney stones are calcium based, and these can be dissolved fairly easily with simple lemon juice. There are several other types of kidney stones however, and if you have one of those kinds, the lemon juice remedy may not work for you.
It's also important to reiterate the importance of being fully aware of what you're using, too. If you go to the store and buy powdered lemonade, it's not likely going to have much, if any, real lemon juice in it. In fact, many things called "lemonade" in the store are actually just lemon flavored sugar drinks. And these will not help with any treatment that requires lemon juice. You must buy and use real lemon juice, or better yet: real lemons to juice.
Most herbal remedies do not provide an immediate cure or prevention of an ailment or condition. An example is the use of echinacea. This herb has become quite popular in the last five to 10 years by many people who think it's supposed to keep you from getting a cold or the flu. And when it doesn't, they think using herbal medicine is a bunch of bull. The problem though, is that echinacea doesn't actually keep you from getting sick. It can help keep you from getting as sick as you normally would. It can help you shorten the amount of time you're sick. But it doesn't keep you from getting sick.
And again, if you're buying the trendy products which "contain echinacea" instead of buying actual herbs, you're not going to see much, if any, success from these products.
Visit your health and natural foods store to purchase dried herbs and other herbal remedies and your local garden center for assistance to start your own herb garden to grow and harvest your very own herbs to add fresh flavors to food, aromatic fragrances or to admire the vibrant rainbow of colors that flowering herbs have to offer.
Don and Sandy Landers are owners of Dream Garden Hydroponics, LLC, 26380 State Route 7, Marietta.