Medicinal Herbs from the Garden
Compared with the precision of modern diagnosis and prescription medicine, herbal remedies can seem out of place. But herbal preparations were once the only medications available.
Modern physicians argue that synthetic medicines are superior because they are free of impurities, are of known strength and effects, and are more stable. Herbal practitioners believe that when used appropriately, herbal remedies have an important role today. In many countries, herbal remedies remain the only readily available treatment. And, of course, many of today's medicines are derived from naturally occurring plants.
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The History of Medicinal Herbs
In most cultures around the world, the earliest forms of healing were based on herbs. People built up a wealth of knowledge based on experimentation within their environments, and they handed that knowledge on to the next generation. The arrival of written language provided us with records of the use of herbs as medicine as early as 3000 BC in Egypt, Babylon, China and India.
Examples abound of the importance herbs played in the health and well-being of ancient peoples. In 300 BC, a medical school was set up in Alexandria, where research was conducted into the uses of herbs in treating illnesses. This led to the creation of a document listing more than 600 herbs, with a prescription for how to prepare each as a treatment for specific diseases. This book was considered the most important source of information on herbal medicine for the next 1,500 years.
Native Americans used many different herbal medicines. From willow bark they extracted a pain-relieving ingredient used in today's aspirin. Iris roots ground with suet, lard and beeswax made an ointment for cuts and grazes. Coca leaves were used as a local anesthetic. Juice of lady's slipper roots eased pain, soothed hysterics and relieved cold and flu symptoms.
Traditional Chinese medicine attaches a great deal of importance to the harmony of the human body and the relationship of the body with nature. Chinese people have been using natural herbs to treat a wide variety of diseases for over 3,000 years.
While much has been added to the basic philosophy of this ancient healing system, very little has been taken out. Herbal medicines comprise roots, bark, flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves and branches. In China today, there are up to 5,000 different herbs in use in traditional medicine. It is wise to use only Chinese herbs that have been prescribed by a professional.
Herbal Remedy Precautions
Use all herbal remedies cautiously and follow these guidelines:
- Always consult a doctor if you have painful or chronic symptoms.
- Don't mix herbal medicines with medical prescriptions.
- Take care to identify wild plants accurately and be aware of their properties and dangers.
- Avoid large doses of any herb.
- Grow your own herbal medications for the best purity and quality.
- Follow the instructions for harvesting and storing herbs properly.
- Stop using any herbal medicine if you notice any side effects, such as headaches, dizziness or nausea.
- Avoid using herbal medicines if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, unless you have the consent of an obstetrician.
- With children, always consult a doctor first before giving herbal medications. Do not give herbal medicines to children younger than two years old.
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