Herbalists use the leaves, flowers, stems, berries, and roots of plants to prevent, relieve and treat illness. From a "scientific" perspective, many herbal treatments are considered experimental. The reality is, however, that herbal medicine has a long and respected history. Many familiar medications of the twentieth century were developed from ancient healing traditions that treated health problems with specific plants. Today, science has isolated the medicinal properties of a large number of botanicals, and their healing components have been extracted and analyzed. Many plant components are now synthesized in large laboratories for use in pharmaceutical preparations.
Many drugs of conventional medications were originally derived from plants. Salicylic acid, a precursor of aspirin, was originally derived from white willow bark and the meadow sweet plant. Cinchona bark is the source of malaria-fighting quinine, etc. Even today, morphine - the most important alkaloid of the opium poppy, remains the standard against which new synthetic pain relievers are measured.
Herbalists consider that the power of a plant lies in the interaction of all its ingredients. Plants used as medicines offer synergistic interactions between ingredients both known and unknown.
Herbalists assess the health needs in a variety of ways. Methods of observation used include pulse and tongue diagnosis, abdominal diagnosis, etc...
After making an evaluation, they suggest individual herbs or herbal combinations known to be beneficial for the particular condition.
Natural medicines are not like manufactured drugs. Herbal preparations work gently, so they take time to act internally.
When herbal preparations are administered, they are offered in small doses. Herbal treatment requires observation, coupled with good judgment. Natural herbal preparations are generally well tolerated by children. Most herbs are nontoxic, with few exceptions. However, it is important to know the action and possible side effects of an herb before you give it.
Herbs are available in a variety of forms, including fresh, dried, in tablets or capsules, or bottled in liquid form. Whatever type of product you choose, the quality of an herbal preparation - be it in capsule, tablet, tea, tincture, bath, compress, poultice, or ointment form is only as good as the quality of the raw herb from which it was made.
Generally, herbs fall into two categories: wild-grown and farm-grown. A wild-grown herb is one that grows naturally, without human intervention.
The disadvantage of wild-grown herbs is that there is no guarantee the plants haven't been exposed to chemicals and pesticides. Herbs harvested from a meadow, for example, may have been exposed to chemical drift from a crop-dusted farm nearby. Exhaust fumes from passing traffic may have settled invisibly on plants growing near a country road. Water-loving plants, like horsetail, may be rooted in the bank of a polluted stream.
Because of the possibility of contamination, unless you are very sure of the source of wildcrafted herbs, organic herbs grown commercially may be a better choice. Organic farm-grown herbs are becoming increasingly available, as more and more herb farms are being established. With careful management, organic herb farms can provide a steady supply of quality herbs to the consumer.