How Herbal Medicines Work - Some Basics

There is a lot of confusion about how herbal medicines work, especially as modern science explains their function in the same manner as drugs. Drugs and herbs are not the same and therefore cannot be explained in the same manner. 

Herbs treat cause, not symptoms

First and foremost, herbs treat underlying causes of illness, not just one or two symptoms as pharmaceuticals do.

Herbalists believe the body can heal itself and be brought back to a state of balance by using natural remedies and medicines to treat the whole system. This may give the impression that herbs take longer to work, and in some cases that is correct. Natural remedies and herbs work on a much deeper level than drugs, and therefore need more time to create the environment necessary for the body to heal itself.
Science believes the body must be maintained artificially through permanent maintenance drugs because it can’t resolve the symptoms caused by imbalances by itself.  Of course, if a drug only treats a single symptom, there is little chance the whole system will benefit. In fact, some medications do more harm than good by creating more symptoms (side effects) that must be alleviated by even more drugs. This puts the body further out of balance, and until that balance is recreated, the body will not be able to function as a whole and healthy unit.

Herbs are a complete package

Herbs, unlike drugs, are a complex combination of chemicals which herbalists refer to as constituents. We have not yet deciphered all the ways in which the constituents of herbs work together, but they do in some amazing ways.
A good example is white willow bark. The single chemical, acetylsalicylic acid, found in white willow bark is an effective pain reliever. It’s so effective that early pharmaceutical companies separated it into pill form to create aspirin. However, acetylsalicylic acid  is an irritant to the lining of the stomach. White willow bark contains chemical constituents that protect and soothe the stomach lining, keeping it from the harmful effects of acetylsalicylic acid.
Aspirin, on the other hand, is mainly acetylsalicylic acid. Without the constituents that protect the lining of the stomach, aspirin can cause irritation, nausea, and bleeding ulcers. To combat the irritation industry added buffering agents that simulate the action of those in white willow bark. Regardless, aspirin eventually fell out of favor with the public when other pain relievers came on the market.

Herbs work in predictable ways

Most herbs act in predictable ways in the body, and their functions give regular results. Here are some of the most common actions that herbs have on the human system.
Increase Elimination – Elimination takes several forms. Herbs can be diuretic (increases urine output) like dandelion, encourage bowel movements like senna, or increase perspiration like peppermint. All these actions remove impurities from the system.

Regulate the System – Herbs strengthen, normalize, and tone body glands to their optimal normal function, an important action, as glands perform vital roles such as regulating hormones, excretions, and even the immune system. There are many herbs that support the different glands of the body. Black cohosh is popular for regulating hormonal imbalances associated with menopause, and ginseng is effective for combating adrenal fatigue. 

Calm – Certain herbs have very calming effects on the body and can be used in times of stress or nervousness. The most popular by far in this category is chamomile, but close behind is valerian, lemon balm, and passion flower. These herbs are not only powerful relaxants, but are also perfect for getting that good night’s sleep.

Energize – Other herbs have the ability to stimulate a sluggish system  and raise energy levels in the body. Eleuthero root (Siberian ginseng), ginkgo biloba, and licorice root are all popular energy boosting herbs. 

Nourish the body – Some people may be surprised that herbs have nutritional value as well as medicinal value. Herbs like alfalfa, anise seed, and oat straw have high levels of vitamins and minerals making them a valuable source of natural health.  

Support organ function – When organs function properly, the whole body experiences balance and vitality. As with glands, there are several organs in the body, and different herbs act on each. Some common herbs for major organs are milk thistle for detoxifying and supporting liver function, hawthorn berry for coronary (heart) health, and mullein to strengthen and cleanse lungs.

Taking control

 There is a lot to consider when choosing a means of healthcare. Traditional medicine has a lot to offer, but we must also be cautious. Consulting a medical professional is always best when confronting serious health issues. Along with that, there are also herbalists, naturopathic physicians, and holistic medical practitioners.

The most important thing is that each individual be an active participant in their healthcare approach. Taking responsibility for one’s health can have life-changing effects. Know what you want and how to get it, and you can be healthy and balanced in no time.
Thanks for reading.
Shawn Hanel
EarthWise Organics

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