Plant medicines have a history of use dating back over five thousand years. Although the history of medicine has contained a few brief periods of misdirected anomalies, with some groups attributing healing powers to plants simply because of the plant or root’s color or shape, 95% of herbal medicine is just as advertised. Herbal medicines work. Long before modern medicine was born, peoples in every culture have relied on herbal medicine to return their health and with success.
Today, there are thousands of scientific investigations and clinical studies which have been conducted on plants to discover if anecdotal and folklore uses are borne out by results. The vast majority have concluded that herbal medicine is, in fact, a legitimate alternative treatment for many conditions and diseases which plague us today.
Up until about 1925, most of the official U.S. Pharmacopoeia was devoted to plants. Today, about 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from plants. For example, quinine, derived from the bark of the Peruvian Cinchona tree, is still the best remedy for malaria, while digitalis, from foxglove, is still used for heart conditions.
It wasn’t until the discovery of penicillin that the general public began to drop traditional plant medicine in favor of modern pharmaceuticals, feeling plant medicine worked, but more slowly. Besides, taking a pill was more convenient than preparing teas with sometimes unpleasant tastes or poultices of ointments from plants. There was also a psychological element in play, where pills were almost like magic and much better suited to modern life.
There was a gradual decline in interest in the old ways and by the 1950’s, you were considered somewhat of a “wacko” if you were still using these plants as herbal medicine. Poor Grandma’s home herbal medicine remedies fell into disrepute, with a note of disdain to boot.
As pharmaceutical companies began producing more and more pills, herbal medicine was all but forgotten. The irony of this is that the pharmaceutical companies were relying chiefly on plants as the active ingredients in their magic pills. However, in order to make a profit, the resulting pill product had to be patentable, and a plant cannot be patented, by law. So the pharmaceutical companies sought to extract only the active constituents thought responsible for the healing effect, combining them with other single extractions, thus making them patentable and profitable.
Science has since found that each plant contains at least several and sometimes a dozen separate active constituents with a symbiotic synergy which balances the action and effect of the whole plant. In short, herbal medicine, when applied knowledgeably, tends to have far fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals, although getting results takes more time.
Herbal medicine, with it’s slower action, often does a better job. Mother nature combines several qualities in a plant, each of which has a moderating or enhancing effect on the stronger constituents and as a whole tends to address causes rather than symptoms.
Thousands of years of successful use of herbal medicine is a pretty good recommendation.