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The Development of Herbal Medicine

From earliest times in all cultures and countries, herbs haven been prized for their pain relieving and healilng abilities, and today we still rely on the curative properties of plants in about 75% of our medicines. Over the centuries, societies around the world have developed their own traditions to make sense of medicinal plants and their uses. Some of these traditions and medicinal practices may seem strange and magical, others appear rational, sensible and scientific, but all of them are attempts to overcome illness and suffering, and ultimately to enhance quality of life.

How Medicianl Plants Work

Of those many thousands of plant species on our planet, 10,000 are regularly used for medicinal purposes.These grow throughout the world and contain active constituents that have a direct action on the body. They are used both in herbal and conventional medicine and offer benefits that pharmaceutical drugs often lack, helping to combat illness and support the body's efforts to regain good health. Of course there is no doubt that in extreme conditions, the treatments devised by modern medicine can offer an unparalleled opportunity to relieve symptoms and save lives.

The Benefits of Herbal Medicine

Yet despite the dramatic advances and advanteges of conventional medicine, or biomedicine as it is also known, it is clear that herbal medicine has much to offer. We tend to forget that in all but the last 50 years or so, humans have relied mostly and nearly entirely on plants to treat all manner of illness, from minor problems such as coughs and colds to life threatening diseases such as Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Today, herbal medicines are coming back into prominence because of efficacy of conventional  medicines such as antibiotics, which once had near universal effectivenss, against serious infections, is on the wane.

Herbal medicine often compliments conventional treatments, providing safe, well tolerated remedies for chronic illness, such as asthma, arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, concern over the side effects of Biomedicine is certainly encouraging people to look for more gentle forms  of treatment. Its is estimated that at least 10-20% of hospital patients in the west are there due to side effects of conventional medicinal treatment.


Potent plant chemicals, the healing power of herbs

The ability of a herbal medicine to affect body systems depends on the chemical constituents that it contains. Scientists first started extracting and isolating chemicals from plants in the 18th century, and since that time we have grown accustomed to looking at herbs and their effects in terms of the active constituents they contain.

The strongest painkiller of all, Morphine, comes from the Opium Poppy (Papaver Somniferum). Many anesthetics are also derived from plants for example Cocaine comes from Coca (Erythroxylum Coca), Aspirin from White Willow Bark.

Today, Biomedicine still relies of plants rather than laboratory for at least 25% of its medicines, and many of these are among the most effective of all conventional drugs.

Herbal Synergy and the value of whole plants

One word more than any other separates herbal from conventional medicine, Synergy. When the whole plant is used rather than extracted constituents, the different parts interact, producing a greater therapeutic effect.