What is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicines are derived from plants, and can include leaves, roots, bark and flowers. They can also be derived from fungi, such as mushrooms. Whole plants and parts of plants are used in teas, pills, extracts, oils and ointments and have a variety of healing uses.
A brief history
Herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years. Throughout history, plants have been used all across the world from Africa to Asia, Europe and the Americas to prevent or treat illness. Herbalists both past and present believe illnesses develop due to imbalances. Herbalists use herbs and food in order to restore balance and health.
Herbal medicine and pharmaceutical drugs
Some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and prescription medicines are made from plants. Drug manufacturers are able to isolate certain chemicals in plants, herbs and other natural sources that can help prevent or treat illnesses. Once the manufacturer figures out the chemical in the plant that treats illness, they then make the man-made (synthetic) version of the natural substance.
As much as 25% of pharmaceutical products used today are made from plant-based resources. Sometimes, researchers from drug manufacturers and companies that produce natural products travel around the world to meet with traditional healers to learn about the plants they use in their practice, and how these plants are used to treat certain conditions.
Aspirin is a major drug many people have in their medicine cabinets that was developed from plants. Aspirin was developed in 1899 when scientists were able to make acetylsalicylic acid [pronounced: ah-see-til-sahl-ee-seh-lick ah-sid]. This acid is the man-made version of salicin, the natural chemical in bark from the willow tree. Willow bark was used by Hippocrates in 400 B.C. to treat inflammation and has been used in many cultures around the world to treat swelling. To create aspirin, scientists copied this natural chemical and then made it less irritating on the stomach.
Before your next visit to the doctor, write down all the medicines you are taking, including herbs or dietary supplements. This will help you remember everything when the doctor asks what medicines you take.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has a form you can fill out to help you in writing down all your prescription and herbal medicines. You can also download the form to print out.