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Herbal Medicine In The Modern Age

Apr 4, 2008
While perfect health at all times is a worthy goal, rarely does one always maintain this condition. Whether outside agents like bacteria, virus or toxic substances invade our bodies or some internal problem arises, the field of medicine can usually provide a system of relief.

The earliest forms of medicine were mostly derived from plants and the extracts and infusions made from the various parts. Herbalism is often considered to be "folk" medicine as it concerns itself with natural substances and sources for its cures. However, even in this day of synthetic drugs, many of the compounds used were originally derived from this organic science.

Herbal medicine has a multi-part function. When included in a proper diet, many of the medicinal benefits act in a preventative way to keep illness from forming. Not only does it include vitamins and trace minerals needed for good health, many food plants contain natural antibiotic and antiviral substances. There is a wide pharmacopoeia of plants that can be used to treat illnesses as well. Herbal medicine ranges from the mild, like peppermint or chamomile tea for an upset stomach, to the extreme measure of using digitalis to treat heart conditions.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately eighty percent of the world's population derives their primary medical care from herbalism. They also report that fully twenty five percent of all medicines used in the United States are derived from organic sources. Even in this modern age of synthetic drugs there are over seven thousand medical compounds that are derived from the plants used in traditional herbal medicine.

Medicines sometimes are used in conjunction with spiritual as well as psychological treatments. Both the Chinese and Native American Indian medicines and healing practices treat the body and the spirit as an integrated unit. In these traditions, the method and surrounding while administering the herbal medications can be as important as the chemical compounds contained therein.

The major drawback to herbal medicines is the inability to precisely control dosages. Being organic, plant substances can be affected by a number of naturally occurring conditions that will alter their effectiveness considerably. Different soil can create variations in the plant and curing and storage conditions will preserve the active ingredients at different rates.

Because of the impossibility of maintaining exacting standards of strength and effectiveness in organic medicines, the rise of laboratory created synthetic drugs has become the standard for our society. Even when deriving the active ingredient from a natural source, the synthesizing process allows the end result to contain the exact same dosage with each application. By this means the results of the medicine can be more fully controlled and gauged for effectiveness.

In many cases herbal medicine is no longer considered as such even when the beneficial effects are well documented. More often the natural form of an herbal medicine is considered a "dietary supplement" rather than an approved substance. This allows the product to be freely available without the need for clinical testing and licensing.

The role of herbal medicine has increasingly become merely a homeopathic remedy. As such, the naturally occurring benefits derived from organic medicine has been trivialized and diminished in our society. For better or worse, the role herbal medicine is being put to currently is to find an effective compound or cure so the laboratories can strive to recreate it artificially.
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