Did you know that about 25 percent of the drugs prescribed worldwide are derived from plants? Of the 252 drugs in the World Health Organization’s essential medicine list, 11 percent are exclusively of plant origin. In fact, about 200 years ago the first pharmacological compound, morphine, was produced from opium extracted from the seed pods of the poppy flower. Since then, scientists have been studying plants to create the pharmaceutical products we know today. But after years of overmedicating, facing resistant bacteria in the microbiome and treating the illness rather than the root of the problem, people are beginning to pay more attention to natural, herbal medicine.
Millions of dollars have recently been invested in looking for promising medicinal herbs. These substantial research investments in traditional herbal medicine are still relatively modest when compared to the overall pharmaceutical industry, but it proves that researchers are beginning to steer away from conventional drug development and look toward more alternative and natural forms of treatment.
Natural plant products have been used throughout human history for various purposes. In fact, written records of the use of herbal medicine date back more than 5,000 years, and for much of history, herbal medicine was the only medicine.
Today, plants are being used to treat a number of health concerns and conditions, including allergies, arthritis, migraines, fatigue, skin infections, wounds, burns, gastrointestinal issues and even cancer — proving that it’s true that food is medicine. These herbs are less expensive and they’re a safer means of treatment than conventional medications, which is why so many people are choosing to go back to this traditional idea of medicine.
What Is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicines are naturally occurring, plant-derived substances that are used to treat illnesses within local or regional healing practices. These products are complex mixtures of organic chemicals that may come from any raw or processed part of a plant.
Herbal medicine has its roots in every culture around the world. There are many different systems of traditional medicine, and the philosophy and practices of each are influenced by social conditions, environment and geographic location, but these systems all agree on a holistic approach to life. Well-known systems of herbal medicine like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine believe in the central idea that there should be an emphasis on health rather than on disease. By using healing herbs, people can thrive and focus on their overall conditions, rather than on a particular ailment that typically arises from a lack of equilibrium of the mind, body and environment.
Although botanical medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, it continues to be of use in the modern, Western world. The World Health Organization recently estimated that 80 percent of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care, and the worldwide annual market for these products is approaching $60 billion. People in the United States have become more interested in herbal medicine because of the rising cost of prescription medication and the returning interest in natural or organic remedies.
Whole herbs contain many ingredients that are used to treat diseases and relieve symptoms. Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine, uses the plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers for medicinal purposes. The biological properties of these plants have beneficial effects. Other factors are responsible for their benefits as well, such as the type of environment in which the plant grew, the way in which it was harvested and how it was processed. The plant is either sold raw or as extracts, where it’s macerated with water, alcohol or other solvents to extract some of the chemicals. The resulting products contain dozens of chemicals, including fatty acids, sterols, alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, saponins and others.
Benefits of Herbal Medicine
1. More Affordable than Conventional Medicine
Modern medical science certainly comes with a high price tag, and pharmaceuticals are no exception. One reason why herbal medicine is becoming more popular recently is because people simply can’t afford to pay for their medication month after month.
A systematic review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine evaluated whether or not natural health products provide a cost-effective choice in the treatment of disease. Researchers found that natural health products show evidence of cost-effectiveness in relation to postoperative surgery and complications. (4) More research is needed to determine the cost-effectiveness in other areas of modern medicine, but the preliminary data suggests that herbal products are more affordable than pharmaceuticals.
2. Easier to Obtain than Prescription Medications
Herbal products, such as herbal extracts, essential oils and herbal teas, are available in most health food and even grocery stores, so you don’t have to see a doctor to get prescriptions before purchasing them. This certainly makes it easier to obtain herbal products and avoid additional health care costs.
Herbs are classified as dietary supplements, so they can be produced, sold and marketed without going through the FDA. Although this makes it easier to purchase and use these beneficial products, it’s our job as consumers to choose among the competitors. Make sure to read the ingredients and labels carefully before using any herbal supplement. Purchase from a reputable and trustworthy company that verifies the product is 100 percent pure-grade.
3. Hold Beneficial, Healing Properties
Herbs are used for the treatment of chronic and acute conditions and various ailments, including major health concerns like cardiovascular disease, prostate problems, depression, inflammation and weakened immune system. Herbs are used around the world to treat conditions and diseases, and many studies prove their efficacy. In fact, of the 177 drugs approved worldwide for the treatment of cancer, more than 70 percent are based on natural products or chemical imitations of natural products.