Herbal medicine, also called Herbalism, has a long history in many cultures around the world. Ancient Chinese and Egyptians used plants for medicinal purposes as early as 3,000 BC. In the last century herbs have gained wider acceptance by mainstream medicine as modern chemical analysis and clinical studies have confirmed their benefits.
Herbalism: Coming of Age
With the advent of chemical analysis in the early 19th century, scientists began to study herbs, extracting and modifying the active ingredients. Later, chemists began making synthetic versions of plant compounds and, over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favor of drugs. Still, almost one fourth of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from botanicals.
That doesn’t mean that herbs are no longer widely used. On the contrary, according to a World Health Organization estimate, 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In Germany, about 600 – 700 plant based medicines are available and are prescribed by some 70% of German physicians. In the United States, the popularity of herbs has ebbed and flowed.
In the last 20 years public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic health support, has led to an increase in herb use. Unfortunately, some of the lure of herbs is also a cause for concern.
Separating Facts from Fiction
While many people may be dissatisfied with conventional medicine, the thinking that herbs can replace a prescription medication can be extremely dangerous. Yet that is what some unscrupulous supplement manufacturers promote with claims that their product can “cure cancer” or “works better than prescription medications.” These types of claims are not only irresponsible, they are forbidden (illegal) per the FDA.
Apart from claims of “miracle cures,” you may want to try herbs or supplements for everyday health maintenance or the occasional added nutritional support. In which case, you probably have lots of questions about an herb before you put it in your body, such as:
- Will it work as indicated?
- Is it safe?
- Will it interact with my prescription medication?
- Can I take it when I’m pregnant or nursing?
What we tell our customers is this, before taking any supplement, speak with your doctor. You might also consider doing a little research on your own. Here are some reputable sources:
Medline – a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, this database contains information about drugs and supplements including: uses, how it works, interactions and precautions.
University of Maryland Medical Center – This website contains a wealth of information on Complementary Medicine including specific nutrients, herbs and other health topics.
The Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center – A well-respected authority on alternative medicine.
PubMed – a database of medical research maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Simply enter the name of the herb or other compound in the search box.
Top Well-researched Herbs
Here are seven of the most popular and well-researched herbs and their uses:
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Supports your metabolism and promotes circulation
- Helps maintain brain function—including cognition, attention and memory
- Contains antioxidant properties that may help protect your body from free radical damage
- Supports lung function
- Supports your immune system
- Milk Thistle
- Contains silymarins, potent antioxidants that support liver function and detoxification
- Supports glutathione synthesis. Glutathione is one of the body’s primary antioxidants.
- Supports your immune system
- Astragalus is known as an “adaptogen” as it helps your body adapt to physical and emotional stress.
- Promotes cardiovascular function.
- American Ginseng
- Also an adaptogen, this herb helps you manage stress by promoting healthy energy levels, mental functioning and supporting your immune system.
- American Ginseng also contains antioxidant properties that may help protect your body from free-radical damage.
- Supports your cardiovascular system
- Contains antioxidants that may help protect the body from free radicals
- Supports inflammatory balance and a healthy immune response
- Promotes the development of normal cells
- Supports joint function and mobility
Quality Matters – Especially with Herbs
One final word about herbs: because they are a natural, cultivated product, purity and potency can be affected. Therefore, be sure to purchase supplements from a company that conducts extensive purity and potency testing.
Purity testing on herbs should look for herbicide, fungicide and pesticide residue as well as heavy metals. Potency testing will insure that the strength of the herbal extract or active compounds stated on the label actually exists in the product.
To understand the rigorous testing needed to provide a safe and effective herbal product, learn how we protects you with some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry.