Intro to Wholistic Herbalism
We are truly excited for you as we embark on a journey of investigation and scientific discovery of the nature and expressions of the plant Kingdom and how they compliment and support us. Herbal medicine also called herbalism and is the study and practice of pharmacognosy to western minds (the study of plants or other natural sources as a possible source of drugs and simply a branch although an important one of the Shaman worldwide. The American Society of Pharmacognosy defines pharmacognosy as "the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical, and biological properties of "drugs", "drug substances"(A drug is any substance that causes a change in an organism's physiology or psychology when consumed. Drugs are typically distinguished from food and substances that provide nutritional support.), or potential drugs or drug substances of natural origin as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources".) and the use of medicinal plants, which are a basis of traditional medicine. There is over 5,000 years of historical and empirical evidence for the safety and efficacy of plants used in modern and classical herbalism.
On some continents like Asia and Africa, 80% of the population relies on traditional medicine mainly herbal medicine for their primary health care. Native American cultures have also relied on traditional medicine such as ceremonial smoking of tobacco, potlatch ceremonies, and herbalism, to name a few, prior to European colonization. Knowledge of traditional medicinal practices are disappearing, particularly in the Amazon.
A Brief History of herbalism and Materia medica
Archaeological evidence indicates that the use of medicinal plants dates back to the Paleolithic age, approximately 60,000 years ago. Written evidence of herbal remedies dates back over 5,000 years to the Sumerians, who compiled lists of plants. Some ancient cultures wrote about plants and their medical uses in books called herbals. In ancient Egypt, herbs are mentioned in Egyptian medical papyri, depicted in tomb illustrations, or on rare occasions found in medical jars containing trace amounts of herbs. In ancient Egypt, the Ebers papyrus dates from about 1550 BC, and covers more than 700 compounds, mainly of plant origin. The earliest known Greek herbals came from Theophrastus of Eresos who, in the 4th century BC, wrote in Greek Historia Plantarum, from Diocles of Carystus who wrote during the 3rd century BC, and from Krateuas who wrote in the 1st century BC. Only a few fragments of these works have survived intact, but from what remains, scholars noted overlap with the Egyptian herbals. Seeds likely used for herbalism were found in archaeological sites of Bronze Age China dating from the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC). Over a hundred of the 224 compounds mentioned in the Huangdi Neijing, an early Chinese medical text, are herbs. Herbs were also commonly used in the traditional medicine of ancient India, where the principal treatment for diseases was diet. De Materia Medica, originally written in Greek by Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40–90 AD) of Anazarbus, Cilicia, a physician and botanist, is one example of herbal writing used over centuries until the 1600s.
There are many forms in which herbs can be administered, the most common of which is a liquid consumed as a herbal tea or a (possibly diluted) plant extract.
Herbal teas, or tisanes, are the resultant liquid of extracting herbs into water, though they are made in a few different ways. Infusions are hot water extracts of herbs, such as chamomile or mint, through steeping. Decoctions are the long-term boiled extracts, usually of harder substances like roots or bark. Maceration is the cold infusion of plants with high mucilage-content, such as sage or thyme. To make macerates, plants are chopped and added to cold water. They are then left to stand for 7 to 12 hours (depending on herb used). For most macerates, 10 hours is used.
Tinctures are alcoholic extracts of herbs, which are generally stronger than herbal teas. Tinctures are usually obtained by combining 100% pure ethanol (or a mixture of 100% ethanol with water) with the herb. A completed tincture has an ethanol percentage of at least 25% (sometimes up to 90%). Non-alcoholic tinctures can be made with glycerin but it is believed to be less absorbed by the body than alcohol based tinctures and has a shorter shelf life.Herbal wine and elixirs are alcoholic extract of herbs, usually with an ethanol percentage of 12–38%. Extracts include liquid extracts, dry extracts, and nebulisates. Liquid extracts are liquids with a lower ethanol percentage than tinctures. They are usually made by vacuum distilling tinctures. Dry extracts are extracts of plant material that are evaporated into a dry mass. They can then be further refined to a capsule or tablet.
The exact composition of an herbal product is influenced by the method of extraction. A tea will be rich in polar components because water is a polar solvent. Oil on the other hand is a non-polar solvent and it will absorb non-polar compounds. Alcohol lies somewhere in between.
Many herbs are applied topically to the skin in a variety of forms. Essential oil extracts can be applied to the skin, usually diluted in a carrier oil. Many essential oils can burn the skin or are simply too high dose used straight; diluting them in olive oil or another food grade oil such as almond oil can allow these to be used safely as a topical. Salves, oils, balms, creams and lotions are other forms of topical delivery mechanisms. Most topical applications are oil extractions of herbs. Taking a food grade oil and soaking herbs in it for anywhere from weeks to months allows certain phytochemicals to be extracted into the oil. This oil can then be made into salves, creams, lotions, or simply used as an oil for topical application. Many massage oils, antibacterial salves, and wound healing compounds are made this way.
Inhalation, as in aromatherapy, can be used as a treatment.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS
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Why Use Herbal Medicine?
There are many reasons for choosing herbal medicine, but it often comes down to a personal choice. Here is a list of why someone may choose herbal medicine:
- It may be the form of medicine they are familiar and comfortable with.
- It may have helped someone they know.
- A health care practitioner may have recommended it.
- No other treatments or pharmaceuticals have helped an individual health concern
- They are readily available and can be purchased without a prescription
- Plants can be gathered and grown and medicines can be made from these.
- Herbal medicines can be specifically prepared for an individual
- They may be looking for an alternative to conventional medications
- Herbal medicine may be less expensive than other medicines.
- They may have personal or political reasons for choosing herbal medicine.
What are Some Disadvantages of Herbal Medicine?
While there are many reasons to use herbal medicine, there are other considerations as well. The following are specific to herbal medicine:
- Herbal medicine can be difficult to take due to its flavor.
- There may be a lack of scientific evidence or clinical data supporting certain herbal medicines.
- Herbal medicines can be of inconsistent quality in the marketplace.
- They can be costly and are not covered by insurance.
- It is difficult to find solid reliable information on herbal medicine.
- By taking herbs, you may be putting off taking necessary drugs.
- Risks and side effects of most herbal medicines are unknown.
- Herbal medicines may interact with medications in negative ways.
- There is risk of gathering the wrong and potentially dangerous plants.
- The forms and ways of taking herbal medicines can be confusing.
What are the Risks Associated with Herbal Medicine
A person may have a negative reaction to a specific herbal medicine, as is common with other medications. If there is a negative response, it may be helpful to discontinue theherbal medicine and seek information. One of the potential risks of herbal medicine is not itsside effect, but that an illness may get worse from not taking a stronger or a more suitable medicine. It is helpful to have an herbalist and/or knowledgeable health care practitioner to discuss this with.
Herbal Medicine and Pharmaceuticals
Many people take drugs that are important for their health. This is a significant consideration when using herbal medicine. The combination of herbs and drugs can have undesirable effects known as herb/drug interactions. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to know if this will be a problem, as there is very little research on the interactions of herbs and pharmaceuticals. The best approach is to work with a knowledgeable herbalist who can help assess any necessary considerations with your specific health needs and medications.
When to Use Herbal Medicine
Herbs are used for a wide range of health issues. Many herbal medicines fall somewhere between being a food and a drug. They are commonly used to support one's general health. They are also used for specific health conditions and chronic disorders as a primary medicine or in conjunction with other therapies and medications
For more serious conditions, an informed choice should be based on information from knowledgeable persons and resources. When looking to treat a serious health concern, consult an experienced herbalist and other health care providers.
What to Expect during an Herbal Consultation
Each herbalist’s consultation may vary depending on their training. This includes how health conditions are assessed as well as treatment strategies.
Initial consultations are often an hour longand generally include a detailed intake. This involves asking questions concerning many aspects of a person’s life such as diet,medications, exercise, stress levels, previous diagnoses, relevant lab tests, and health history. Other concerns such as sleep ordigestive problems and mental and emotionalhealth issues may be discussed to get an understanding of a patient’s overall health.
At the end of the intake, the herbalist will generally prepare individual herbal remedies and discuss how to take them. They may also suggest lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes, movement and exercise programs, ways to reduce unhealthy patterns, and other health care protocols.
There are many different types of herbal medicine, and for those new to it and not being familiar with the various preparations can be daunting.
Herbal medicine comes in many forms, as there are many methods for extracting the medicinal constituents of each plant. These various preparations also allow different ways for these remedies to be used internally and externally.
An initial difficulty with many medicinal preparations can be their strong flavor. One way to make this easier is to dilute them. If they are too unpleasant, there may be other forms that are easier to take.
There are a number of variables with taking herbal medicine, including the frequency (how often) and quantity (how much) of each preparation. These differ depending on the strength of the medicine and the health condition being treated. There may be more than one herbal medicine given per consultation. It is important to understand the directions for taking each medicine. If the instructions are confusing, talk to your herbalist about ways to make it work better for you. It can be helpful to set up a schedule, such as taking them around mealtimes. For some medicines (especially for pain and anxiety) the medicines are taken on a regular basis and as needed for symptoms.
If a medicine causes undesirable effects, contact your herbalist. If the problem is not too severe, consider stopping the herbalmedicine and then retrying it later to see if the medicine is causing the problem.
Common Herbal Medicines
Tincture-Plants extracted in alcohol
Glycerite-Plants extracted in vegetable glycerin
Tea-Plants extracted in water; hot water is either poured on the tea (infusion) or the tea is cooked in water (decoction)
Powder-Plants reduced to a powder and taken internally
Capsule-Powdered plants put into a capsule
Compress-A strong tea with a cloth soaked in it and applied externally
Infused Oil-Plants extracted in a fixed oiland applied externally
Salve-Plant infused oil with bees wax added as an external preparation
Preparing Your Own Herbal Medicines
Many people find it satisfying to make their own medicines, such as tinctures, salves, and teas. These preparations are fairly easy tomake. Look for reliable information or ask an herbalist for tips. There may be local classes, or look for courses on-line.
If you are gathering plants, it is very important to learn accurate plant identification, and especially learning to recognize poisonous plants. If you are purchasing plants, search for reliable resources. Your initial costs may be higherwhen purchasing these ingredients, but you will usually save money making you ownhomemade preparations.
What is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine is the use of plants and other natural substances to treat a wide range of health conditions. Its practitioners are called herbalists. There is an extensive worldwide history of people using plants as medicine. This practice continues today and plays an important role in many people’s lives. Herbal medicines may be used by themselves or along with other treatments or therapies. Please see the handout A Patient’s Guide to Common Herbal Medicines to learn more about specific herbal medicines.
What is an Herbalist?
An herbalist is a health care practitioner who uses plants, herbal preparations, and other natural products as medicine. Herbalists are generally holistic in their approach to health care. This entails looking at many aspects of a person’s health with the goal of finding underlying causes and addressing them as well as treating symptoms.
Herbal medicine is not a licensed practice in the United States, and there is lot of variation in education and practice among herbalists. Without a legal definition, anyone may call themselves an herbalist. When choosing an herbalist, ask questions to find one that suits your personal needs.