Herbal medicine, also known as herbalism or botanical medicine, is a system based on the use of plants or plant extracts that may be eaten or applied to the skin. Since ancient times, herbal medicine has been used by many different cultures throughout the world to treat illness and to assist bodily functions. While herbal medicine is not a licensed profession in the United States, herbal remedies in the form of extracts, tinctures, capsules and tablets as well as teas may be recommended by healthcare practitioners of many different disciplines as a practical way to address a wide variety of medical conditions.
Herbal medicine blurs the line between foods and medicines – a line that, in many cultures, was never drawn in the first place. Using herbs and spices that have disease-preventive effect in foods is one of the best ways to take advantage of their healing power. For example, it appears that the daily use of the spice turmeric in curry dishes is one reason elderly people in India have one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.
Herbal medicine has been used to treat or alleviate virtually every possible medical condition. Some of the most popular herbal remedies and the conditions for which they are used include:
- aloe used topically for minor burns, sunburns, skin irritation or inflammation
- arnica used topically for bruises, sprains, sore muscles and joints
- chamomile tea ingested for upset stomach, heartburn, indigestion and colic
- comfrey, in a topical poultice only, for bedsores, diabetic ulcers, certain spider bites and staph infections contracted on tropical beaches
- dong quai for women and ginseng for men and women, ingested to improve general health and stamina – in this application, these are known as tonics. Other tonics include eleuthero and rhodiola.
- echinacea ingested for colds, flu, sore throat
- garlic ingested to possibly reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, treat fungal infections and colds
- ginger ingested for nausea and motion sickness and as an anti-inflammatory
- mullein ingested for chest congestion and dry, bronchial coughs
- passionflower ingested for non-sedating relaxation
- peppermint tea ingested for indigestion, nausea and other digestive problems
- peppermint oil (in enteric-coated capsules) ingested for irritable bowel syndrome and other chronic intestinal ailments
- tea tree oil applied topically for fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and fungal infections of the toenails and fingernails
- turmeric ingested to combat inflammation and protect against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease
- valerian ingested for sleeping problems.
This is only a brief overview of some of the many safe and effective herbal remedies.