Understanding herbalism

What is herbalism?

Also known as herbal medicine, herbalism is the term that covers the use of plants as medical treatments. This means that traditional medicine – which has been practised all over the world for centuries – is a part of herbalism. In modern medicine, some aspects of herbalism persist, usually because an active ingredient within a particular plant is isolated in the laboratory in order to make a drug therapy. In some cases, materials that are not derived from plant life are considered to be a part of a herbalists toolkit, too. This includes some minerals derived from shells or animal parts as well as honey extracts and fungi. Sometimes herbalism is used to make specific therapies for conditions. In other cases, it is used to fashion dietary supplements which help to prevent ailments from occurring in the first place.

 Where did herbalism originate?

 As mentioned, herbalism has been around for a long time. In fact, some people believe that plants have been picked for specific medical purposes since the Stone Age. Certainly, ancient civilisations, such as the Sumerians and the Egyptians, relied on herbalism for healthcare matters. These traditions developed into those which were later used by ancient Greeks and Romans. However, in separate traditions, different forms of it developed in China, India and Africa. In fact, traditional Chinese medicine, and certain traditional African medicines, still use the principals of herbalism today.

What can herbalism treat?

People use herbalism to treat a wide range of complaints. It is something that is often associated with cancer care, for example. In some cases, herbalists will claim that they can treat the cancer cells themselves. However, it is more usual that herbal medicine is utilised to supplement other treatments, helping all-round health and relieving anxiety, for example. Alongside immune system disorders, herbalists often see people for joint and bone conditions, digestive problems and for emotional health matters.

Which clinical tests does modern herbalism adhere to?

Herbal medicines are in widespread use both in the West and in other parts of the world. However, many of the plants used in herbalism have not been subjected to the sort of clinical trials that developed medicines are. For this reason, some scientists would like to ban the use of herbalist traditions as medications. Nevertheless, more and more scientific work is now being done into finding out more about the properties of the main plants used in herbalism, especially in the field of traditional Chinese medicine.

What is paraherbalism?

Although herbalism aims to provide cures and treatments by honing in on the properties of certain plants, paraherbalism takes a wider approach. A paraherbalist, for example, would offer a blend of plants without reference to specific compounds in them. They believe that the complex nature of their make up provides a medicinal effect when taken together. Anecdotal evidence, rather than clinical evidence, tends to be used to justify the use of paraherbal medications.

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