Herbs 101

Explaining herbs for the novice- What are they?


Herbs and herbal medicine have been used for thousands of years. In fact, herbal medicine is the establishment of modern medicine. Today, herbal medicine is partly used to treat illnesses, and diseases, and to enhance wellbeing. The benefits of using herbal medicine include: 

  • More affordable than conventional medicine
  • Easier to obtain than prescription medicine
  • Stabilizes hormones and metabolism
  • Natural healing
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Fewer side effects

Medicinal properties derived from plants can come from many different parts of a plant including leaves, roots, bark, fruit, seeds, and flowers. The different parts of plants can have different active ingredients within one plant. Therefore, some parts of one plant could be toxic while another portion of the same plant could be harmless.

Herbs can be used in a variety of different ways, and come in a variety of different forms. Herbs can be consumed as pills or tinctures, brewed as tea, applied to the skin as a lotion, salve, or cream, as well as added to bath water. 

What is the history of herbal medicine?

Ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings mention medicinal uses for plants as early as 3,000 BC. Indigenous cultures used herbs in their healing rituals, while others developed traditional medical systems (such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used. 

About 80% of people globally still rely on natural medicine for at least some portion of their health care. For example, in Germany there are over 600 plant-based medicines that are commonly prescribed by doctors. In the US, more people are looking to return to and incorporate natural medicine and herbs back into their daily routine. 

Be aware herbal medicine can interact with other medications

Herbal medications and supplements may interact negatively with the prescription medicines you are taking.  

Some herbs have strong ingredients and should be taken with the same level of caution as pharmaceutical medications. Many pharmaceutical medications are based on man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. 

Taking herbal supplements may increase or decrease the effectiveness of other pharmaceutical drugs you are taking or may increase the risk of negative side effects. For example, St John’s Wort may decrease the effectiveness of other medicines but increase the effects of antidepressants.

It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about any side effects and interactions with other medications you are taking before you consider incorporating herbal medicines into your daily routine.