This article has been contributed by Diana Smith.
In 1991, something strange happened. A so-called Iceman, a naturally mummified body was discovered by hikers in the Italian Alps. The mystery surrounding a dead body frozen 5300 years before did not end there. Researchers found two lumps containing bracket fungus. Why he carried them with himself was to be discovered 7 years later. In 1998, an autopsy revealed that Iceman had intestinal parasite in his rectum and that he treated his condition with bracket fungus. The case of a mysterious Iceman is the first documented example of herbal medicine in the world.
A long tradition
The four major herbal traditions in the world, Chinese, Ayurvedic, European and Native American tell us about the importance of herbs throughout history. The Devine Farmer’s Classic of Herbalism, compiled 2000 years ago is the oldest book on herbalism. The roots of this type of medicine in Australia reach 1905, when naturopathic services were advertised in newspapers.
Even though synthesized drugs have revolutionized medicine as we know it, a large number of people in developing countries still use herbs to treat various conditions. 90% of population in Africa and 70% of population in India still rely on traditional medicine. The situation is similar in developed countries. According to the estimates by the World Health Organization, 80% of people worldwide use herbal medicines.
Multiple active compounds
Major advantage of botanicals over drugs is that botanicals contain multiple active compounds. These compounds taken together may have a positive effect on our bodies no drug can have. Even though this may seem to you an advantage of herbs, separation of the active compounds is a serious challenge when it comes to scientific evidence. On the other hand, the type of environment, how and when the plant is harvested and processed can determine the effectiveness of the herb. This means that plants should be grown specifically for the purpose of research.
Another reason why people opt for medicinal herbs is that they cost less than drugs. Furthermore, they are effective for various conditions. For example, kava kava can be used for elevating mood and treating insomnia. Finally, they are usually available without prescription.
Some of the most commonly used herbal medicines:
Echinacea- decreases the odds of catching a flu by 58%;
Ginkgo- improves blood circulation and slows down Alzheimer’s disease;
St. John's wort- strong scientific evidence that it is effective for mild to moderate depression because it contains a chemical, hyperforin, which plays a role in depression;
Garlic- produces a chemical, allicin which makes it effective in treating the conditions related to the heart and blood system, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, heart attack and atherosclerosis;
Chamomile- used for treating chest colds, slow-healing wounds, abscesses, gum inflammation and skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, chickenpox, and diaper rash;
Ginger- used for stomach problems, such as motion sickness, morning sickness, colic, upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, nausea caused by cancer treatment, nausea and vomiting after surgery and loss of appetite;
Ginseng- lowers blood sugar levels, improves concentration and learning; when it comes to studies of mental performance, ginseng was combined with ginkgo;
Saw palmetto- used for treating benign prostatic hyperplasia, a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland;
Valerian- a common medication for sleep problems; has fewer side effects compared to sleeping pills
Milk thistle- provides benefits when it comes to liver problems, such as cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders;
Evening primrose- used for eczema, psoriasis, and acne, rheumatoid arthritis, weak bones, Raynaud’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis;
Cannabis- the latest cannabis news link this herb to the treatment of epilepsy.
Regulations in Australia
Herbal medicines are referred to as complementary medicines in Australian law and they regulated under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. The risk-based approach includes that lower-risk medicines can be listed, while higher risk medicines must be registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.
Even though herbal medicines are safe to use in most cases, some of them can have side effects as they can interact with prescription medications and as they may worsen certain medical conditions. Before you choose herbal medicines, research about them online. Make sure you look for scientific studies proving health benefits of the plant. Finally, if you are unsure about their usage, contact a healthcare professional.