Herbs in Perspective
|Herbs in Perspective||Darrell Miller||06/10/05|
June 10, 2005 10:25 PM
Author: Darrell Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: Herbs in Perspective
Herbs in Perspective by Phyllis D. Light, RH-AHG Energy Times, June 16, 2004
"I don't claim a cure...I just try to give people some ease," noted Tommie Bass, a traditional Southern herbalist whose life has been the topic of several books, including Mountain Medicine by Darryl Patton (Natural Reader Press) and Trying to Give Ease by John Crellin and Jane Philpott (Duke University Press). That philosophy reflects the perspective embraced by herbalists for eons.
The traditional use of herbs is incorporated into all cultures. Herbs were the first medicine and the origin of what we now call modern medicine. These plants have not been prescribed to conquer specific illnesses but instead nourish the body and aid in building overall health.
Observation, psychological need and human instinct form the foundation of traditional herbal knowledge and use. This knowledge has been passed down through generations based on practice and experience. The result: a depth of information about the safe and effective use of herbs that spans thousands of years.
The goal of a traditional herbalist is to bring the body into balance (homeostasis), prevent disease and support immune functioning. Unfortunately, any kind of therapeutic knowledge can be misused, and that has happened with some herbs, causing some people to question herbal medicine's safety.
As more people turn to natural therapies, scientists have begun to perform evidence-based research into their safe and effective use. The good news is that much of this research has validated the effectiveness of herbs and supplements.
Echinacea to the Rescue
Do the sniffling sneezes that herald a cold have you reaching for your bottle of echinacea? If so, you are in good company. Echinacea (Echinacea spp) is one of the top-selling herbs.
The colorful American prairie plant was extremely popular during the early 1900s, until the use of modern antibiotics relegated it to the back shelf. But a resurgence of interest in herbs propelled echinacea back into the mainstream in the second half of the twentieth century. And this herb boasts an impressive body of research and has an excellent record of safety.
For instance, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy have found echinacea to be effective in supporting the body's defenses against upper respiratory tract infections and for reducing the duration of discomforts that accompany the common cold (Pharmacotherapy 2000; 20(6):690-7).
Although studies have not confirmed its ability to prevent colds, echinacea is widely used by many folks for just that purpose. Researchers have found that echinacea's effectiveness may drop if you use it for eight straight weeks (Am J Health-Syst Pharm 1999; 56(2):121-2). So if you take it for a couple of months, take a couple of weeks off before using it again.
St. John's wort is another herb with ancient origins that has experienced a modern resurgence. Named after St. John the Baptist, St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is generally in bright yellow bloom around St. John's Day (June 26). According to herbalist Michael Tierra, author of The Way of Herbs (Pocket Books), St. John's wort affects the liver and the nervous system. In 1984, the German Commission E, a recognized herbal authority, approved St. John's for depressive disorders, and in topical form for acute injuries and first-degree burns.
Modern research has reaffirmed the use of St. John's wort in the short-term treatment of mild to moderate depression (Cochrane Review Issue 2, 2004). It has also been found to be useful in premenstrual depression (Int J Psy Med 2003; 33(3):295-7). (Researchers have found that the herb may alter how the body processes some prescription medications, so check with your healthcare provider before using such medicines along with St. John's wort.)
King of Herbs
" Ginseng (Panax) received the lofty title, King of Herbs, due to its reputation as a tonic and its ability to stimulate the body into healing," notes herbalism writer Darryl Patton. This plant was once so popular in China that it was worth its weight in gold.
In fact, ginseng is the popular name for two different types of ginseng, American and Korean (Panax quinquefolium and P. ginseng). Both are considered adaptogens, or substances that help the body deal with stress more effectively. And modern research has found that ginseng can be used to improve overall energy and vitality, and to help the body deal more effectively with chronic stress (J Pharm Sci 2003 Dec: 93(4):458-64).
Researchers have found that ginseng helps boost the immune system (J Med Food 2004 Spring; 7(1):1-6). This ancient herb is also a powerful antioxidant that confers protection on the heart (Biochem Biophys Acta 2004 Feb 24; 1670(3):165-71). In other studies, ginseng has been found to reduce symptoms of menopause, improve endurance and lower blood sugar levels. To avoid overharvesting wild ginseng, most of the herb on the market is now grown on farms.
Ode to Ginkgo
Known as the Living Fossil, ginkgo is the oldest known plant in the world. A native of Asia, ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is now found in many US cities, where it has been planted as a quick-growing shade tree. Traditionally, ginkgo was used for disorders and diseases of the lungs and the kidneys, as a remedy for bronchitis and to improve circulation in older people.
Ginkgo contains substances that act as potent antioxidants by scavenging cell-damaging free radicals, and it is thought to help reduce the risk of disease. By opening capillaries, ginkgo increases circulation, and enables nutrients and oxygen to move around the body, especially to the extremities.
Indeed, recent research indicates that ginkgo may ease pain associated with arterial disease in the legs (Am J Med 2000; 108:276-81). Other studies support the use of ginkgo for acute stress (J Pharm Sci 2003 Dec; 93(4):458-64) and some cases of hearing loss (Acta Otolaryngol 2001; 121:579-84).
In a UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute study on ginkgo, researchers found significant improvement in the verbal recall of people who had age-related memory problems. According to Dr. Linda Ercoli, lead author of the study, "Our findings suggest intriguing avenues for future study...with a larger sample to better measure and understand the impact of ginkgo on brain metabolism."
Traditionally, fiery ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used to aid digestion, reduce nausea, relieve gas, reduce symptoms of arthritis and strengthen the heart. Modern researchers have started to validate these traditional uses; ginger has reduced the nausea and vomiting of morning sickness in studies (Aust NZJ Obstet Gynaecol 2003 Apr; 4392:139-44).
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Minnesota have applied for a patent on a substance found in ginger, believing it to have anticancer activity. According to Ann Bode, "Plants of the ginger family have been credited with therapeutic and preventive powers and have been reported to have anticancer activity."
Ginger can be found in natural food stores as fresh or dried root. It often appears in small amounts in herbal formulas as a carrier herb-one that helps move other herbs around the body.
The best medicine combines the health support of herbs with the scientific rigor of conventional medicine. And as scientists continue to search for new medicine from ancient remedies, we can enjoy the best of both perspectives.