Herbs have caught the imagination of mankind ever since its advent on the earth. They have been admired for their beauty and fragrance, and savored for their flavor, for thousands of years. However, they have been used as medicines for common ailments and injuries like a sore throat and battle wounds, as well as more difficult health conditions like hypertension and heart diseases.
All ancient systems of medicine have been based upon the use of herbs. All ancient civilizations of the world – Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, as well as Greek and Roman – are known to have used herbs, not only for the treatment of various diseases but also for revitalizing the body and mind. Plants were even believed to possess mystical or supernatural powers to cure various ailments. It was as a result of these beliefs that many superstitions also grew round plants and herbs, like the belief in witches deriving their power from various herbal potions which were at its peak in Britain in the Middle Ages. Ironically, herbs were used even to counteract the effects of these evil powers. Garlic, hyssop, wormwood, all fell in this category of herbs.
Even in modern times, herbs have taken their rightful place as the ill effects of processed food and prolonged medication have come to be realized. Apart from their use as cures for various diseases in alternative systems of medicines, they are also being used in foods, beverages, and cosmetics. In fact, they are a very important part of the shift towards a healthier lifestyle that recognizes their importance in maintaining and enhancing our health.
The way of using herbs may differ, but the purpose of using them always remains the same – to make them interact with our life processes taking place within our bodies. Whether they are used as food or medicine, for fragrance or for beauty, they should be used in a way that the body absorbs their active constituents in order to benefit from their properties. When the body absorbs these active constituents, they are circulated through blood to all its cells to positively affect the whole system. The effect of these active constituents is fundamentally different from that of modern medicine. While modern medicine imposes its effects on the body’s inherent healing mechanism and thus disturbs it, herbal constituents restore and strengthen it so that the healing is natural and does not produce any long-term negative effects.
There are several ways to make the active elements of these herbs interact with the life processes within the body. Most commonly, they are orally consumed so that the digestive system may absorb them and take them to the circulatory system. But they can also be taken in by the body in other ways. For example, their aromas can be inhaled through the nose to take in the vapors of their essential oils. They can be applied on the skin or the scalp in the form of poultices or through cosmetic products from where they are taken in by the skin pores. In the form of liquid extracts, they can also be dropped into the eyes or nose for local benefits.
Usually, herbs have no harmful side effects, but we can’t generalize the statement. Some people may experience slight problems consequent upon their use. Therefore, when using a new herb, you should try it as a single product, and wait and watch for its effects. If no problem is experienced, you can increase the dosage cautiously. Further, you should remember that everybody is different, and the herb which benefited some may not show the same benefits on you. Finally, you should never replace proper medication with herbs if you are facing a medical emergency or suffering from a serious chronic condition.
Apart from the medicinal benefits, herbs are of great value for the maintenance of general health and well-being. They are rich, natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Some of them are delicious to taste, like betel leaf or mint, some others extremely difficult to tolerate, yet all of them are full of beneficial properties in their different spheres.
Herbs positively influence blood circulation and aid in detoxifying the system in a natural way. Because of detoxifying effect, they alleviate the effects of food poisoning. Besides, they also aid digestion and thus enhance the body’s ability to absorb various nutrients derived from food consumed.
Herbs improve the functioning of various internal organs of the body which results in correction of the hormonal imbalances. Their regular use improves the functioning of the immune system which results in reduced cases of seasonal infection like a common cold or a cough. They also soothe the mucous membranes which reduce inflammation and internal pain. On the whole, they strengthen the body in several ways.
Herbs are used both, internally and externally. The internal use involves taking them in the form of tea, or infusion of tinctures, or for gargles and mouthwashes. The external use mostly consists of massage with the essential oils, taking herbal baths or saunas, or applying in the form of creams or poultices.
The same herb can be used for different benefits by altering the way of its use. For example, flax seeds are taken in cold water, morning and evening, act as a good laxative. But when applied on the skin after dissolving them in hot water, the same seeds counter skin infections.
However, care is required in selecting and procuring herbs to be used as medicines. If a herb is not pure, it won’t give the desired benefits. So, always buy them from an authentic and trusted dealer. Further, if a herb is not used in the correct way, it may again not be as beneficial. For example, herbal infusions (teas) should be taken hot and should have been prepared using 1 tbsp of the dried herb with a cup of water. However, if fresh herbs are used, the amount should be doubled. If these instructions are not followed, the tea may lose much of its effectiveness.
Many people believe that herbs, being natural products, will not be harmful even if taken in larger than required quantities. It’s true that the human body is often able to metabolize natural plant constituents even in large quantities, but again we cannot generalize the statement. Some herbs, taken in high doses, may indeed be toxic and therefore sufficient care has to be taken even while using herbal products.
Today, scientific research is increasingly confirming what was known to our ancestors from experience. While plants continued to provide us pleasure with their beauty, color, and fragrance and enhance the taste of our food by their flavor, we seemed to have become oblivious of their importance as medicines. It is indeed a matter of great satisfaction that we have now rediscovered this particular aspect of herbs which has the potential of providing the greatest benefit to mankind.
Herbs – The Basics
Herbs have always been the basic source of medication in all the cultures across the world. We find mention of herbs and their uses in history, literature, the Bible as well as several other religious texts. For thousands of years, man has been using the herbs to cure his ailments. Most importantly, compared to other types of medications, herbs are safe for use and very consistent having little or no side effect whatsoever.
First, the term ‘herb’ denotes plants that of non-woody nature. In contemporary times, the term ‘herbs’ means any plant or part of a plant that is used to flavor foods or in the form of medications. Herbs are almost present everywhere. For instance, they are present even in your kitchen – the mustard on your table as well as several other spices that line your kitchen shelf originate from herbs. Actually, there are numerous instances of herbs in our daily life. Herbs are often described as wonders of Mother Nature.
Since the prehistoric days, people have always been seeking help via the herbs, as they are natural resources. In fact, herbs are dissimilar to contemporary medications that result in numerous side effects and they possess the aptitude to restore the defenses of the body, thereby, assisting the body to heal itself without any side effects.
All herbs are natural medications and they have been the natural medicines for the humans all the times.
While writing about herbs, it is essential to mention the different types of herbal medicine systems that are in use even to this day – for instance, European, Chinese, American, Ayurveda, Western and Native are the most established systems. All these systems help to cure the body as a whole and each of them makes use of the force of the herbs to function as required in collaboration with the natural energy in every individual. Herbs provide us with numerous health benefits. Here we shall discuss a few of them. Herbs are effective in cleaning as well as sanitizing the body. In addition, herbs help to control naturally the glands so that they function properly. Herbs also enclose high levels of different vitamins, minerals as well as other nutrients that nurture as well as build the body. Herbs also enable the body to possess additional vigor/ energy so that it is able to heal itself. Last, but not the least important, herbs encourage the good bacteria present in our body naturally.
Herbs actually absorb various substances from the soil and subsequently transform them into minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are used by our body for nourishment as well as healing itself. By making use of the herbs or whole plants, we soak in all the essential ingredients they enclose. Almost all herbs enclose numerous active substances, one among which normally dominate and help us to decide on its choice as a medication. Different other curative factors of the herbs ought not to be ignored since they also assist the body in absorbing its benefits and safeguard against side effects.
It may be noted that the herbs always function in synergy and, hence, combining them improves the properties of each herb, facilitating to obtain better curing to the body. For instance, a good combination of herbs like hops, valerian and passiflora works wonderfully to induce sleep. All the three herbs mentioned here possess relaxant attributes while passiflora focuses on facilitating sleep. At the same time, valerian helps to unwind the tense muscles, while hops have a distinctive impact on calming the nervous system.
In the study of herbs (herbology), herbs are supposed to possess changing combinations of properties and extent of each property also. Herbs have the ability to heat as well as dry or heat and moisturize. In addition, herbs may be cooling and drying or cooling and moistening. For instance, one herb may possess highly warming qualities while another one may simply be somewhat warming. But, both these herbs would be regarded as healing herbs.
The manner in which these attributes are allocated to the plants is quite simple. The herbs that possess healing properties are thought to generate warmth inside the body. Plainly speaking, all the aromatic herbs, for instance, caraway and anise, are deemed to be warming. Interestingly enough, even several bitter herbs, for example, Oregon grape, are also categorized as herbs possessing healing properties.
Conversely, cooling herbs are basically those herbs, which medical practitioners consider, that take away the heat from the body or some body part. Generally, herbs that enclose extremely volatile natural oils, for instance, spearmint or wintergreen, are classified as cooling herbs. Borage is another example of a cooling herb and, like other cooling herbs is also referred to as refrigerants. In order to obtain some notion or awareness regarding what a refrigerant actually is, you may imagine of a scorching summer day and subsequently envisage a slice of cucumber or watermelon. In fact, cucumber and watermelon are among the two best refrigerant foods.
It may be noted that the categorization of a herb as drying or moistening also largely depends on the individual properties of a particular herb. Any herb which is effective in augmenting urine passage, for instance, bearberry, is considered to be a drying herb. Similarly, all herbs possessing astringent properties, for instance, sage or oak bark, too are also known as drying herbs. Generally, aromatic herbs, such as caraway or anise, are also believed to be drying herbs. However, there are exceptions to this general rule too. For instance, fennel is considered to be a moistening herb – it is known to augment milk secretion in lactating women. If a herb is demulcent (soothing) or mucilaginous, it is also considered to be a moistening herb. Other herbs that are also classified as moistening herbs include marshmallow, flax seed, slippery elm, and licorice.
The European herbalists had developed a novel way of understanding the properties of different herbs. What they actually did was to imagine that each herb had a specific activity of the different parts of our body. Precisely speaking, they started defining specific activity hubs within the body for every herb. For instance, cayenne pepper, which was categorized as a heating herb, was identified as having an effect on the circulatory system since it was found to enhance the blood flow, particularly to the capillaries close to the skin’s surface. Possibly this clarifies the reason why people who inhabit extremely hot climatic conditions generally use hot peppers in their culinary. In effect, ingestion of hot peppers assists them to disperse the body heat by flowing it to the surface of the skin, where it results in cooling in the form of perspiration and evaporates while the heat is spread out into the nearby atmosphere.
Another good example of the heating herb is ginger which is said to possess the same properties as those of cayenne pepper. Nevertheless, the center of activity of ginger is described as basically lying in the internal organs. According to the conventional European medicine system, ginger is believed to generate a type of heat that remains within the body. Hence, ginger is often used by people during the winter months and in more proportions in the cool northern climatic conditions. People inhabiting these regions use ginger as a medication to treat colds as well as to reinforce the bladder and the kidneys. The basic dissimilarities between cayenne pepper and ginger are owing to the different activity centers of each herb within the body.
Making issues further complicated, it may be noted that herbs are not confined to merely one activity center. There are several herbs that people use for treating numerous dissimilar problems at the same time and instantly, for instance, headaches, acne, weariness, constipation, and indigestion. The main activity center for such herbs may possibly be the gall bladder and liver, where they would be considered to result in augmenting bile secretion. In fact, the hypothesis goes something like this: enhanced secretion of bile augments digestion of fats and oils, which, in turn, enhances the complexion. Increase bile secretion will also facilitate in easing chronic constipation. Rinsing out the colon is also a vital function.
Build up of toxic substances in the bowels owing to poor decomposition of ingested foods and their elimination from the body also adds to the common toxic condition that may lead to several of the symptoms mentioned earlier in this article. The toxic substances present in the colon are taken up by the blood and, hence, the cleaner the colon will be, the purer will be the blood. It may be noted that the liver being the natural filter of the body, facilitates in straining toxic substances from the blood. If the pace of the liver’s activity is enhanced, it will result in the blood containing lesser impurities or toxic substances. Like Oregon grape, there are a number of herbs that have their activity center in the liver and gall bladder and they influence the body in several ways – most are discussed above.
The hypothesis like these is unsophisticated in contemporary medical terms and mostly unproven by medical research. However, traditional herbology or the study of herbs need not deal with curing from the viewpoint of analysis done in the laboratories. In fact, herbology has always been founded on experimental observation of people as individuals.
It may be noted that the earliest nations or cultures, for instance, the Egyptians, were extremely proficient in using herbs appropriately. An antique text written in 1500 B.C. mentions about over 700 herbal medications, counting herbs like aloe vera, caraway seeds, garlic, and poppy.
People in China have been practicing herbal medication for more than 5000 years. In fact, the Chinese are renowned for their understanding as well as the use of ginseng. There is no reason to be apprehensive to use herbs in your kitchen. On the contrary, you should discuss herbs and their significance in our life. There are infinite other subjects that endorse the gainful use of herbs, inclusive of the quality of herbs, different herbal formulations, procedures to prepare herbal medication, the nutritional content of herbs as well as the dosage of herbal medicines. At the same time, it is important to always bear in mind that using herbs or any product containing herbs, denotes a more vigorous life. Therefore, take pleasure in the herbs, vitamins, aromatherapy and your life!