By: Dr. Kelly Brown, N.D
What is Botanical/Herbal Medicine?
Botanical medicine (also known as herbal medicine) is the use of herbs and plants to treat medical and specific health conditions. Many parts of the plant are used for therapeutic purposes, this includes the bark, leaves, berries, flowers, roots and seeds.
People have been using plants for healing purposes long before written recordings. Egyptians, Indigenous People, Traditional Chinese Medicine and many other cultures have a long history of practicing herbal medicine. Today 1/3 of North Americans are using botanical/herbal medicine for the treatment of illness and conditions.
How do herbs and plants work?
Extracts from the herbs or plants are used for healing properties. Scientists know the chemical structures of plants and what is contained within them. They can then predict their usefulness in treating certain conditions or illness.
For example, chemical structures called Flavonoids, are found in many plants, fruits and vegetables. They are the active ingredient that provide anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune boosting benefits. There are ten different types and categories of flavonoids.
Another popular structure is called a Saponin. There are three different types of saponins, called triterpene glycosides, steroid glycosides, and steroid alkaloid glycosides. They have many different functions, depending on the type is used. These properties range from, adaptogenic (stress/fatigue treatment), anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, liver protective to cholesterol lowering and more!
These are only two examples of plant components that may help in healing. There are five major categories in total: Carbohydrates, Lipids, Terpenes, Polyphenols and Alkaloids. Each category has three to ten different chemical structures whose functions are known in the human body.
How is Botanical/Herbal medicine administered?
1) Teas are an easy and common way to gain therapeutic properties from plants, which will be extracted into the hot water when steeped.
2) Capsule forms of herbal supplements are also very common. A laboratory removes the desired aspect of the plant, dehydrates it, and places it in digestible casings.
3) Diet is a really simple way of getting herbs into your system. Garlic and ginger are both excellent anti-inflammatory and immune boosting herbs and can easily be added to any meal.
4) Tinctures are another great way to administer treatment. A tincture is an alcohol extract of a herb in a small dropper bottle. It is one of the most potent delivery forms available.
5) Infusions, poultices, oils, sprays, compresses, juices, and emulsions are other less common examples.
Practitioners often use multiple herbs due to the fact that the combination of like herbs has a synergistic effect and often works better than taking a single herb on its own.
What is Botanical/Herbal Medicine used for?
Herbal Medicine can be used for a variety of different conditions and illnesses, including the following:
- Hormones- menopause, infertility, painful or irregular mensuration
- Digestion- Irritable bowel syndrome, keeping Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis in remission
- Stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia
- Inflammation and arthritis
- Boosting the immune system
- Plus many more…
When you are treating an illness it is important to use a variety of different tools along with your herbal remedies. Diet and other supplements are also very beneficial. Modern Medicine is also extremely important because not all diseases can be treated using herbs alone. It should be noted that many herbs also work synergistically with medicine, improving its effectiveness. Herbs can also help offset the side effect of medications that cannot be removed safely.
Is Botanical/Herbal Medicine safe?
Herbal medicine can have a large, positive impact on the body. For example, decreasing cholesterol, helping you fall asleep, stopping inflammation and so on. If they can impact your body significantly in these ways, they can also be harmful if not taken properly. For example, they can have major detrimental effects on the body and potentially interact with many medications. Many herbs cannot be taken during pregnancy and lactation due to adverse effect on a baby’s formation and risk of miscarriage.
Here are some examples of herbal remedies adverse reactions;
-Licorice-can increase blood pressure in someone with existing high blood pressure, increasing cardiovascular risks.
-St. John’s Wort- raises liver enzymes, therefore decreasing or increasing the effect other medications have on the body (i.e. hormones taken for menopause or HIV medications).
-Many anti-inflammatory herbs can cause blood thinning and can’t be used with other medications or before surgeries.
Where do I buy Botanical/Herbal Medicine?
It is important to make sure you look for a reputable source when purchasing herbs and botanicals. A health food store is the best place to go to ensure most products are of good quality. There have been recent studies done on herbal supplements that have shown that certain products don’t contain what is stated on the bottle. Also, the doses given on labels are often lower then what is needed therapeutically.
Seeking advice from a Naturopathic Doctor or a trained herbalist can help guide you in determining which botanicals and in what quantities are safe and effective for your specific needs. A Naturopathic Doctor is trained in herbal and medical interactions as well as interactions with any medical conditions.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.