by VEJAY STEEDE
Herbal remedies have been used since the dawn of humanity. Every culture on earth has made use of the available flora and fauna to improve physical health, vitality, stamina and even emotional well-being.
The advent of highly regulated modern medicines however, which was a salient feature of the development of the ‘first world’, put something of a tinge on traditional herbal remedies. Organisations like the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States warn against the widespread use of herbal medications due, largely, to their own limitations in properly regulating certain medicinal plants.
Does this mean that herbal remedies are ineffective, antiquated or dangerous? Not necessarily. Herbal remedies are, in fact, still used throughout the world, in parts of the planet where modern medicines are not readily available as well as communities within the developed world.
“Herbal medicine has its origins in ancient cultures. It involves the medicinal use of plants to treat disease and enhance general health and wellbeing,” say the experts at www.betterhealth.vic. gov.au. “Some herbs have potent ingredients and should be taken with the same level of caution as pharmaceutical medications. In fact, many pharmaceutical medications are based on man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. For instance, the heart medicine digitalis was derived from the foxglove plant.”
Of course, consumption of traditional herbal medicines should always involve caution; especially since the modern medical community can often offer inconclusive opinions on herbal medicines. The debate around active ingredients in herbal medicines rages on, with one side insisting that the use of the entire plant is the most effective way to use herbal medicines, and the other pointing to the difficulty in controlling dosage when using the entire plant.
“Practitioners of herbal medicine believe that an active ingredient can lose its impact or become less safe if used in isolation from the rest of the plant. For instance, salicylic acid is found in the plant meadowsweet and is used to make aspirin. Aspirin can cause the lining of the stomach to bleed, but meadowsweet naturally contains other compounds that prevent irritation from salicylic acid.
“According to herbal medicine practitioners, the effect of the whole plant is greater than its parts. Critics argue that the nature of herbal medicine makes it difficult to give a measured dose of an active ingredient.”
Dr Kuni Frith is a local herbal medicine practitioner. She describes herself as a practicing classical traditional naturopath who studies the medicinal properties and uses of herbs and plants. She is a wellspring of knowledge on local medicinal plants, and a true scholar of traditional herbal remedies.
“When asked the question, ‘how effective are herbal medicines?’ I like to remind folks that, long before modern allopathic healthcare, the first medicines were formulated from herbs for thousands of years. Ancient cultures such as the Africans, Chinese and East Indian physicians used plants, animal extracts, elements taken from the earth and sea, to heal the human body.”
Dr Frith also acknowledges the many herbal contributions to modern medicines: “Chemical compounds taken from the white Willow tree are used to make aspirin. Extracts from the periwinkle plant are an important ingredient in leukemia drugs. The opium poppy contains chemical compounds in the production of morphine.”
Serving clients out of her Hamilton store, Herbgoddess Teas, Dr Frith sees, and treats, a wide variety of ailments in her practice:
“Some of the common ailments I see almost daily in my practice are sinusitis, allergies, acid reflux, high blood pressure, inflammation of the joints, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, type 2 diabetes and skin rashes.”
Of course, medicinal herbs like Echinacea (which stimulates the immune system and aids the body in fighting off infection), garlic (which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and contains antibiotic and antiviral properties), ginger (which is effective in treating nausea), Ginko Biloba (which improves blood circulation), Ginseng (which can treat fatigue and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels), and St. John’s Wort (which helps depression, anxiety and insomnia) are well-known and can be found in supplement form in most reputable pharmacies these days.
There are also local plants that can be used to enhance physical and mental health. Dr Frith explained: “Bermuda has a very diverse plant pharmacopeia. The first settlers to the island did not have doctors, hospitals, clinics and diagnostic testing facilities as we do today, so they relied heavily on herbs found growing on the island for food and medicine.”
Some examples of plants used for frequent health issues are:
Seaside Goldenrod, which fights infection, reduces frequent urination, relieves allergy and cold symptoms and provides relief from inflammation.
Nettle, which is a treatment for arthritis, gout, eczema, enlarged prostate and skin rashes. The herb is also known to increase the production of breast milk.
Rosemary, which enhances memory and cognitive function. It improves the texture of the hair and skin, relieves stress and aids the respiratory system.
Purslane, which acts as a natural diuretic and detoxifier for the bowls and liver. Science backs the consumption of purslane to lower blood sugar levels.
Mullen, which is an old Bermudian remedy for earache, respiratory ailments, mucus congestion, cough, and seasonal allergies.
Again, starting a herbal medicine regimen must involve caution and Dr Frith advised us why:
“The advice I would give to patients considering herbal medicines to resolve a health issue is to do the research and seek the guidance of a healthcare professional knowledgeable in dispensing herbal medicine. If you are on prescription medications you need to be very careful not to have a drug/herb reaction by using herbal formulas in conjunction with your medications. Herbs can be very effective in restoring health, but they can also cause tremendous damage to the body or mind if used incorrectly.”
Dr Frith has written two books: ‘Bermudian Folk Remedies,’ and ‘Medicinal Plants Growing in Bermuda.’ These comprehensive reference books provide a historical background on traditional Bermudian folk remedies and also cover scientific research, clinical trials and offer helpful recipes.
…long before modern allopathic healthcare, the first medicines were formulated from herbs for thousands of years.