The History and Use of Medicinal Herbs Today

Today, the use of herbal supplements is a common practice among US consumers. However, due to the lack of close scrutiny by the FDA or other government agencies, the use of herbal supplements remains controversial. Despite this, laboratory analysis of plant chemicals and clinical trials have given us the supporting science to understand what is really happening. Many of the herbs we use today as remedies have been known for thousands of years.

For example, turmeric, which is now widely advertised for its anti-inflammatory properties, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for the past 6000 years. Fennel was used to relieve digestive problems in the Middle Ages and is still used today. In 1785, William Withering published his Tale of the Foxglove and some of its medical uses after treating a patient with severe dropsy caused by heart failure with an old family prescription. He detailed 200 cases in which the foxglove had been successfully used to treat dropsy and heart failure, along with his research on the parts of the plant and the harvest dates that produced the strongest effect.

Withering also noticed that the therapeutic dose of the foxglove is very close to the toxic level where side effects develop. After further analysis, the cardiac glycosides digoxin and digitoxin were finally extracted and are still used in the treatment of heart disease today. In 1803, morphine became one of the first drugs to be isolated from a plant by Frederich Serturner in Germany. Scientists soon used similar techniques to produce aconitine from monkey, emetine from ipecac, atropine from belladonna and quinine from Peruvian bark. It is becoming more and more widespread as improvements in analysis and quality control, along with advances in clinical research, show the value of herbal medicine in the treatment and prevention of diseases. By 500 BC, Egyptian medicine had become so respected that rulers of Rome and Babylon invited Egyptian healers to their courts, while aspiring healers from Greece and Rome went to Egypt to study.

Around this same time, Roman author, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote a comprehensive guide to nature that included an extensive catalog of herbs valuable as medicine. It allows us to mix herbs to enhance their positive effects and reduce or eliminate any negative side effects they may have when each is used alone. Unfortunately, many plant species on earth have been endangered as consumption of herbs and herbal products continues to increase around the world. We can also track how the history of herbal medicine is erased by observing how schools teach the history of medicine. There is no doubt that Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM), along with other ethnic herbal medicines in China, comprises a gold mine of potential modern medicines and health products. In Ayurvedic theory, disease is seen in terms of imbalance, with herbs and dietary controls used to restore balance.

Phytotherapy associations were formed around the world both to promote the use of herbal treatments and to ensure quality control. Herbs such as wood, betonia, verbena, mugwort, plantain and yarrow were recommended for domestic consumption but also as components of amulets that would prevent evil eye. In general, cultural roots, widespread and long-lasting use in a Traditional Medical System may indicate safety but not effectiveness of treatments, especially in herbal medicine where tradition is almost entirely based on remedies containing active ingredients in very low and ultra-low concentrations or relying on magic-energetic principles. Ancient writings on Chinese and Egyptian papyrus describe medicinal uses of plants as early as 3000 BC. In addition, Nahin and Straus from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) proposed a pragmatic outline for resource allocation in the United States. The dosage form also known as routes of administration is a mixture of components with medicinal properties and non-pharmacological components (excipient or vehicle).

Andrea Pedraza
Andrea Pedraza

Hardcore music specialist. Avid social media nerd. Hardcore pop culture lover. Devoted zombie practitioner. Hipster-friendly communicator.

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