As stated previously, I plan to write a post each Sunday this year, focusing on the weekly facts from the “Path” page. This week is week one so it will focus on health. The weekly facts to learn are…
a) body – learn something about your body that will help to keep you fit and healthy either mentally or physically.
b) plants – learn the name of one local plant, flower or herb, how to identify it and its uses.
I’m quite interested in herbalism so my “body” fact this week will be some information about herbalism. For the second part, I will look at the plant Aloe Vera. All my information will come from the book Herbal Remedies by Andrew Chevalier.
Humans have been using plants in the natural world since prehistoric times and many are still used today, both in traditional and modern medicine. In the 19th century, use of herbs fell out of favour due to the fact that it was difficult to isolate the particular part of a plant offering a remedy and the fact that there were natural variations in the amounts of compounds found in different plants of the same species. However, interest in herbal remedies has surged recently as more people realise the limits of modern medicine, especially in treating chronic illnesses, as well as the fact that scientific research is backing up the claims of many traditional medicines. About 25% of medicines prescribed by the NHS in the UK are herbal. In Germany almost 90% of doctors regularly prescribe herbal remedies.
The big difference between herbal remedies and modern drugs is that herbal remedies use the entirety of part of the plant, believing all its compounds work together synergistically, while modern medicines try to isolate the specific substance within the plant that causes the healing and makes a medicine out of that – which usually makes it a more concentrated medicine. Herbal remedies therefore tend to be more diluted.
Why should we be interested in herbalism? Firstly, plants can be found all around us and are often free, therefore offering us a chance to heal ourselves without excessive costs. Herbal remedies usually work with our bodies own physiological processes, and when used correctly, are completely safe. Medical research is endorsing the effectiveness of many remedies and they are, of course, a renewable resource.
Herbal remedies tend to be mild medicines that can work alongside prescription drugs but should not be seen as a replacement. They are very good for treating minor health problems and can also be used to enhance performance or prevent illness too. The improvements are usually gradual, not quick and so it is often best to take them regularly, not just when symptoms appear so you can prevent rather than cure.
Herbal remedies must be used sensibly as they can cause side effects, like any medicine, and professional advice should be sought if there are any doubts. When used correctly, when they are good quality and harvested correctly, they are both safe and effective. In the EU and Australia, there are quality standards legislation on any herbal remedy sold over the counter to ensure this. And many universities around the world now offer courses that teach herbalism.
Herbal remedies can be used to treat many problems. They can treat common acute problems e.g. sore throats, bloating, headaches, skin rashes and coughs. They can treat chronic problems like depression, arthritis and fungal infections. They can help enhance performance e.g. helping a student with exams or workers dealing with stress, or they can help to deal with longer term problems by either preventing illness or preventing a deterioration of conditions.
Interestingly, animals eat certain plants as medicine e.g. dogs and cats eat grass when ill, and studying animal behaviour is how a lot of herbal remedy knowledge has built up. Also, it is important to note that many herbs and plants are part of our food e.g. garlic, lemon e.t.c so they act both as food and medicine and can reassure us about their safety.
So my body fact for this week is – herbal remedies can be used to treat many minor ailments, and that they use the whole of a particular part of a plant rather than isolating a single substance as modern drugs research does. In my next health post I will look at types of herbal remedies and how to use them.
Known as the “first aid plant,” Aloe Vera is one of the most commonly used herbal remedies. It’s thick, spiky, fleshy leaves provide a cooling gel that can be used to treat many illnesses. It grows naturally in the tropics, but can also be grown on windowsills in cold climates with indirect sunlight and little watering.
Cutting the leaf of the plant will expose a clear, cooling gel that can be used to heal wounds and tissues, support the immune system and reduce inflammation. It can be used for wounds, burns, bruising, acne, dermatitis, sores, rashes, shingles and sunburn. It is also good for dabbing onto mouth ulcers and aching teeth or for rinsing your mouth with to heal gingivitis.
It must be used carefully however as it can cause an allergic reaction and so before using for the first time, a small amount should be put on some skin to check the reaction. It should not be applied to open wounds and medical advice should always be sought before taking it internally. The gel, not the yellow sap, is the part to use.