Herbal medicine has its origins in ancient cultures. It involves the medicinal use of plants to treat disease and enhance general health and well-being.
Some herbs have potent (powerful) 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.
Active ingredients and herbal medicine
Herbal medicines contain active ingredients. The active ingredients of many herbal preparations are as yet unknown. Some pharmaceutical medications are based on a single active ingredient derived from a plant source. 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 more significant than its parts. Critics argue that the nature of herbal medicine makes it difficult to give a measured dose of an active ingredient.
Medicinal uses for specific herbs
Herbal medicine aims to return the body to a state of natural balance so that it can heal itself. Different herbs act on different systems of the body.