When I say the word “Herb” the first thing that probably comes to your mind is Marijuana. The second thing is probably hippies, and granolas and the third is maybe witchcraft, or maybe you think snake oil sells-men. On the other hand you might think tea, many ancient drugs or healing herbs and natural medicine. Herbs are plants, and usually referring to those that are not typically eaten for daily nourishment, they have served many purposes throughout history and have a very promising future in the modern art and science of medicine.
The oldest records we have of herbal uses, are from the Sumerians and the Chinese. The Chinese have been practicing herbal medicine from the beginning of their civilization. Nearly 3,000 years ago. The Chinese emperors were among the first to begin the cultivation and scientific study of herbs. The emperors would take their prisoners of war and feed them different herbs usually boiled in a pot and force fed. They would record the reaction that the prisoners would have to the cultivated plant. Many other civilizations used and cultivated plants for healing and other purposes. Civilizations such as Indians, Egyptians, Greek, Romans, Israelites, Native Americans and many others. They used them for the purpose of healing, anointing, sanitation, Odor and deodorization, flavoring, and physical stimulation and relaxation.
In the beginning of the 19th century science began to discover the individual chemicals in the make up of many herbs they began to isolate them for the use of medical practices. Plants such as the bark of the Willow tree which was used for centuries to remove pain and headaches was refined to form a compound called acetylsalicilic acid which was extremely good at dulling pain and began the modern production of pain killers. It is known today as aspirin. Papaver Somniferum is a plant that has been collected for it's seeds since 3400 BC, and used by the Phoenicians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Hindi, Babylonians, Persians and Assyrians. It was ground to a pulp and used in surgery to remove pain, it was used with poison hemlock to quickly and painlessly put people to death. It was also used by addicts on a regular basis for a momentary high. Now today it is use in hospital patients suffering from severe wounds to remove pain. It goes by many names including Poppy, Opium, but now is isolated for the active chemical called Morphine. Which has been chemically altered into many other drugs called Opiates such as Codene, Hydrocodon, Oxycodon, and Heroine.Today there are at least 120 different plants cultivated to produce drugs and other popular isolated chemicals.
According to Chinese traditional medical theory, there are 3 different types of herbs, Food, Medicinal, and Poison grade. Each type has a very different function. ood grade herbs have the function of feeding the body. Herbs such as Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Spinach, all have nutritional value that feed the body and give it what it needs to heal itself. Not interfering with the natural function but assisting and providing. Medicinal grade herbs stimulate the body to do different functions. Some of them stimulate repairing and healing of cells. Some stimulate production of certain biochemicals and help restore function to the systems. These in a general sense stimulate the body in different ways. They can be used for a certain period of time, about 2 months usually, and then they start to cause side effects, often causing symptoms to come back. The third type is Poison grade herbs. They have been used to make most pharmaceuticals. In large quantities these plants can kill you but in minuet doses they can change symptoms that cause many diseases. They take over for certain bodily functions and force the body to change. Most always with other symptoms in return. For example the drug Atropine is used to slow heart rate, it is derived from a chemical found in the deadly night shade plant.
The chemical composition of plants are very vast, but there are three main types of chemicals in plants they include Nutrients, Enzymes, and Phytochemicals. Nutrients are those chemicals that are held in plants that are vital to the life of an organism. Namely Vitamins, minerals, and protein, carbohydrates, and oils. Plants contain many enzymes that are not nutritional but which are theoretically valuable in aiding our health. Phytochemicals Are other chemicals which are not vital to our health but also aid in our our bodies functions. These are very vast but I will name a few. For Example; Menthol is an oil found in plants such as mint that reduces inflammation and also carries heat away when it evaporates. You find this in Vick's Vapor Rub, gum and mint candies. Quercitin is a bioflavanoid that exists in plants such as citrus, and green tea. It is a very good anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and immune booster.
Many different herbs are being studied for their phytochemical properties. Green tea has probably been the most widely studied herb. Many studies have been done on its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-cancer and immune boosting properties.
Gymnema Sylvestre has had a few studies done on rats that suggest that it has the ability to help increase insulin production in the beta cells of the pancreas and thereby reduce diabetes.
Rosemary has had studies published in peer reviewed journals that found that it has an active ingredient in it called Carnosol that causes cancer to stop growing, and that it reduces mortality of radiation poisoning victims.
A chemical called monolaurin is a 12 carbon fatty monoester of glycerol and lauric acid that is found in coconuts and breast milk, it is very anti-microbial it has been shown to destroy many bacteria, fungi, and viruses including colds, flues, Epstein bar virus, and Shingles! Not to mention it is completely non-toxic to humans!
In conclusion herbs have had a very long interesting and overlooked history but we are beginning to explore the science of healing using herbal remedies that are often times just as effective if not more effective than the drugs we have now and yet without all of the symptoms associated with modern drugs. They have a very promising future in science and evidence based medicine, and I believe ARE the future of medical treatment.