08 May Herbalism
Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts.
Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy. The scope of herbal medicine is sometimes extended to include fungal and bee products, as well as minerals, shells and certain animal parts. Pharmacognosy is the study of medicines derived from natural sources.
In 2001, researchers identified 122 compounds used in mainstream medicine which were derived from “ethnomedical” plant sources; many of these compounds were used in the same or related manner as the traditional ethnomedical use.
Plants have evolved the ability to synthesize chemical compounds that help them defend against attack from a wide variety of predators such as insects, fungi and herbivorous mammals. Some of these compounds whilst being toxic to plant predators turn out to have beneficial effects when used to treat diseases. Such secondary metabolites are highly varied in structure, and many are aromatic substances.
At least 12,000 have been isolated so far; a number estimated to be only a fraction of the total. Chemical compounds in plants mediate their effects on the human body by binding to molecules present in the body; such processes are identical to those already well understood for conventional drugs and as such herbal medicines do not differ greatly from conventional drugs in terms of how they work. This enables herbal medicines to be in principle just as effective as conventional medicines but also gives them the same potential to cause harmful side effects. Many of the herbs and spices used by humans to season food yield useful medicinal compounds.
Similarly to prescription drugs, a number of herbs are thought to be likely to cause adverse effects. Furthermore, adulteration, inappropriate formulation, or lack of understanding of plant and drug interactions have led to adverse reactions that are sometimes life threatening or lethal. Play it safe and seek drug rehabilitation advice if you feel your life is at threat.