What is Traditional Herbal Medicine?

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  • Written By: Lumara Lee
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 31 January 2020
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Traditional herbal medicine is the practice of using plants to relieve, treat, and prevent illness. Herbal healing has been used for millennia by various cultures. Berries, roots, leaves, bark, flowers, and other parts of plants have all been used in traditional herbal medicine. Teas, extracts, and poultices made from various plants are the basis of this ancient healing art, which is still in use today.

The use of traditional herbal medicine predates written records. Experience and anecdotal evidence have taught people which plants are most effective for treating a given disease. Ancient Chinese writings from 2800 B.C.E. are the first known chronicles that describe how plants were used medicinally. Similar herbs were frequently used to treat the same illnesses in cultures that were far removed from one another and had no contact.

Some of the drugs that were developed in the 20th century were derived from plants used in traditional herbal medicine. The heart medication digitalis was synthesized from a constituent in foxglove. Ephedrine, a decongestant commonly sold over the counter, was developed from the ephedra plant. Aspirin was synthesized from the salicin found in white willow bark, and opiate painkillers, such as codeine, were developed from the opium poppy. Cocaine was developed from the coca leaf, and there are many other examples.


Traditional herbal medicine is still popular. Healing practitioners in various disciplines incorporate it into their practices alongside contemporary treatment options. Chiropractors, pharmacists, naturopathic physicians, and medical doctors are among the professions that sometimes recommend traditional herbal medicine to their patients and customers. Herbalists, ayurvedic practitioners, and doctors of traditional Chinese medicine regularly recommend herbs and other plants to treat various afflictions.

The most popular herbs used in traditional herbal medicine today include St. John's wort, echinacea, gingko biloba, saw palmetto, and valerian. Studies done on these herbs have shown their efficacy. St. John's wort is useful in the treatment of depression and doesn’t produce the side effects that pharmaceutical antidepressants can cause. Echinacea can strengthen the immune system, and may prevent colds in some people while shortening their duration in others.

Gingko biloba is commonly used to enhance memory. Saw palmetto is used by many men to treat enlargement of the prostate gland and to reduce the problem of frequent urination. Valerian is a popular treatment for insomnia since it is a natural tranquilizer. Traditional herbal medicine has shown to be effective throughout history, and many professionals believe it will continue to be part of health treatments.



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