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What are the Different Types of Herbal Medicine Treatments?

By Jen Ainoa
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are many different types of herbal medicine treatments. Plants and plant products are the basis of all herbal medicines, but treatments differ depending on how the plants are used. Herbal medicines may be ingested, inhaled, applied directly to the skin, or inserted into an opening in the body, depending on the condition being treated. There are also many variations as to duration of treatment, dosage, and combinations of herbs to be used.

Some herbal medicine treatments are easily found in grocery stores, sometimes in the tea aisle. Teas for promoting restful sleep often contain the herb chamomile and are therefore be considered herbal medicine. Dieter’s teas and teas for easing colds are also common herbal treatments. Even black tea can be prepared and used as a foot soak to prevent sweaty, odorous feet, so it is another form of herbal remedy.

Many medicinal plants are prepared and marketed as essential oils or extracts. These oils come in small bottles and are very concentrated, meaning many fresh plants may were used to yield the tiny volume of oil being sold. Oils are versatile as herbal medicine treatments in that they can easily be rubbed into skin, added to foods, or mixed with other medicines. For example, peppermint oil, apart from having a fragrance many people find pleasant, can be ingested to treat bad breath, or massaged into the chest to relieve congestion.

Health food stores sell herbs in tablet, capsule, and even soft-gel form. Most of the time, the herbs are arranged by alphabetical order under the common name of the plant. When herbs are packaged for ingestion, the container will generally list a recommended dosage. Herbal treatments taken as pills or capsules can be preventative in nature, as when echinacea is taken to enhance the immune system and ward off colds. Other times, herbal medicines are used only when needed to remedy a specific condition, such as applying aloe vera to heal a burn or rash, or ingesting cranberry to treat a urinary tract infection.

Indigenous peoples have used herbal medicine treatments in the form of pastes and poultices for centuries, and continue to do so today. Often, herbs are ground together into a paste and then applied to the forehead or affected area. Poultices are made by seeping herbs in warm water and then wrapping them around a wound or injury. They are also common in folk or cultural healing practices.

Some Native American tribes burn fragrant plants or herbs and waft the smoke over the body of a sick person as a form of treatment. The smoke is also used to prevent illness or to ritualistically cleanse a person. Used in this way, the herbal treatment is closely associated with prayer and things more of a spiritual than physical nature, though many plant compounds are released when burned.

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