What is it?
Herbalism is the use of plants (herbs) to improve health and treat disease.
Four of five people in the world use herbs to treat diseases and improve their health. Approximately 25% of all prescription drugs are made from plants or were derived from plants. Herbal medicines are different from these drugs because they use parts of the whole plant instead of single active chemicals.
Some of the earliest records of herbal use in medicine are from ancient Egypt, 3500 years ago. Ancient cultures such as India, China, and Persia also relied on plant-based medicines. Early Western herbal use was mostly developed and recorded by Greek and Roman doctors. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century made herbal knowledge available to anyone who could read and allowed herbalism to grow for the next 200 years.
Herbs are used to make medicines, spices, and oils for fragrances. Herbal medicines can be produced from any part of the plant. Pills, teas, liquid extracts, essential oils, and ointments may contain herbs.
Herbal products are not monitored or reviewed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness. Most herbal products are very safe if taken at the suggested dosage on the container. Some herbs are very helpful when taken correctly but can be toxic if taken in higher dosages. Ma huang, aconite, wild indigo, digitalis, lobelia, stramonium, mistletoe, jin bu huan, and pennyroyal are toxic herbs that may cause problems. Talk with a herbal care giver or read a reliable herbal book for information about how to treat your health problem.
Herbs are available from health food stores, drug and grocery stores, mail order, internet, and other sources. Doctors using medicinal herbs in their practice may also sell them to their patients.
Herbal medicine is often used by licensed health care providers, such as chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, nutritionists, naturopaths, and alternative medical doctors.
For more information contact:
1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.
2. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.
3. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.
4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.
5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.
Last Updated: 1/4/2011