How herbs work

It has never been straightforward to categorise simply the specific actions and indications of herbs and for this reason herbal medicine is often seen as an inexact science. The way we describe the therapeutic properties of herbs has changed over the centuries as our understanding of body systems and how they work has increased. No doubt this will continue as such learning grows and we will describe the actions of our herbs in a slightly different way than before. But this does not really change the deep connection that plants have with healing. 

 

Herbs are effective on many levels:

  • Preventative – herbs can assist your own natural immunity to work better, keeping yourself well and enhance your capacity to ward off infections.

  • Acute ailments often have a rapid onset and arise from viral or bacterial infections.  They include common ailments such as sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections. While these conditions are generally self-limiting, the accompanying symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, fever and earache can be very unpleasant.  These conditions will respond quite quickly when herbs are appropriately prescribed, assisting our own 'vital force', to ensure more rapid resolution, and dispensing with the need for antibiotic use.

  • Chronic conditions – herbs can resolve ongoing problems that have not cleared up by themselves. Although they may not fall into the 'serious' category, it's important not to ignore these ailments as they may develop into more serious, entrenched problems over time.  Chronic bronchitis, asthma, chronic fatigue, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis - are but a some examples of long-standing complaints that should not be ignored. 

  • We hear a lot about detoxifying the body and people are naturally concerned about overexposure and possible overload to their system in a very chemical world. Herbs that support normal excretory functions, making these more efficient, will assist in ridding toxins from the body. Many herbs improve digestion and support the liver in its important role in breaking down and converting substances for the body to use or excrete.

  • Its important to consider a well functioning nervous system as a vital component of our health. Stress really does affect our immune system and our mood. Herbal medicine can work very well for stress and anxiety, as many herbs are restorative to the nervous system. Other herbs act by reducing nervous tension and anxiety, support the adrenal system, and helping relaxation. They can also help you get a better night's sleep without creating a dependency.

  • More troublesome conditions - these are the type of problems you might consult your GP about. They may include ongoing digestive problems such as irritable bowel, reflux, problems related to cholesterol and blood pressure, or issues related to the menopause.

  • Balancing - the endocrinal system is very finely tuned and any imbalance will affect hormonal levels. Many problems begin with abnormal hormonal functioning, which can have their root in deficiences arising from an indequate diet, poor lifestyle, very high levels of stress, or hereditary tendencies.  The body will attempt to self-correct the imbalance, but over time any type of depletion will have a knock-on effect on an organ or system. The effects may not be too noticeable at first, but symptoms gradually worsen over time.   Resultant problems such as irregular periods, prostate problems, infertility, underactive/overactive thyroid, or diabetes, may be the end result.  Many adaptogenic herbs help to address these type of problems.

For all these categories, many people use herbal medicine.  For some  it is a first line of choice, while for others it may be a "last resort" option when other treatments have failed or produced unpleasant side-effects.


Design: Alan Davis