Written by Elena Marcus
Plants existed millions of years before any animal, or human for that matter. The oldest tree, or one of the oldest, Ginko Biloba, existed 250 million ago. Humans did not roam about vegetation stumbling upon plants which happened to be good for them, but the vegetation was there first, active in the making of the human physiology. The advantage of herbs over pharmaceuticals is that humans grew up with them – in a manner of speaking. This may explain why chemicals in plants, Phytochemicals, are turning out to have so many effects on health. Phytochemicals fight free radicals, inflammations, infections with germs, fungi and viruses, hormonal imbalances and lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism. They were shown to fight Cancer, by preventing it or staving it in its various stages.
The most dramatic proof that herbs are an essential part of human health is the existence of adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that actually modulate various aspects of metabolism, bringing them to normal – in other words, they prevent (are prophylactic) or cure pathological conditions.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, disease follows a state of imbalance between the life energies of yin and yang. The Western theory of disease that comes close to the evidence, is close in concept with TCM, as it emphasizes homeostasis. Any physical and psychosocial stress disrupts the state of equilibrium which is commanded by the part of the brain called hypothalamus. Hypothalamus regulates metabolism through hormones and nerves. A high stress or a moderate stress that is lengthy, causes serious disruption of homeostasis and consequently disease.
No matter what the source of stress is, whether is contracting an infection, or having a quarrel with a spouse, or an intense physical exercise, or a period of financial insecurity, the organic manifestation is the same. The brain kicks in a series of cellular processes and hormone release which may cause constriction of blood vessels, insulin resistance, high Blood pressure and high blood glucose level.
Short term stress is followed by reversal of the conditons, however, repeated or prolonged stressed may lead to pathological changes in organism.
The notion of Adaptogenic plants came from Russia in 1940’s as they studies several plants and noticed that they had the capacity of returning the body to the state of homeostasis, or to prevent stress. This herbs are: Rodiola rosea, leuzea carthamoides (also Rhaponticum carthamoides), Eleutheroccocus senticosus (Siberian ginseng), and Schizandra chinensis.
Since the first two are not readily available, we will mention the Siberian ginseng’s actions: Regulates the activity of endocrine glands; reduces toxicity in the body and normalizes leukocyte count. Reduces psychological fatigue and accelerates recovery during rest; modulates the immune system.; improve heart tissue regeneration during a heart attack; increased resistance to changes n the ambient area, oxygen deprivation, and improvement of states such as diabetes, Cancer, vascular diseases.
Schizandra chinensis, an herb used for centuries by the Chinese was studied scientifically firstly by the Russians. The Russian researchers discovered the substance called schizandrin, a lignan, and other substances similar with it. Schizandra was found to improve the central nervous system. Given prophylactically, schizandra prevented arteriosclerosis in animals and provided immunity as well. Schizandra increases antioxidant activity.
While the herbs treatments require some patience, as they don’t give immediate results as drugs do, however they are incomparably safer.
According to Kloss, half to one ounce of leaves or flowers are infused for 10 to 20 minutes in a pint of boiled water which is poured over the plant in a non-metallic container. The liquid should be drunk cool or warm sweetened with honey if needed. One two three cups are usually the norm, taken in small dozes throughout the day.
According to Linda Rector Page, N.D., Ph.D., in her book How to Be Your Own Herbal Pharmacist, a cold infusion can also be made by steeping herbs, especially powdered, in water for one hour or more.
The plant part (usually roots, seeds or bark) is simmered at low temperature in non-metallic container from several minutes up to 30 minutes , depending on the hardness of the part of the plant used. The doze is one teaspoon of the powdered herb or one tablespoon of the cut part of the herb to one cup of water. Roots are simmered for the longer time, often half an hour or even more. For a 30-minute decoction, one should increase the water quantity by 30 percent.
As with infusion, one to three cups daily are recommended throughout the day.
Made from powdered teas, capsules are four times stronger than teas, writes Rector Page. However, she points out, the water infusions offer a flushing action that helps removes waste from the body.
To improve Circulation, energy and digestion, Rector Page suggests an infusion of herbs made with madeira, cognac or brandy. Put herbs in three-quarter-full bottle of the drink, place the mixture in a dark, cool place for one or two weeks. Strain and take small amounts as needed.
For nerve and brain tonics, Rector Page suggests steeping the herbs for one week in either red or white wine.
Tincture is made with a solvent that has 25 percent alcohol and 75 percent water. It is ten to five times less potent than the fluid extract. If vodka is used, about half water and half vodka would be used.
Syrups may not be the best therapeutics choice, on account of so much cooking and amount of sweetener required, however they are customarily used for digestive disturbances, mucus discharges, coughs and sore throats.
According to Rector Page, the treatment should start with higher quantities and continue with lesser and lesser amounts. However, there are maintenance herbs such as those offering nutrient-rich and antioxidant support (nettles, alfaalfa, Ginger, kelp, ROSEMARY, dandelion, spirulina, Barley grass, chlorella, PARSLEY ROOT, ROSE HIPS, red rasberry, PLANTAIN, billberry, white PINE BARK, grapeseed, wild Cherry); and those to be used in chronic toxic conditions due to nutrition, smoking or environmental pollutants (Burdock root, white SAGE, chlorella, Barley grass, SARSAPARILLA root, Milk Thistle, dandelion, Panax ginseng, green tea, RED CLOVER blossoms). Some herbs stimulate digestion, and have been used as spices for millenia (Fennel, cumin, cardamon, Thyme Ginger, Cayenne and Garlic); some herbs are so-called deobstruent, that is they eliminate obstructions and congestions from various organs (cascara sagrada, wild Yam, gentian, Garlic, Wormwood, lungwort.
Among herbs that strengthen organs and improve vitality are: Motherwort and hawthorn berries for the heart; scullap and VALERIAN for the nerves; Agrimony and Wormwood for the stomach; dandelion, Oregon grape root, Barberry, Astragalus, schizandra, for liver; alfaalfa, SASSAFRAS, yellowdock, spirulina, for the blood.
Among nerve tonics, herbalist and author Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D. lists VALERIAN, Hops, PASSION FLOWER, ginko biloba, Chamomile, and Siberian ginseng. ).
The effect of herbs is milder and the treatment would be generally longer than that with pharmaceutical drugs, yet, writers often suggest that herbs should be rotated and breaks taken between courses. Higher quantity does not necessarily mean better health., Kloss emphasizes. Herbs should be used in recommended dozes and some should not be used continuously as they may contain chemicals which, if accumulated, may become toxic in the body or they may disrupt the metabolic balance which is meant to correct.
Even long-term, maintenance and preventive herbs are not recommended to be taken forever and uninterruptedly.
For example, a person who has high Blood pressure, may have to some extend sore throat, red face and red eyes, Gallstones, dry skin, inflammations, burning hands and feet, infections, tendency to prefer cold drinks and foods. According to Humbard Santillo in his book Natural Healing with Herbs, who borrows concepts from Chinese Traditional Medicines and translates them into Western terms, in this case, the hypertension is only one symptom of an array of symptoms that tell the story of a person who is under stress, whose diet of excess meats and salt is highly acidic, and who has accumulated an excess of toxins in the body. Such a person should be treated with a diet of raw vegetables and fruits in order to alkalinize the blood and provide antioxidants, vitamins and Phytochemicals, and in addition, anti-inflammatory herbs with a bitter taste. Bitter herbs aid in detoxification of the liver. If one has ‘excess heat’ in the body, which is manifested by the symptoms described above, stimulant herbs and spices would not be appropriate as they will heat up the body even further. Such a person will not take licorice or excess salt for example, as these stimulate the adrenal glands and cause more heat.
Cold conditions, on the other hand, are characterized by sluggishness, cold extremities, body aches, Diarrhea, digestive disturbances, bloating, darkness under eyes, low body temperature. This condition is treated with stimulating herbs that have an aromatic, acrid or sweet flavor.
A diet excessive in raw and cold foods may lead to stomachache. So is a diet of excess pungent foods. In TCM these two condition are different diseases with the same major symptom that have to be treated differently. As a non-herbalist, Santillo writes, when trying to match the condition with an herb, list first the body organs which are involved and take if from there. Look at the herbs that are specific for that body organ and then see which one is more appropriate, considering all the symptoms and all the conditions which traditionally and from current studies, have been treated by that herb.
The one-target-symptom approach of Western medicine dooms that discipline to hit-and-miss treatments, so-called “risk management” based on statistics, and literally the killing of hundred of thousands of people from iatrogenic (treatment induced) causes.
By the action of herbs and their properties, help select the appropriate remedy. It is wise to check out an herb data base (In Herbalist.com this is found under the Health Center) and read the properties and actions of an herb before engaging in a treatment. From reading the herb monograph one may verify contraindications and verify the side effects. Unless a combination of herbs is prepared by an herbalist, it is wiser to take one herb at a time to observe its effect and for allergies.
Some modern health consumers believe a serious disease ‘is beyond herbs,’ yet, many experienced practitioners contend they have used herbs successfully against diseases which were beyond pharmaceuticals. Master herbalist and author Jethro Kloss is one of them. “I do not believe that there is a disease to which human flesh is heir but that somewhere there is growing a weed or an herb or plant that will cure it,” he writes.
Anatoly Antoshechkin M.D., Ph.D., The Primary Adaptogens, 2001. Ceptima Publishing Co. Clearwater, Fl.
Humberto Santillo B.S., M.H. Natural Healing with Herbs 1985, Hohm Press, Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D. Herbal Tonic Therapies, 1993, Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CON.
Linda Rector Page, N.D., Ph.D. How to be Your Own Herbal Pharmacist, 1997.
Ze-lin Chen, M.D., Mei-Fang Chen, M.D. Chinese Herbal Medicine, 1999 Castle Books, Edison, N.J.
ROSEMARY Gladstar, Herbal Healing for Women. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1993.
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