Western medicine verses traditional herbal medicine - a short history

Hippocrates believed in scientific reason -- and natural healing. Hippocrates, a physician during Greece’s Golden Age, had one foot in science and the other in tradition. He believed that the task of the physician was to help the healing process along rather than to take it over. His beliefs continued until the 19th century (for 2,300) years. He was a smart man.

Pills or herbs - western medicine verses herbal medicine
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Doctors, herbalists, and alternative medicine professionals should work together to heal the patient.

Conflicts between alternative and western medicine

Throughout history, the art of healing as been influenced by religion, politics, philosophies, and vested interests (money). The conflicts between alternative medicine and “western” medicine are nothing new. From traveling medicine shows to modern day hospitals, “western medicine” has always been based on physical science. Other methods such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and aromatherapy have concentrated on healing the mind, body, and spirit as one entity.

Is diagnosis the key to healing?

During the second century, Galen, another Greek physician, was the first to promote diagnosis as the key to healing and soon every health problem was fit in to a classification (as it is today). His ways were rigid and only doctors were allowed access to healing knowledge.

Herbal pharmacies were busy during the Dark Ages.

During the Dark Ages, natural healing came back into favor for a time. The Arabs brought alchemy and pharmacy into western medicine. They introduced many new ointments, elixirs, pills, tinctures, suppositories, purgatives, cathartics, and inhalations to the masses. From the 12th century on, apothecaries (herbal pharmacies) were common in every neighborhood.

Isolated properties verses whole plants as medicines

In the 16th century, Paracelsus taught that alchemy and chemistry were a way to unlock the secrets of nature. He began the distillation of isolates. Both the alchemists of his day, and the chemists of our day, adhere to the belief that these chemicals are more potent and effective than the whole plant (while still being safe to use). This may be true, but during the process of isolating one chemical, many good ones are lost.

Isolates can be patented.

Even though big pharmaceutical companies have been proven wrong countless times, isolates remain popular because their manufacture can be patented and rigorously controlled enabling huge profit margins. Isolates are useful, and in many situations they save lives (but so do natural herbal remedies which are inexpensive and don't cause overdoses).

Culpepper and the practical use of herbs

In the 17th century, Nicholas Culpepper, tired of expensive imported drugs, created his own herbal handbook called The English Physician. Culpepper wrote about the practical use of herbs. People once again started looking to home remedies for help when disease struck.

People thought herbal medicine was old-fashioned.

Early in America’s history, the colonists relied heavily on imported medicines (although there are accounts of Native Americans providing natural remedies to the newcomers). By the 1800’s, both American and European medical schools favored prescription medicine and it was the only thing they taught. Herbal medicine was considered old fashioned (although many country folks still relied heavily on herbs).

Medical industry promotes synthetic chemicals as best choice.

The American Medical Association was formed in 1847, partly in response to renewed interest in herbal medicine and the popularity of alternative medicine schools. The newly formed organization soon became underwritten by pharmaceutical companies who had a great deal to gain. Before long, the whole medical and pharmaceutical industry turned its back on the plant world and looked to synthetic chemicals as the best choice. By the 20th century, overwhelmed by the growth of the AMA, herbal medicine went into severe decline.

Great technical advances

Chemists learned to synthesize active plant components and modern laboratories began to produce standardized and readily available drugs. After the discovery of antibiotics, surgical techniques were improved and modern medicine accomplished great technical advances.

By the 1950’s, people were accustomed to taking a pill for everything.

Instead of looking at diet, lifestyle, and environment, most doctors and their patients addressed individual symptoms instead of causes.

Combining modern medicine with alternative methods

People are finally starting to combine modern medicine with alternative and holistic methods of healing. There is clearly a rebirth of herbal medicine and natural healing in today’s society.

Rebirth of herbal medicine and natural remedies

Herbal medicine has always recognized that individual body parts are components of the whole being. Herbalists have not only looked at symptoms, but also at social, emotional, and spiritual health (along with diet, exercise, and stress levels) before making decisions regarding treatments.

Herbalists have also recognized the need of a loving touch and compassionate ear. Sometimes a warm embrace can do more to help a patient than any medicine or procedure.

Combine modern medicine with holistic approaches for best results.

Modern medicine and the holistic approach are slowly starting to come together. People still depend on doctors, but they are also relying more on diet, exercise, and herbal remedies as a way to prevent and reduce severity of sickness and disease.

Herbal medicines work differently than prescription drugs.

Herbs are nutritional substances that help promote healthy bodies. There is an old herbal saying, “One month of healing for every year of the problem.” As an example, If a patient has been suffering from acne for three years, it will probably take three months to get clear skin.

Herbal remedies are not always a quick fix.

When using herbal remedies, many times the condition worsens before getting better. Just like another old saying, “It is darkest just before the dawn.” During healing, poisons and toxins are released into the system and must be flushed away before the patient will feel better. Herbal healing takes time.

Herbs work best when combined with a good diet.

That means lots of fresh fruit, colorful vegetables, whole grains, and clean water should be consumed every day. It is hard for herbs to do their jobs if they are fighting against preservatives, artificial food colorings, added chemicals, rancid fats, pollution, and other junk.

Herbal remedies help the body to heal itself.

Herbs and essential oils help break up toxins, help cleanse the tissues, speed digestion, regulate the glands, and do other amazing things. Herbs are living medicines. They are easy to use, gentle, safe, inexpensive, and can handle most problems. Herbs offer people another choice. Herbs help bring caring people together to care for each other. Herbs and essential oils can help bridge the gap between modern medicine and individual responsibility.

* Always consult with your healthcare provider before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medicines.

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Herb Articles by Janice Boling

"The best way to really learn about herbal medicine is to touch and smell different herbs, taste them, use them daily, and grow them if possible. Herbal medicine is a way of life. It is not a quick fix." Janice Boling -- herbalist, web designer, artist, and writer

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* Note - the information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

** Most of the articles in this online herbal encyclopedia were first published by the North Georgia News in a weekly column titled Every Green Herb (by Janice Boling).

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