What are herbal remedies?
Herbal medicine has a long history, perhaps as long as humankind itself. It is the most ancient of all forms of health care. The word ‘drug’ comes from the Old Dutch word, dragge, which means ‘to dry’. In order to make herbal medicines, plants need to be dried.
Herbal remedies are phytomedicines or phytochemicals that have been extracted from plants or parts of plants. If these same compounds would be purified and synthesized in a laboratory they would be called drugs. So, herbal remedies are drugs without a patent. And if the big pharmaceutical corporations could obtain patents on these plants, they would become pharmaceutical drugs and they would enter the armamentarium of conventional medicine.
Herbal medicines are not homeopathic remedies (although some herbal remedies are transformed by the processes of dilution and potentization to become homeopathic remedies). Herbal remedies have side effects (in direct contradistinction to homeopathic remedies). They have contraindications. They may interfere with your conventional medicines.
How to distinguish herbal medicine from homeopathy
Here are three profound differences between herbal medicine and homeopathy that will help you to distinguish one from the other:
The first difference is that herbal medicine uses undiluted natural plants as medicines, which can have side effects just like Western medicines. Homeopathy uses only extremely dilute natural substances, which do not have side effects and are safe for all people, even including pregnant women, newborn babies, and the very elderly.
The second difference is that herbal remedies use only plant substances whereas homeopathic remedies use materials from all three kingdoms, plant, animal, and mineral.
The third difference is that herbal remedies are prescribed on the basis of Western medicine principles, for example, using an anti-diarrheal herbal remedy to treat diarrhea. Homeopathic remedies are prescribed on the basis of the principle of Like Cures Like, for example, using an extremely dilute remedy that would cause diarrhea (if given in full strength) to treat diarrhea.
Since herbal remedies are medicines, they must be used cautiously. You must check the list of side effects and contraindications before taking any herbal remedy. In order to check side effects and contraindications, you will need access to a comprehensive source on herbal remedies. You can rely on the information from the NCCAM website found here.
You may obtain free, evidence-based, scientific reviews of many herbal remedies by visiting The Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Registry online at www.compmed.umm.edu/cochrane/index.html
Evidence-based data for the general public is also freely available at HerbMed (an herbal database resource).
Always check herb-drug interactions before using an herbal remedy.
Herbal remedies are the most commonly used forms of alternative medicine (possibly excluding prayer) with sales of about $600 million in 2002. Herbal remedies are so popular because they are available without a physician’s prescription and their low cost is within many families’ health care budget.
Herbal remedies may be combined with homeopathy and/or nutritional supplements when the combination is likely to produce a level of healing deeper than would be expected if only the herbal remedy were to be used. When herbal remedies are used in conjunction with homeopathic remedies, the effects may be synergistic, that is, greater than when only the herbal or homeopathic remedy is used alone. In this instance, the homeopathic remedy acts as the potentiating agent. The homeopathic remedy may act to allow you to use lesser amounts and for a shorter period of time of the herbal remedy to effect a deep healing. The same is true when nutritional supplements are used along with a homeopathic and/or herbal remedy. This phenomenon is one of the reasons why I encourage you to concentrate on learning how to use the three ‘essential natural alternatives’ in healing: homeopathy, herbal remedies, and nutritional supplements.
For most ailments, I recommend using homeopathic remedies first (since there are no side effects and they have a good chance to be effective), then instituting the appropriate nutritional supplements (to augment the homeopathic remedies). Then, only if needed, begin the recommended herbal remedies (but only after carefully checking the herb-drug interactions and possible side effects). In this manner, most of the time, you will find yourself using herbal remedies only when homeopathic remedies have not given you the relief you seek. Herbal remedies may be used in conjunction with Western medicines, but you must always check on the side effects and contraindications to determine whether any interactions with pharmaceuticals are likely to occur.
[Excerpted from Dr. Feingold’s book, The Complete Self-Care Guide to Homeopathy, Herbal Remedies and Nutritional Supplements.]