Plants have been used for thousands of years by virtually every culture for medicinal purposes. Ayurveda, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Shamanic herbalism and Traditional African Medicine are just a few examples of systems that were developed along the centuries and passed on from one generation to another. The difference lies in the philosophy surrounding this practice.
Traditionally botanicals were really the only medicines that our ancestors had. Healers used to grow, harvest and mix local plants they were familiar with to use them for prevention or healing treatments.
Records show that at the turn of the last century, around 1890, almost 60% of the medicines that were available at that time were just plant products. This decreased to 28% in 1940, largely because antibiotics came into play. The result is that by 1990 less than 2% of medicine in use in the United States was herbs.
This is no longer the case. Although herbal remedies have been looked down on and there is still a rather high level of skepticism about them, nowadays, many of the drugs doctors prescribe have herbal ingredients. Research studies and clinical trials have been conducted; many of them showing results that favor the use of plants as an alternative form of medicine. The result is during the last years we have experienced a resurgence in the use of herbal medicine. Many books on the topic have been published and there are plenty of online resources describing the healing features of each plant, and explaining how to administer them.
The composition of each plant product and their efficacy are influenced by the way the ingredients are extracted.
• Tinctures are made by infusing herbs in alcohol. This is a very efficient method as alcohol preserves the original constituents.
• Tisanes are very popular, as they are easy to make - all you need is some hot water.
• Decoctions are also made with hot water. The boiling time is longer as raw materials are usually roots which are thicker and more difficult to extract.
• Macerates are made of cold water and chopped plants.
• Vinegars are prepared in a similar way to tinctures, but replacing alcohol with acetic acid.
Now that you know which forms herbal remedies can take, here is a list of particularly useful plants:
• Hawthorn tea has long been thought to be a very healthy beverage. Modern science agrees that it is an effective therapy for people with heart conditions. Hawthorn increases blood supply to the heart, improving circulation through the whole body. It also contains an enzyme that constricts blood vessels.
• Lemongrass infusion invigorates drinkers with its aroma and its flavor, but it also aids digestion. Recent studies added antibacterial and antifungal properties.
• Motherwort tincture is known as a tonic for longevity in many areas of the world, as it helps regulate heart beat.
• Rosemary oil is a stimulant and mild pain reliever.
• Sage mouthwash soothes inflammations of the mouth, throat and tonsils and even helps with excessive sweating.
Just remember that herbs are drugs (they create an effect in the body) and can be dangerous if used incorrectly. It's always best to consult a herbal medicine practitioner, particularly for serious conditions.