Herbal medicine has proven it’s worth over thousands of years. Many pharmaceutical medications owe their origins to herbs. Examples include: Willow and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), Foxglove and Digitalis, Morphine and the Opium Poppy, just to name a few. Though, just because they owe their origins to these plants that doesn’t mean they should be confused with herbal medicine, because they aren’t.
Willow and acetylsalicylic acid are a wonderful example of the difference between drugs and herbs. ASA has known side effects of blood thinning, ulcers, and internal bleeding. Whereas Willow doesn’t – though some theorize that it does because of it’s connection with ASA, and caution is always wise. Though ASA is used for it’s blood thinning effect to prevent stroke, willow isn’t suitable for this use. The salicylates in Willow change to salicylic acid once they reach the liver, so there isn’t the opportunity to cause the ulcers like with ASA.
Modern studies are finding that reducing the matrix of chemicals found in plants (and foods) down to a single chemical (pharmaceuticals generally being single chemicals) seems to create more unwanted side effects. Antioxidants are a great example of this – in food they are antioxidants, but when singled out and taken as a supplement some of them become pro-oxidants.
Also, herbal medicine is more than just herbs. It’s not just about “use this herb for that condition”, it has a philosophical difference too. It’s a different approach to health care, where we want to get to the bottom of the problem rather than simply ameliorate symptoms. I could suggest herbs for people with allergies (amelioration), or we could address the issue that low stomach acid (or the antacids someone uses all the time) might be the culprit that is behind the problem. There can be other issues behind people’s allergies too. I’ve had people ask me what herbs they can use for constipation when the cause of their constipation was the side-effect of a drug they were taking – they needed to talk to their doctor.