Plant Medicine – A Greener Way to Health
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on June 10, 2011 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Indigenous cultures the world over have used plant medicines for millennia as their primary form of healthcare, and have developed sophisticated healing systems using their surrounding natural pharmacopeia. Though distinct in many ways, these traditional cultures share in common an honouring of the natural environment in which they live, and a profound awareness that all life is interdependent.
Currently over 120 distinct chemical substances are derived from plants and used today as important drugs. These substances are either still extracted directly from the plant, for example, morphine (opium poppy), quinidine (cinchona bark), vinblastine and vincristine (Madagascar periwinkle); or, they have been copied and manufactured synthetically or semi-synthetically, such as aspirin/acetylsalicylic acid (meadowsweet), digoxin (foxglove), and taxol (Pacific yew).
The term drug is actually derived from a Dutch word meaning dry, which refers to the use of dried herbs and plants as medicines. The word pharmacology comes from the ancient Greek word meaning medicine. In contemporary society, herbal medicine – the original “pharmacy” – has been enjoying renewed interest due to its ability to address the underlying causes of illness, rather than merely suppressing symptoms. One might even say that we are the ‘living proof’ of its time-proven effectiveness!
The simple truth is, humans have evolved and adapted alongside plants. In so doing, we have developed sophisticated enzymatic and chemical pathways to metabolize the food-like complexity of plant medicines. The myriad of constituents found within herbal extracts are recognized and assimilated by the body essentially as foods; as such, adverse or undesirable side effects are rarely encountered with herbal remedies – unlike their single-chemical (usually synthetic) pharmaceutical counterparts.
Herbal medicine supports and facilitates the body’s inherent state of dynamic balance to provide a wholistic, natural approach to health and wellbeing.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan