Introduction to Basic Herbology.

Robert Barton 

There is a common misconception about herbs and their use in traditional cultures. In this erroneous view of herbs it is believed by many that the use and lore of these herbs constitutes a system of medicine. And it is true that many traditional systems of medicine make use of herbs and various concentrated preparations of these herbs, in fact, many of the pharmaceuticals in modern medicine originated from herbal sources. When viewing the traditional herbal systems of Asia and Western Europe we see that while it is true that some herbs are used to produce medicine and so applied within a medicinal context the general identity of herbs and their application is as foods and so these herbs should first be viewed in the context of nutrition.

In understanding these traditional views of herbs we come to see that they are actually nutritional components used to maintain a healthy variety in the diet. This approach is designed to prevent illness and promote good health. When a person starts to show signs of some type of nutritional deficiency an herb is often traditionally prescribed but not as medicine so much as a way to rebalance the diet and so return one to a state of health.

A demonstration with a commonly over used herb is in order. Ginseng can have a general tonic effect on the system because we know from the lab that there are certain nutrients which are very concentrated in this root. Some of these nutrients are important for maintaining healthy energy levels and functions. If a person has deficiencies in some of these nutrients he or she may experience tiredness and a weakening or reduced function in some areas. When these nutrients are returned to the diet these deficiencies and reduced functions are often addressed. Ginseng may be used to meet these nutritional needs. This has led many to the belief that ginseng has a general aphrodisiac effect and will increase this function in a general way and that more is better. This is not the case and ginseng will only address this issue when there is a reduction in function linked to a specific nutrient found in ginseng and can only address it to the point of returning things to a normal function and not just generally increasing things.

The misunderstanding outlined in the above example is played out again and again with many herbs. This misunderstanding has led many to spend a lot of money where not necessary. An actual understanding of the basic identity of most herbs first and primarily as foods and with only secondary or tertiary functions as medicines can save a lot of time, pain and money. It is tragic that this erroneous view has kept some from seeking actual medical attention and convinced them to treat their illnesses with things that were never considered traditionally as medicines to treat such things. When one wishes to make use of traditional medical systems one should see a recognized and trained practitioner of that system.

So a cornerstone of good health should be a balanced diet with lots of variety providing good nutrition. Herbs, used as foods supplements in this context can be of great value in a healthy diet. When a possible nutritional deficiency is noted the first approach should be to address the issue with diet and herbs known to be high in the desired nutrient should be included as should other foods high in the desired nutrient.

Herbs used as food based supplements can be of great assistance in maintaining a healthy nutritional intake and are generally superior to chemistry based supplements. There is a clear and simple reason for this, we should note that generally a supplement designed in a lab will often be the specific nutrient in a pure or less natural form. But the body is designed to use these nutrients in a more natural form where the chemical are bonded often to amino acids. The body has a much easier time moving around the amino acids to which these food based nutrients are bonded and can make use of the nutrient contained in the food or herb effectively. Where as the unbonded chemical nutrients are often treated by the body as pollutants and cannot be used as effectively. So the chemistry based supplement may have a lot of the target nutrient but it may be in a form that cannot be put to good use by the body so the food based supplement may not have as much of the target nutrient but it is in a form that is more readily used by the body.

So we see that herbs certainly have their place in traditional systems of health maintenance but that they serve primarily as nutrient rich foods. We should also understand that self treatment of illness should not ever be a substitute for medical expertise. Self treatment by traditional medical systems should never be a substitute for advice from an expert in that system.

A note to all of us who keep some herbal remedies and herbs around. Unless you are licensed to practice medicine you should not attempt to diagnose a problem or illness for anyone. You also should never tell anyone that an herb or herbal preparation is a treatment for a diagnosed illness. You should never dispense an herb with assurances that it will effect a cure or treatment and only identify it as a nutritive food. The most that you can legally and ethically say is to tell somebody what an herb has been used for traditionally and what food values or effects it has been found to have relative to science. If you are a martial arts instructor you are in a position of perceived expertise and authority and if you believe that a student or anyone may have an illness you should feel bound by professional ethics to recommend that a medical professional be consulted. If you are interested in the study of herbs and traditional medicine you should study and research but if you wish to practice any form of medicine you should go to school and be educated and licensed. 

Make a Free Website with Yola.