Herbal medicine uses plants, or mixtures of plant extracts, to treat illness and promote health. It aims to restore your body’s ability to protect, regulate and heal itself. It is a whole body approach, so looks at your physical, mental and emotional well-being. It is sometimes called phytomedicine, phytotherapy or botanical medicine.
Many modern drugs are made from plants. But herbalists don’t extract plant substances in the way the drug industry does. Herbalists believe that the remedy works due to the delicate chemical balance of the whole plant, or mixtures of plants, not one particular active ingredient.
The two most common types of herbal medicine used are Western Herbal Medicine and Chinese Herbal Medicine; some herbalists practice less common types of Herbal Medicine such as Tibetan or Ayurvedic Medicine (Indian).
Western Herbal Medicine
Western Herbal Medicine, also known as Herbalism or Botanical Medicine, is a medical system based on the use of plants or plant extracts that may either be applied to the skin or eaten, and focuses on the whole person rather than their illness.
Western Herbalism dates back to ancient Egypt, where records of garlic and juniper used for medicinal purposes were found from as early as 1700 B.C. By 100 B.C., the Greeks had developed a comprehensive philosophy of herbal medicine that related different herbs to different temperaments, seasons and elements such as earth, air, fire and water. The Romans took the Greek theories of medicine and added to them, creating a wealth of medical practices, some of which are still used today.
Herbalists use remedies made from whole plants, or plant parts, to help your body heal itself or reduce the side effects of medical treatments.
Chinese Herbal Medicine/TCM
Chinese Herbal Medicine is part of a whole system of medicine called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM aims to bring the body back in balance by restoring the balance of your Qi (pronounced chee) “life energy,” so that the body can heal itself. Practitioners believe that Qi is the flow of energy in your body, and is essential for good health.
Chinese herbalists use herbs for therapeutic purposes according to their taste and how they affect a particular part of the body or an energy channel in the body; many of which are used in conventional medicine as well as for natural remedies. They may use a mixture of plants and other substances.
The Chinese remedy reference book used by TCM practitioners contains hundreds of medicinal substances. Most of the substances are plants but there are also some minerals and animal products. Practitioners may use different parts of plants such as the leaves, roots, stems, flowers or seeds. Usually, herbs are combined and you take them as teas, capsules, tinctures, or powders.
- Herbal Remedies
- Massage Therapy
- Traditional Breathing & Movement Exercises called Qi Gong (pronounced Chee Goong)
- Movement Exercises called Tai Chi (pronounced Tie Chee)
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine often use herbal remedies along with other therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and tai chi.
Herbal Medicine/TCM as a Complementary Therapy
Herbal medicine has been used for centuries to treat many different health conditions. As with most types of complementary or alternative therapies, individuals may use it to help themselves feel better or feel more in control of their situation.
Herbal medicine is often promoted as a natural way to help you relax and cope with anxiety, depression and other conditions such as hay fever, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual (period) problems and skin conditions such as eczema.
Herbal medicine is one of the most commonly used complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) by people with cancer (up to 60% of 10 people with cancer use herbal remedies alongside conventional cancer treatments).
While many pharmaceutical companies use the active ingredients found in herbs in their products, herbalists believe in something called “herbal synergy,” which means that in order for the herb to be as safe and effective as possible, it is important to use the whole plant instead of extracting only the active ingredients. For instance, meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. While aspirin alone often causes issues in people who have sensitive stomachs, meadowsweet also contains tannin and mucilage, which work to protect the stomach from the salicylic acid.
The basic principles of TCM are rather distinctive:
Relative Properties – Yin and Yang – The Physiology of Chinese medicine holds that the human body’s life is the result of the balance of yin and yang. Yin is the inner and negative principles, and yang, outer and positive. The key reason why there is sickness is because the two aspects lose their harmony. Seen from the recovery mechanism of organs, yang functions to protect from outer harm, and yin is the inner base to store and provide energy for its counterpart.
Basic Substance – Doctors of traditional Chinese medicine (abbreviated to TCM) believe that vital energy – moving and energetic particles, state of blood, and body fluid are the essential substances that compose together to form the human body, and the basis for internal organs to process. They are channelled along a network within the body – Jing Luo as their channels. On the physical side, vital energy serving to promote and warm belongs to the properties of yang, and blood and body fluid to moisten possesses the properties of yin.
Some research suggests that herbal medicines as well as other TCM methods, such as acupuncture, tai chi and massage, may help people cope with the physical and emotional side effects of conventional cancer treatments.
Read more about how Herbal Medicine/TCM is administered, Possible Side-effects and Risks etc., on our static Complementary & Alternative Therapies page, Herbal Medicine/TCM
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use.
LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.