An herbal remedy is a solution for health problems that uses plants or plant extracts. The remedy may be prescribed by a physician, nutritionist, or herbalist. Herbal remedies are often considered alternative medicine, natural medicine or known as home remedies because they do not require a physician's prescription or traditionally manufactured medication. The most common forms of herbal remedies include teas, tinctures, creams, oils, and poultices.
Many countries require herbalists to be trained and licensed prior to prescribing an herbal remedy. In Europe, herbalists are widely accepted, and apothecaries, or pharmacies, sell both traditional medication as well as herbal remedies in the same store. In the United States, herbal remedies are most often sold at stores that specialize in vitamins or other health-related supplements as opposed to pharmacies.
Herbal remedy formulas vary, and many of the health claims in the United States have not been substantiated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When choosing an herbal remedy, consumers should research the ingredients and reported benefits before purchasing. If there is a pre-existing illness already being treated by traditional medications, proceed with caution before introducing an herbal remedy, as there are potentially harmful contraindications when mixing medications.
Teas are the most popular way to administer herbs. The leaves or berries of the plant are crushed and steeped in hot water for several minutes so the water absorbs the flavor and nutrients of the plant. The herbs are sold either in tea bags or loose and the most common forms are chamomile, rose hip, and green tea. For loose leaves, a steeping ball is often used. This metal ball has a fine metal mesh outer covering that allows the flavor to seep into the water without the leaves escaping.
An herbal remedy tincture is an alcohol extract and is most often made by combining ethanol with the leaves and berries of plants. The leaves are steeped in the ethanol for several days or weeks until the desired concentration is achieved. Compound tincture of benzoin is a common tincture used to treat cuts and is often used as an antiseptic.
Topical herbal remedies such as creams, oils, and poultices are also very common. Herbal remedy creams use plant oil extracts mixed with salves to provide either cosmetic or medicinal help. A poultice is a wound covering made by crushing an entire herb instead of just the leaves or berries. The mixture is applied directly to the wound and covered with a bandage. Since many herbs have antibacterial or soothing properties, herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries.
What are the Different Types of Herbal Medicine Treatments?
There are many different types of herbal medicine treatments. Plants and plant products are the basis of all herbal medicines, but treatments differ depending on how the plants are used. Herbal medicines may be ingested, inhaled, applied directly to the skin, or inserted into an opening in the body, depending on the condition being treated. There are also many variations as to duration of treatment, dosage, and combinations of herbs to be used.
Some herbal medicine treatments are easily found in grocery stores, sometimes in the tea aisle. Teas for promoting restful sleep often contain the herb chamomile and are therefore be considered herbal medicine. Dieter’s teas and teas for easing colds are also common herbal treatments. Even black tea can be prepared and used as a foot soak to prevent sweaty, odorous feet, so it is another form of herbal remedy.
Many medicinal plants are prepared and marketed as essential oils or extracts. These oils come in small bottles and are very concentrated, meaning many fresh plants may were used to yield the tiny volume of oil being sold. Oils are versatile as herbal medicine treatments in that they can easily be rubbed into skin, added to foods, or mixed with other medicines. For example, peppermint oil, apart from having a fragrance many people find pleasant, can be ingested to treat bad breath, or massaged into the chest to relieve congestion.
Health food stores sell herbs in tablet, capsule, and even soft-gel form. Most of the time, the herbs are arranged by alphabetical order under the common name of the plant. When herbs are packaged for ingestion, the container will generally list a recommended dosage. Herbal treatments taken as pills or capsules can be preventative in nature, as when echinacea is taken to enhance the immune system and ward off colds. Other times, herbal medicines are used only when needed to remedy a specific condition, such as applying aloe vera to heal a burn or rash, or ingesting cranberry to treat a urinary tract infection.
Indigenous peoples have used herbal medicine treatments in the form of pastes and poultices for centuries, and continue to do so today. Often, herbs are ground together into a paste and then applied to the forehead or affected area. Poultices are made by seeping herbs in warm water and then wrapping them around a wound or injury. They are also common in folk or cultural healing practices.
Some Native American tribes burn fragrant plants or herbs and waft the smoke over the body of a sick person as a form of treatment. The smoke is also used to prevent illness or to ritualistically cleanse a person. Used in this way, the herbal treatment is closely associated with prayer and things more of a spiritual than physical nature, though many plant compounds are released when burned.