Plants have been part of our lives since the beginning of time. We get numerous products from plants, most of them not only good and beneficial for our health, but also crucial to our existence. In this essay we will explore the connection between plants, medicine, our food, and modern science.
The use of plants to heal or combat illness is probably as old as humankind. For centuries Native peoples of various cultures have used plants as medicine for all sorts of healing. Plants were at the basis of Indian and Chinese medicine for millennia, and they still are to this day. It is from these roots that the Western pharmaceutical industry grew to be how and what it is today. Unfortunately the modern view of plants is very different from what it was. We were once connected to nature, honored and respected nature, and tapped into its greatest potential, where plants were viewed and appreciated with utmost reverence. In modern times, we are greatly disconnected from nature, where we often either fear or disregard the presence and importance of plants. Most people cannot fathom using wild edibles today, whether for food or medicine. Likewise, most cannot be bothered to grow some of their own plants for culinary or medicinal purposes.
The modern medical and pharmaceutical industry has dissected nature into its parts and along the way lost so much of the whole picture. What was once a trusted and natural approach to health thanks to plants, has today become nearly 100% synthetic. So why this great change and disconnect? After the post-war era, economies began to boom and an evermore sophisticated technology was spreading through every sector leading societies to change drastically. Our populations boomed and money and profit became the driving factors. Dabbling with plant medicines was pretty much looked upon as primitive and unscientific. Of course in order for something to be profitable today it needs a patent, and nature in its unmodified form cannot be patented. So we extracted what we wanted out of plants, synthesized it, and patented the final products as pharmaceuticals and various formulas were born. We even modified entire plants and their species, both physically and genetically, in order to make them more profitable. We were driven to meet the growing needs of the world populations, but also driven by greed.
What did all this innovation and separation from nature lead to? Within half of a century we have caused some of the most destructive damage upon this planet—its people, living beings, and ecosystems. What this all has also led to, is that we have decreased the quality of our environments and food supply and increased our rates of sickness and disease. This is why, today, a quiet, yet significant revolution is under way. More and more people, like you and I, are saying “enough!” to the madness that has swept over this planet. More and more people are rekindling their connection to nature and combining the best of ancient wisdom and modern evolution by seeking the pure and unadulterated benefits that plants can offer us.
Plants: Our Food and Our Medicine
We have so much to benefit from by returning to plants in their most natural state. The famous father of medicine, Hippocrates was quoted as saying:
Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine shall be thy food.
I live and teach by these words for I know their power experientially. Within the last century not only have we sharply disconnected ourselves from nature, we have forgotten how to feed ourselves and what a human body needs to thrive. A diet for optimal health, as we know today, should be whole-food, plant-based. Given this, it makes even more sense to apply what Hippocrates was saying. Plants serve as our food. Plants also have numerable healing and health benefits. It goes to reason that plants serve an extremely significant role in the creation of our health: Healthy eating is the best preventative medicine. Numerous edible and medicinal plants can also be used to heal an illness, should we find ourselves in any such a situation.
We really should be so grateful to plants for the food, health, and healing remedies they have provided, and continue to provide us with. Plants have been used as medicine and used extensively as diverse healing modalities for millennia for anything from external to internal infections, mental and emotional imbalances, as well as for every imaginable physical illness. We have come to use them as teas, tinctures, oils, creams, and more. Everything that plants provide is geared towards both preventing and healing imbalances, be they acute or chronic. For example, we know that just by eating a diet high in plant foods, where about three-quarters of our daily food comes from plants, we can effectively prevent and/or greatly reduce and/or reverse the three main chronic diseases of our modern society: cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
So what makes plants so special? A segment of our sciences has focused on deciphering their role in nutrition, which led us to learn in the past few decades about a group of compounds called, phytonutrients – beneficial compounds found only in plants that can help prevent and even heal many diseases. The cruciferous family of plants, for example, is quickly gaining status as helping to ward off cancer due to the phytonutrient groups it contains. Plants also contain outstanding vitamin and mineral profiles, and are the only sources of fiber. Finally, plants harness their energy directly from the sun and aside from the chlorophyll content in the green parts of plants, there is also living energy—Chi—that we obtain when we consume or use plants in their freshest, most unadulterated forms. All of these factors make our human organism thrive, as intended for us as living beings on this planet.
Plant Medicine and Science
While all that may sound nice and lovely, you may be wondering about what science has found when it comes to plants’ specific role in medicine. Aside from the qualities of plants referred to above, most modern science is often all too silent or ignorant of the power of plants for medicinal use. On the one hand, there are some outstanding research studies that have coherently linked many plants as being effective options for specific conditions. On the other hand, there is both a lack of proper science in this field and a resistance by many lay people to understand plants beyond the limited science. Too many of us today have given away our independent thinking skills and only rely on what the often biased and limited science tells us.
This is why when we research certain plants with respect to their healing or preventative potential, aside from holistic sources, we may be hard pressed to find quality research or information available. If there is a pharmaceutical or supplement involved, that then becomes a bit of a different story as it has a price tag attached to it and it is in someone’s best interest to try and sell us on the product.
Besides disregarding the natural potential of plants in medicine, the other side of the coin is an all-too-common backlash against plants by focusing on their dangers. Fear and doubt creeps into the minds of consumers and thus steer too many away from nature’s perfection and into the arms of corporations, who are all too eager to sell us something. It is nothing short of sadly ironic that most of us have no problem trusting and ingesting synthetic, chemical formulas of all sorts—from the common cold and flu medicines to prescription-dependent pharmaceuticals, yet discount nature’s gift to us—plants. In our separation and disconnection we neglect to understand that nature was created with supreme intelligence; there are no mistakes. Every compound and every plant has a role to play. Our job is not to fear them or dismiss them, but to learn about them and how they work, in order to access their greatest potential. There is no doubt that plants can be dangerous, when used incorrectly, but it only takes a little bit of interest and effort to learn some basics about those plants that would be of specific medical benefit to you. When people don’t have a connection to or reverence for nature or when they lack basic knowledge, it is then that they often make very poor judgments and choices related to nature’s potential. This is a good place to remind us that just because it is natural does not mean that it is safe, and just because it is chemical does not mean it is unsafe.
What does all this mean for you? If you are already open to and applying the power and potential of plants in your life, whether for food or medicine, keep going. Keep learning and strengthening your personal foundation knowing that you are on the right path. If you are just starting your journey in trying to understand the potential of plants, first and foremost, be patient. Upon your journey you will come across all sorts of sources, providing all sorts of information that at times will make the journey both confusing and frustrating. Have faith and keep seeking out quality sources and support. More than anything, we can all benefit by spending more time in nature. By observing the natural world, we come to know the natural world best. We become acquainted with its abundant species, its rhythms, and its ways. We become integrated with it and we begin to shed our fears as we come to realize that we are home.
The next few decades will see major changes in how we feed and heal ourselves. We will continue to come back more and more to the natural healing abilities of plants, whether from a preventative perspective or in times of illness. The journey ahead will offer new potential beyond anything we’ve known thus far. May you enjoy it!
Introduction and Importance of Medicinal Plants and Herbs
The term “medicinal plant” include various types of plants used in herbalism ("herbology" or "herbal medicine"). It is the use of plants for medicinal purposes, and the study of such uses.
The word “herb” has been derived from the Latin word, “herba” and an old French word “herbe”. Now a days, herb refers to any part of the plant like fruit, seed, stem, bark, flower, leaf, stigma or a root, as well as a non-woody plant. Earlier, the term “herb” was only applied to non-woody plants, including those that come from trees and shrubs. These medicinal plants are also used as food, flavonoid, medicine or perfume and also in certain spiritual activities.
Plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before prehistoric period. Ancient Unani manuscripts Egyptian papyrus and Chinese writings described the use of herbs. Evidence exist that Unani Hakims, Indian Vaids and European and Mediterranean cultures were using herbs for over 4000 years as medicine. Indigenous cultures such as Rome, Egypt, Iran, Africa and America used herbs in their healing rituals, while other developed traditional medical systems such as Unani, Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine in which herbal therapies were used systematically.
Traditional systems of medicine continue to be widely practised on many accounts. Population rise, inadequate supply of drugs, prohibitive cost of treatments, side effects of several synthetic drugs and development of resistance to currently used drugs for infectious diseases have led to increased emphasis on the use of plant materials as a source of medicines for a wide variety of human ailments.
Among ancient civilisations, India has been known to be rich repository of medicinal plants. The forest in India is the principal repository of large number of medicinal and aromatic plants, which are largely collected as raw materials for manufacture of drugs and perfumery products. About 8,000 herbal remedies have been codified in AYUSH systems in INDIA. Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Folk (tribal) medicines are the major systems of indigenous medicines. Among these systems, Ayurveda and Unani Medicine are most developed and widely practised in India.
Recently, WHO (World Health Organization) estimated that 80 percent of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspect of their primary health care needs. According to WHO, around 21,000 plant species have the potential for being used as medicinal plants.
As per data available over three-quarters of the world population relies mainly on plants and plant extracts for their health care needs. More than 30% of the entire plant species, at one time or other were used for medicinal purposes. It has been estimated, that in developed countries such as United States, plant drugs constitute as much as 25% of the total drugs, while in fast developing countries such as India and China, the contribution is as much as 80%. Thus, the economic importance of medicinal plants is much more to countries such as India than to rest of the world. These countries provide two third of the plants used in modern system of medicine and the health care system of rural population depend on indigenous systems of medicine.
Treatment with medicinal plants is considered very safe as there is no or minimal side effects. These remedies are in sync with nature, which is the biggest advantage. The golden fact is that, use of herbal treatments is independent of any age groups and the sexes.
The ancient scholars only believed that herbs are only solutions to cure a number of health related problems and diseases. They conducted thorough study about the same, experimented to arrive at accurate conclusions about the efficacy of different herbs that have medicinal value. Most of the drugs, thus formulated, are free of side effects or reactions. This is the reason why herbal treatment is growing in popularity across the globe. These herbs that have medicinal quality provide rational means for the treatment of many internal diseases, which are otherwise considered difficult to cure.
Medicinal plants such as Aloe, Tulsi, Neem, Turmeric and Ginger cure several common ailments. These are considered as home remedies in many parts of the country. It is known fact that lots of consumers are using Basil (Tulsi) for making medicines, black tea, in pooja and other activities in their day to day life.
In several parts of the world many herbs are used to honour their kings showing it as a symbol of luck. Now, after finding the role of herbs in medicine, lots of consumers started the plantation of tulsi and other medicinal plants in their home gardens.
Medicinal plants are considered as a rich resources of ingredients which can be used in drug development either pharmacopoeial, non- pharmacopoeial or synthetic drugs. A part from that, these plants play a critical role in the development of human cultures around the whole world. Moreover, some plants are considered as important source of nutrition and as a result of that they are recommended for their therapeutic values. Some of these plants include ginger, green tea, walnuts, aloe, pepper and turmeric etc. Some plants and their derivatives are considered as important source for active ingredients which are used in aspirin and toothpaste etc.
Apart from the medicinal uses, herbs are also used in natural dye, pest control, food, perfume, tea and so on. In many countries different kinds of medicinal plants/ herbs are used to keep ants, flies, mice and flee away from homes and offices. Now a days medicinal herbs are important sources for pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Recipes for the treatment of common ailments such as diarrhoea, constipation, hypertension, low sperm count, dysentery and weak penile erection, piles, coated tongue, menstrual disorders, bronchial asthma, leucorrhoea and fevers are given by the traditional medicine practitioners very effectively.
Over the past two decades, there has been a tremendous increase in the use of herbal medicine; however, there is still a significant lack of research data in this field. Therefore since 1999, WHO has published three volumes of the WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants.
Importance of some herbs with their medicinal values
- Herbs such as black pepper, cinnamon, myrrh, aloe, sandalwood, ginseng, red clover, burdock, bayberry, and safflower are used to heal wounds, sores and boils.
- Basil, Fennel, Chives, Cilantro, Apple Mint, Thyme, Golden Oregano, Variegated Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Variegated Sage are some important medicinal herbs and can be planted in kitchen garden. These herbs are easy to grow, look good, taste and smell amazing and many of them are magnets for bees and butterflies.
- Many herbs are used as blood purifiers to alter or change a long-standing condition by eliminating the metabolic toxins. These are also known as 'blood cleansers'. Certain herbs improve the immunity of the person, thereby reducing conditions such as fever.
- Some herbs are also having antibiotic properties. Turmeric is useful in inhibiting the growth of germs, harmful microbes and bacteria. Turmeric is widely used as a home remedy to heal cut and wounds.
- To reduce fever and the production of heat caused by the condition, certain antipyretic herbs such as Chirayta, black pepper, sandal wood and safflower are recommended by traditional Indian medicine practitioners.
- Sandalwood and Cinnamon are great astringents apart from being aromatic. Sandalwood is especially used in arresting the discharge of blood, mucus etc.
- Some herbs are used to neutralize the acid produced by the stomach. Herbs such as marshmallow root and leaf. They serve as antacids. The healthy gastric acid needed for proper digestion is retained by such herbs.
- Indian sages were known to have remedies from plants which act against poisons from animals and snake bites.
- Herbs like Cardamom and Coriander are renowned for their appetizing qualities. Other aromatic herbs such as peppermint, cloves and turmeric add a pleasant aroma to the food, thereby increasing the taste of the meal.
- Some herbs like aloe, sandalwood, turmeric, sheetraj hindi and khare khasak are commonly used as antiseptic and are very high in their medicinal values.
- Ginger and cloves are used in certain cough syrups. They are known for their expectorant property, which promotes the thinning and ejection of mucus from the lungs, trachea and bronchi. Eucalyptus, Cardamom, Wild cherry and cloves are also expectorants.
- Herbs such as Chamomile, Calamus, Ajwain, Basil, Cardamom, Chrysanthemum, Coriander, Fennel, Peppermint and Spearmint, Cinnamon, Ginger and Turmeric are helpful in promoting good blood circulation. Therefore, they are used as cardiac stimulants.
- Certain medicinal herbs have disinfectant property, which destroys disease causing germs. They also inhibit the growth of pathogenic microbes that cause communicable diseases.
- Herbal medicine practitioners recommend calmative herbs, which provide a soothing effect to the body. They are often used as sedatives.
- Certain aromatic plants such as Aloe, Golden seal, Barberry and Chirayata are used as mild tonics. The bitter taste of such plants reduces toxins in blood. They are helpful in destroying infection as well.
- Certain herbs are used as stimulants to increase the activity of a system or an organ, for example herbs like Cayenne (Lal Mirch, Myrrh, Camphor and Guggul.
- A wide variety of herbs including Giloe, Golden seal, Aloe and Barberry are used as tonics. They can also be nutritive and rejuvenate a healthy as well as diseased individual.
- Honey, turmeric, marshmallow and liquorice can effectively treat a fresh cut and wound. They are termed as vulnerary herbs.
As our lifestyle is now getting techno-savvy, we are moving away from nature. While we cannot escape from nature because we are part of nature. As herbs are natural products they are free from side effects, they are comparatively safe, eco-friendly and locally available. Traditionally there are lot of herbs used for the ailments related to different seasons. There is a need to promote them to save the human lives.
These herbal products are today are the symbol of safety in contrast to the synthetic drugs, that are regarded as unsafe to human being and environment. Although herbs had been priced for their medicinal, flavouring and aromatic qualities for centuries, the synthetic products of the modern age surpassed their importance, for a while. However, the blind dependence on synthetics is over and people are returning to the naturals with hope of safety and security. It’s time to promote them globally.
- PUBLISHED DATE : May 20, 2016
- PUBLISHED BY : Zahid
- CREATED / VALIDATED BY : Dr. Mahtab Alam Khan
- LAST UPDATED ON : May 20, 2016
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