Herbal medicine has been used for centuries all around the world. Relegated to the status of folk medicine for years by the medical establishment, herbal medicines are experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to the dangerous side effects of many of today’s pharmaceutical drugs.

Herbal medicine has three traditional forms. Western herbalism began in Europe, and crossed over to North America with the European settlers. Some Native American influences can be found in some of its lore. Chinese medicine is herb-based, and breaks everything into yin or yang… cooling herbs or heating herbs are prescribed for illnesses that either cause the body to be cold or hot. Rounding out the herbal medicine trio is Ayurvedic medicine from India. With a history 5,000 years in the making, Ayurvedic medicine is based on balancing any imbalance found in the body.

Today, more people are turning back to herbal medicines, finding them more effective and gentler than pharmaceuticals. The entire pharmaceutical industry is based upon herbs and the medicines derived from them. Most of today’s medicines however are made from synthetic compounds rather than those derived directly from plants.

Herbs are also whole foods. They offer nutrition, minerals and vitamins along with medicinal compounds. Herbs can be taken fresh as food, or made into teas, tisanes, tinctures, syrups, drops, poultices, salves, creams or dried and put in capsules. Depending on your illness, some methods of taking the herbs will work better than others.

Still other herbs are taken as supplements. An example would be alfalfa tablets, which can supply you with vitamin K (it helps your blood clot), among other nutrients. Supplements can be found at health food stores both in your local area and online. When buying supplements, look at the herbs for freshness. Any herb that is dried should still be a fresh green color, not brownish. If the color has deteriorated, it means the herb was dried using a method that removed nutrients from the herb.

If you are on pharmaceutical medications, please check with your physician or a certified herbalist before adding herbal medicines or supplements. Some herbs will interact with pharmaceutical medications and cause reactions or will counteract your regular medication. For instance, if you are prescribed blood thinners for a health condition, taking the aforementioned alfalfa supplement would be ill-advised, since vitamin K promotes clotting.

It is important to remember that just because herbal medicine is natural doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you. If you are not familiar with an herb and its effects, consult with a certified herbalist. Herbs need to be taken appropriately so you don’t overdose or end up with an effect you didn’t count on. Like any other medicine it is important to follow instructions for any herb.

Herbal medicines are a good way to treat quite a few illnesses and deficiencies. Do your homework and read about an herb and its actions before taking it. And before mixing herbs or adding a new herb, it doesn’t hurt to consult an expert. Herbs have a lot to offer and can greatly benefit your health when taken appropriately.

Complementary and alternative medicine is the combined use of medical practices and products that aren’t a part of conventional medicine. Many are using the CAM approach in hopes that they can prevent disease and live a more enhanced quality of life.

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