Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Value Of Botanical Medicine

By Patrick Hamilton

It's human nature to want to be free of disease. This is fortunate, because throughout history mankind has used botanical medicine to stave off illness or to speed recovery. A rich heritage of 'folklore' has come down to us today. In spite of the dismissal of many in the medical profession or the pharmaceutical industry, herbal remedies have a huge following, and clinical studies have validated many of the claims historically made for plant materials.

Medicine is something used to prevent and treat disease. 'Botanical' means derived from plants. In all cultures, people have discovered that flowers, leaves, berries, roots, and bark have strengthening, soothing, and curative properties. Many pharmaceutical drugs prescribed today are derived from plants. Most of us are familiar with some botanical remedies.

During long voyages of exploration on land and especially on sea, men learned that a diet of preserved meats and dried beans lacked nutrients needed for health. Scurvy was a disease that afflicted sailors or arctic travelers. It was discovered that the juice of fresh lemons and limes could prevent this condition or cure it if it were not too advanced. The Royal Navy of Great Britain made citrus fruit a part of the supplies for every ship.

People may need to know the healthful resources of field and forest someday, as they did during the world wars. The English scoured the hedgerows for rose hips, the red seed pods that are rich in vitamin C and bioflavanoids. They grew carrots for the fighter pilots who needed excellent night vision, and supplemented their own meager rations with dandelion greens and other field and roadside weeds. Ranchers watched the wild animals and learned which tree bark would eliminate worms in their horses. Desert dwellers harvested aloe and jojoba and feasted on many kinds of cactus.

Herbals sold as dietary supplements are a huge money maker today. Expectant mothers drink red raspberry leaf tea, nibble candied ginger for morning sickness, or turn to plant-based iron supplements. Fenugreek is sold as tea or in capsules to help nursing mothers feed their infants. Insomniacs drink chamomile and passion flower teas and sleep on hops-filled pillows. Fatigue, a common complaint, calls for ginseng, guarana, gota kola, and nutrient-dense green drinks.

Every continent and country has its own botanical wonder drugs. Pau d'arco is considered a panacea in South America. Tea tree oil from Australia is used world-wide as an antiseptic and a fungicide. Neem, considered a cure-all in India, is used to fight fungus infections, oral problems, and a multitude of other disorders. Researchers in France discovered the benefits of pine bark and grape seeds. Japan farms chlorella, a single cell algae with proven health-enhancing properties.

Much of our food is vegetation. What we call herbs are simply nutrient rich plants. If food is the best medicine, as the old folks say, it makes sense to eat wisely and know the benefits. Garlic and onions are both food and medicine. Garden produce, eaten fresh and whole, is known to be good for us. A diet of shelf-stable, processed foods is not considered a healthy one.

No one today denies that plants are medicinal. It's good to learn ways in which wild or garden plants can keep us healthy. Knowing the benefits of garlic, fresh berries, and salad herbs brings new meaning to a home garden, and the fields and forests are open to those who want to learn their secrets.

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