Around the world many more people depend on the use of herbal remedies than on the use of chemically synthesised drugs and it is only during the last century that western medicine has become so dependent on the products of the synthetic pharmaceutical industry. Even today many of the new drugs being introduced by the pharmaceutical companies have a botanical origin.
Thus herbal medicine has a very long history worldwide, In Europe, America and Australia herbal medicine, like a lot of complimentary approaches to health problems, has become most associated with the treatment of the common chronic illness which are so challenging to western health care rather than the acute immediately life threatening situation which modern “orthodox” medicine is so very good at addressing.
The pharmaceutical companies often purify the “active compounds “from plants and modify them chemically in order to obtain patents to protect their investment in the costly process of drug licencing. Herbalists over many years have observed that by only using simple extraction methods a complex mixtures of plant derived chemicals can be produced which are not only biologically active but also often act in a complimentary and synergistic way to modify the absorption and metabolism of the “active compounds” . These complex mixtures tend to produce fewer unwanted side effects when compared to the use of purified “active compounds”. The use of the purified compounds can achieve much higher doses of “biologically active drug” but also tend to be associated with a much higher incidence of unwanted side effects, This is not to imply that the use of herbal medicine is without problems of side effects but it seems that despite the well-recognised and increasingly “scientifically proven” efficacy of herbal remedies unwanted side effects are less of a problem than occur with the use of orthodox drugs.
Herbal medicines work with the body to resolve a health problem rather than dominating physiological function in the way that many pharmaceuticals tend to do.
Often the distinction between food and herbal medicine is not clear and herbal medicine practitioners will often take a keen interest in a patient’s diet and offer dietary advice. This is not only part of the “holistic” approach common to many forms of complementary medicine but also recognises the central importance of diet in a healthy life style.