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Herbal Medicine

By Gay Published: July 21, 2009

My great-great-great however many that takes us back to the mid-16th century grandmother was burnt as a witch in her town in what is now Germany.  There’s not a great deal of data, just a hint here and there and some dark words from my grandmother, who was herself an herbalist.  She used herbs for cooking (and she was a wonderful cook) and for making pleasant little items like sleep pillows, which are soft cloths stuffed with dream-inducing herbs such as lavender and rosemary. There were little tussy-mussies and Christmas ornaments made with the wonderful scents of cinnamon and allspice.  That sort of thing.

But for centuries, women sought out herbs and botanicals to make medicines to relieve women giving birth, to make poultices for people suffering from fever, for relieving pain and suffering.  It was not always looked upon kindly.

Herbal Medicine is making a comeback, perhaps because there have been troubles with a few drugs.  We’re not always sure that the drugs might not cause as much harm as they relieve.  For the record, I am thankful for modern pharmaceuticals and the untold sorrow they have alleviated, from smallpox to polio to the common childhood diseases that too often brought death.

However, there is debate about what role herbs can and should play in modern medicine. Some herbal traditionalists feel that herbal medicine provides  complete therapies for disease, while others feel that there should be a careful mixture of herbs and modern medicines.  After all, some of our most useful drugs are derived from plants.

This must be addressed by more than one blog, so  I will commence by saying that herbalist believe that it is difficult to assess the efficacy of herbs versus modern compounds.  For one thing, every case is treated differently—you don’t give one herb to treat one particular symptom.  It is a complex science—or art, whichever you will—that involves a relationship between the practitioner and the patient.

Many older people remember the country doctor who made his rounds and saw to the patient.  The patient’s trust and confidence in the doctor made a significant impact on the recovery.  That is not really so unscientific—most doctors today will tell you patients usually will get better with or without treatment.  It is the speed of the recovery that becomes a yardstick to measure the cure.

Chronic diseases require a tempering of the herbs, dependent upon the response of the patient to the treatment.  Again, this is not so contrary to modern medicine.  Not all medicines work with the same effectiveness on different patients, and there is often a trial to determine what will be most effective. A loved one of mine suffers from lupus, and her physician, a Cleveland Clinic doctor, carefully evaluates what each drug does for her.

Modern pharmaceuticals work much more quickly than herbal medicines, there is no doubt, which can be good or bad, depending upon the effects.  But it makes it difficult to evaluate an herbal treatment versus a pharmacological one on a head to head trial.

In future blogs, I will look at some of the current literature on herbal medicine, and how that applies to how you care for your animals.

Written by Gay Fifer, owner of Parsley Hollow, Inc.

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