It seems like a simple question, but defining an herb is complicated. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an herb as "a term applied to plants where the leaves, or stems and leaves, are used for food or medicine, or in some way for their scent or flavor."
This may seem inclusive, but this definition omits integral plants such as ginger, fennel, and ginseng. Obviously the roots, rhizome, seeds, and bark may be equally beneficial and designate an herb.
If we broaden this definition beyond "leaves or stems and leaves" to include any part of a plant "used for food or medicine or in some way for its scent or flavor", the definition remains imprecise. Consider lettuce, for example.
Is lettuce an herb? when consumed for lunch in a sandwich, no. However, wild lettuce, Laduca virosa, is a mild sedative, analgesic, and a useful remedy against irritating cough.
This would, in common consideration, designate it an herb. An appropriate herbal definition will distinguish food as sustenance from a substance consumed for psychological or physiological effect. If we examine the botanical definition of an herb, we will see this definition lacks comprehensiveness as well: "A plant with a fleshy not a woody stem, which, after the plant has bloomed and set seed, dies down to the ground."
This definition excludes plants such as barberry, cat's claw, and thyme. The barks of many plants are valuable medicinally and we, therefore, consider them herbs. An herb, sometimes known as a medicinal plant, is a plant from which may be derived beneficial non-nutritive psychological or physiological effects, whether from ingestion, inhalation, or topical application.
Today, tens of millions of people across the globe benefit from the active constituents in herbs. From health to culture to religion, plants play a part in our everyday life.Incense is often used as a spiritual symbol in churches and temples. With the development of Western medicine in the past century, herbalism declined in popularity, partially due to its association with archaic ritual and affiliation with magical beliefs.
This is especially true in the United States. However, the past few decades have seen an upsurge of a naturalistic approach to health. Several reasons may account for this return to herbal practice.
Scientific advancements have been able to verify and document the effects and active constituents of many herbs. The dangers and side effects of synthetic medications are better known. Certain bioorganisms have begun to resist particular synthetic medications.
Herbalism affords the patient a greater independence and autonomy over traditional health care. Most medical professionals place patients in a passive role, and naturalistic medicine tends to encourage an active approach with collaborative treatment decisions, and patients' self-monitorization of results.
Alternative medicine offers a wider array of treatment options, which may fuel optimism and be emotionally attractive to the patient.
Anyone questioning the value of herbal medicine need only note the powerful medications that were derived, then synthesized for modem use based upon the compounds discovered in plants. Morphine Morphine comes from the opium poppy (Papaver rhoeas).
The most powerful muscle relaxant in existence, tubocurarine is derived from the plant curare (Chondrondendron tomestosum). Aboriginal tribes in the Amazon used curare on arrow-points to paralyze animals when hunting.Mexican Yam
Mexican yam (Dioscorea genus) yields diosgenin - an integral com- ponent in the synthesis of human sex hormones and the original chemical map for synthesized oral contraception.
Aspirin was derived from saliate discovered in 1827 and derived from the leaves of the meadowsweet plant (Filipendula ulmaria).
Many come from the coca plant (Erythroxylum coca).
"The heart remedy" dioxin is derived from the common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).
An antimalarial medication, quinine is derived from various species of cinchona or Peruvian bark.
Of course, there are many more examples of synthetic medication resulting from chemicals found in plant life. In fact, nearly 75 percent of our bioengineered medications have originated within the curative properties of plants.
In the new millennium, the medical industry is closer than ever to integrating naturalistic medicine with the technological advantages of traditional heath care. Nearly 65 percent of medical schools in the United States offer some course work in alternative medicine, and this figure rises every year. "Alternative" medicine is becoming less an "alternative" and more a complement to medical treatment.
In the way that diet, exercise, and stress management are recognized as crucial components in the treatment and prevention of ailments and the preservation of overall health, so too is herbal medicine becom- ing a routine corollary to traditional health avocations.Physicians in Europe and Asia routinely incorporate herbal remedies into their repertoire of prescriptions.
The United States has been slower to embrace herbal remedies. This is, at least in part, due to the fact that the U.S. is significantly hampered by government restrictions that make it difficult for herbal substances to be commercially funded, tested, and distributed. In general, however, the trend in health care is definitely toward the recognition and incorporation of herbal medicine in standard medical practice. This is where we are today. Let's take a look back at herbalism throughout the ages.
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