For some people, an herb is a green plant that you use to flavor your food, and this can lead to some confusion. Herbalist refer to any plant (or any part of a plant) which has a therapeutic effect on the body (either internally and/or externally). So, a Conker can be considered an herb under these terms. As can a rosehip, or a nettle, the bark from an oak tree or the root from a burdock plant.
It is the therapeutic properties that classify a plant (or indeed, a fungus or seaweed) as an herb, and these therapeutic properties arise courtesy of the active constituents contained within. In more recent history, humans discovered how to isolate some of these constituents, leading to important medical breakthroughs. These breakthroughs still occur to this day, and given the vast variety of constituents within plants, such breakthroughs will continue to happen for many years to come. Aspirin, Taxol (paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug), and Galantamine (used as a medicine in cases of Alzheimer’s) all were discovered in plants. Aspirin was discovered in Meadowsweet and Willow, Yew trees are used to make Taxol, and Daffodils are the source of Galantamine.
It is interesting that some plants that are used as the source of chemicals for medicinal drugs aren’t used in herbal medicine because the plant or plant parts taken in whole may be poisonous. Therefore, it is important to remember that just because you’ve read about a drug derived from a plant, that doesn’t mean that you can use the plant therapeutically as you might other herbs. So perhaps an even more accurate description of an herb would be a plant whose parts can be used whole to provide therapeutic effects either internally and/or externally.
Because of the chemical complexity of herbs, one herb can have many therapeutic actions and therefore has the potential to help a wide variety of conditions. Often people will ask what a certain herb is good for – in other words, what conditions can it treat. A better way of looking at each herb is in terms of its therapeutic actions, rather than limiting it to a set of conditions which it can help with. This means that you can learn about just a handful of herbs and yet still have the ability to ease a vast array of health conditions because you’ll understand what each herb will do in the body through these therapeutic actions and how these actions can address both the root cause of the symptoms of an illness.
Thanks to these therapeutic actions, Herbal Medicine can be used to address, support, and manage nearly all health issues. Again, it is the extraordinary chemical complexity of herbs that make them such superb healers, as they can work on so many levels through the body, including the nervous system. Herbal medicine is a complimentary therapy. In the hands of a qualified Herbalist who understands drug-herb interactions, Herbs can be used safely in nearly all circumstances. Just as long as an individual’s prescribing doctor is in agreement with the herbs being used if orthodox medication is being currently taken.