Herbal Therapy

Herbalism, or herbal therapy, is a traditional medicinal process which utilizes plants and their extracts. Going by many names including botanical medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy, herbal therapy includes any of a broad range of techniques and origins even to include the use of fungal products, minerals, shells, animal parts and insect products.
The use of herbalism can be traced to all continents. Humans, like all animals, have a natural instinct to address illness and sickness through changes in diet. Otzi the Iceman, whose famed remains were frozen in the Swiss Alps some 5,000 years ago, is seen to have consumed medicinal herbs to treat intestinal parasites. Ancient healers and doctors would often observe the tendencies and behaviors of wild animals to treat their ailments and apply similar principles upon the ill of their tribe.
From the Sumerians to the Egyptians to the Old Testament the use and cultivation of herbs for medicinal purposes can be found. Several modern drugs, such as ephedrine, can be dated back to these ancient cultures. As the distance between cultures began to dwindle during the Modern Age, these traditions found their way to Western medicine and eventually into many of the prescription drugs we use today. Many of our most basic remedies, such as aspirin and quinine, find their roots in herbal therapy. For this reason, several global cultures prefer herbal therapy to prescriptions due to the mere expense of corporate manufactured drugs and the fact that they can grow them in their own homes or gather them from nature.
In the 20th century we can find several distinct practices of herbal therapy, each one specific to its continent. This includes "classical" medicine based on Greek and Roman traditions, Ayurvedic medicine from South Asia, Chinese herbology, African medicine, Shamanic herbalism from South America, and Native American medicine.
The philosophy behind herbal therapy can be divided into four basic approaches: shamanic, energetic, functional dynamic, and chemical. The shamanic, or magical, approach is recognized by almost all non-modern cultures and is structured upon the belief that herbs endow their consumer with magical gifts and powers and that the herbs affect the spirit of the individual. The energetic approach, found in Ayurveda and Unani, is built upon the belief that herbs can be used to affect the energies of the human body. Practitioners of this philosophy are often backed by extensive training, knowledge, and discipline. The functional dynamic approach was used by the first physio-medical practitioners and is the basis of the modern medical practices found in the UK. This philosophy states that herbs have a physiological function and action that is not necessarily related to a physical compound. The final philosophy is the chemical philosophy which is used by modern practitioners, or phytotherapists. This philosophy believes that the chemical properties of herbs can cause effects on the human body and can be used to aid and cure ailments and sickness. This philosophy is the most closely related to modern medical chemistry of all of the herbal therapies.
There are plants all over the globe which are known to produce and synthesize substances and products which may be used to maintain and improve the health of both humans and animals. There substances are available as herbal formulas, teas, oils, incenses, aromatherapy products, and cooking spices. Several alkaloids which serve as defense mechanisms for plants are useful for human consumption.
As with all drugs and medicines, many herbs are thought to cause side effects. Depending on the amount of intake and the state of the herb being consumed, this can range from mild to severe side effects. Anyone considering the use of herbal therapy should consult a professional prior to taking any alternative medicines.
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