Herbal Remedies - Overview
Herbal medicine is sometimes misunderstood in our country. Let’s view the situation realistically. Herbs are both potential poisons AND seemingly miraculous healing substances. As a society we need to be properly educated about herbs. Just because something is labeled as “natural” doesn’t mean it is harmless any more than a drug that is labeled “chemical” is always harmful. We need to intelligently assess the possibilities!
There are herbs that we use in cooking every day that are so safe we call them food herbs. For instance because cumin* has been used daily by billions of people for thousands of years, it is considered gentle, safe, and unlikely to cause an adverse reaction. Other herbs in this category entitled “generally regarded as safe” are most of the culinary spices – basil, chamomile, coriander, dill, fennel, ginger, mint, turmeric, etc.
On the other extreme are the poisonous herbs that are used for healing a specific symptom, in small amounts and generally for a short duration. These herbs** are not commonly available and are to be used only under strict supervision by an experienced practitioner.
In between “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS) and poisonous herbs is a category called therapeutic herbs. All of the herbs included here have a wide variety of individual characteristics and need to be suggested by someone with intimate knowledge of them in order to maximize their healing potential and minimize their possible risks.
Indeed, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an herbal remedy is considered a “superior” remedy only if it meets several criteria:
- It must be available.
- It must be non-toxic.
- It must be relatively inexpensive.
- It must have a long track record of safe and effective use.
With this simple information, we can come to regard Nature as bountifully sharing with us her myriad gifts, to be applied skillfully, with great understanding, great respect, and great gratitude!
*“Cumin is for the human!” Sonam frequently says.
** The herb industry is regulated by the FDA and by laws such as the Dietary Supplement, Health and Education Act, passed in 1994 by the US Congress.