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What is Herbal Medicine?
Sue Frederick, author of A Mother's Guide to Raising Healthy Children As published in

Herbal Medicine has become almost as mainstream as apple pie. Once considered strange and ineffective, modern science has validated what our ancestors knew all along; plants contain natural healing components that can be used effectively to prevent and cure illnesses.

More than 5,000 years ago, when our ancestors began foraging in the woods for roots, berries and leaves to use as medicines, they knew in some instinctive way that nature did indeed offer up cures to what ails us.

However, in the 1940s, herbal medicine lost its medical prominence with the rise of antibiotics. Since then, medical science focused on substances that work against disease and disease-causing organisms - rather than working with the natural healing abilities of the body.

Now we've learned that antibiotics can't cure everything, and in fact they've created antibiotic resistant strains of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Gonorrhea and other bacteria. And mostly, modern medicine has accepted its inability to prevent disease or to cure chronic illnesses such as arthritis.

Once again, we're turning to nature for our remedies. This time, science is supporting that decision. Rigorous studies are proving that indeed leaves from the ginkgo tree may help us maintain mental clarity, that chamomile helps us sleep better, that echinacea enhances our ability to fight disease, and that St. John's wort may help maintain emotional well-being. The good news is that herbal medicine is often more effective and less expensive than modern pharmaceuticals.

Most modern physicians agree that the best solution is a blending of mainstream antibiotics when needed and natural remedies whenever possible. James Duke, Ph.D., one of America's foremost authorities on medicinal herbs and author of The Green Pharmacy, explains it this way: "Our bodies have been exposed to the natural substances in plants for millions of years. My DNA, RNA, my genes, and my immune system have already experienced most or all of the natural phyto-chemicals that my ancestors ingested. However, my genes and immune system know nothing of tomorrow's new synthetic compounds. Given the choice, I'll most often take the herbal alternative, because it's cheaper, gentler on the body and often as effective, and almost always safer than the pharmaceutical."

Here's an overview of the different forms you'll find herbal medicine in:

*Tinctures are liquid herbal preparations in which alcohol is used to extract the herb's medicinal constituents. If a minute amount of alcohol is a concern, add a half-cup of hot water and let it sit for five minutes. The alcohol will evaporate.

*Extracts can be made using either alcohol or water; check the label so see which was used. Otherwise, they're the same as tinctures.

*Capsules and tablets contain ground-up or powdered raw herb. If these herbal pills don't contain a standardized extract, they will be much less potent than tinctures or extracts.

*Medicinal herbal teas can be found in numerous formulas that target various ailments. Most taste delicious and provide a healthy way to increase your intake of fluids when sick. However, they are not as potent as other forms of herbal medicine.

*Ointments, lotions, salves and sprays are applied topically to help heal broken skin and wounds, fight skin infections and rashes heal minor burns.

Here are ten of the most popular herbal medicines and their common usage's:

1. Echinacea - Enhancing wellness

2. Ginger - Settling upset stomachs

3. Garlic - Fighting viral and bacterial infections

4. Peppermint - Settling stomach and fighting fevers

5. Feverfew - Preventing migraines

6. Elderberry - Reducing flu symptoms

7. Goldenseal - Fighting bacterial infections

8. St. John's Wort - Maintaining emotional balance

9. Ginseng - Enhancing energy

10. Ginkgo - Maintaining mental clarity

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