Intelligence of Herbs
The innate intelligence of herbs never ceases to amaze me. Many medicinal plants, or herbs, are revered by the ancient medical traditions due to their healing benefits, and about 40% of modern medicines are derived from plants.
We have evolved side-by-side with herbal plants for millennia, and thus we have a much more natural and symbiotic relationship with them than we do with modern day drugs.
Typically, a drug is made up of one chemical compound which is designed to target a single biological pathway, thus leading to the therapeutic effect. But when a drug causes the desired effect on one pathway, an imbalance is caused in other pathways in the body. This is why pharmaceutical drugs, even though necessary at times, are virtually always associated with side-effects.
Herbs are different.
Each herbaceous plant synthesizes many chemical compounds that are biologically active, and these compounds work on multiple pathways simultaneously enabling a balanced physiology. The result is an elegantly orchestrated and complex interaction with our body. And, the outcome is a harmonious healing benefit often without side-effects.
Consider turmeric root, which has been used as a spice and medicinal herb since pre-history. It contains many different plant chemicals, or phytochemicals, each with far reaching biologically active beneficial effects on the body. There are thousands of research papers published on the health benefits of the turmeric phytochemical curcumin. Curcumin has health benefits that are anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, neuroprotective and supportive of digestion (1,2). And curcumin is safe and non-toxic (3). You get the picture. Herbs act holistically, bringing balance and typically without side-effects.
However, there is another side to the use of medicinal herbs. Herbs are not tightly regulated by the FDA. Therefore, there may be significant variations in the quality, concentration and purity of purchased bottled herbs. Sometimes bottled herbs contain harmful contaminants. This is a real and dangerous aspect to using herbal extracts. The issue can be avoided, however, by always working with a professional practitioner who has experience in the use of good quality brands, ensuring purity. Never self-prescribe or purchase bottled herbs without professional guidance. Also, there may be some interactions of herbs with pharmaceuticals. Interactions typically occur because the herb is having the same effect as the pharmaceutical thereby enhancing the effect of the pharmaceutical. The solution is either to avoid herbs if you are taking a pharmaceutical medication, or work with your physician to reduce the pharmaceutical medication to the desired effect.
Medicinal herbs have a place in modern medicine that should not be undervalued, and they can be effectively used with proper caution. Remember they have an intelligence that only nature could have designed, that is born of millions of years of evolution.
1. Salehi B, Stojanovic-Radic Z, Matejic J, et al. The therapeutic potential of curcumin: A review of clinical trials. Eur J Med Chem. 2019;163:527-545.
2. Pluta R, Ulamek-Koziol M, Czuczwar SJ. Neuroprotective and Neurological/Cognitive Enhancement Effects of Curcumin after Brain Ischemia Injury with Alzheimer's Disease Phenotype. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(12).
3. Chainani-Wu N. Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa). Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, NY). 2003;9(1):161-168.