Let’s begin at the beginning, where all good stories begin. Herbal medicine is the use of plants for therapeutic purposes, and human being have been using plants this way for as far back as we can tell. Afterall, we share our planet with literally billions of plants and millions of different plant species all around our globe. When human beings lived and foraged outside, their experience of plants for food, shelter, ritual, and medicine was even more intimate. We have co-evolved with plant life, as I like to say, and therefore have unique mechanisms in our bodies and digestive systems for utilizing the compounds plants contain. The history of medicine, therefore, is the history of herbal medicine! Many of our modern pharmaceutical compounds are synthesized and derived from plant constituents, but long before that process started, herbs were used for a myriad of medicinal purposes, including for topical use in poultices, salves, soaks & washes, and internally as infusions (teas), wine & beer, and much more. Despite being relegated to a place of near obscurity in the 19th and 20th centuries in the West, much of the world has had a much longer, unbroken tradition of using plants of medicine. Just look at the Chinese, Indian, and Latin American cultures to see this is the case.
Today, herbal medicine is gaining ground again in the West as a legitimate form of healing and the interest has been renewed. This is partly due to an increasing awareness that pharmaceutical medicines don’t always achieve desired results and can have many undesirable and potentially harmful effects. Also, modern research, in its quest for compounds that will help decrease inflammation, increase immunity, prevent cancer, etc. has given indications as to how herbs can effect health in a positive way. Plants also offer the ability to support and renew tissues and organ systems, and balance the body in ways that pharmaceutical medicines cannot.