Herbal Medicine 101

Herbs have been used for thousands of years to help people get better, but with prescription drugs so commonly used today most people don’t know how to start understanding them. Even though you can take them the same way you take other medications, here are some things you should know:

Herbs are not like drugs.
We have become used to the idea that a single drug does a single thing. This is not the case with herbs – a single herb often does multiple things, only a few of which may relate to why you are taking them. Herbalists know this, and to ensure that you don’t see side effects herbalists combine multiple herbs together so that unwanted effects in one herb are cancelled out by another. This idea of taking multiple things at once is called polypharmacy, and while for MDs it is often dangerous and muddy terrain, it is par for the course for herbalists and they have learned how to navigate it well.

Herbs are like drugs.
When you see an herbalist and are prescribed a formula, it often seems like you are taking a large number of capsules with a large number of herbs in them. This tends to give the impression that herbs have a mild effect on the body, but this is false. Herbs are just as effective as any other drug when given in the correct combination and dosage, and if herbs are abused you can still see side effects. Knowing how to combine herbs and dose them out properly is why herbalists have to study for so long before they start practicing.

Herbs blur the line between medication and nutrition.
You can certainly take herbs for a short period of time to help you get over a health problem. You can also go further and use herbs to boost your immune system before cold season hits, or take them to prevent flare-ups of pain, or to keep your GI tract running smoothly. In this way, herbs are more like supplements that you use from a wellness perspective, taking them along with your usual meals to keep yourself in optimum health.

Self-medication with herbs is risky.
This gets back to the first two points above. It’s often best to consult someone who has been trained in herbs if you want to start taking them. This is really for your safety – it means you have someone ensuring that you don’t have complications with other medications, or that you don’t take too much of an herb or take it for too long and start developing a problem somewhere else.

Herbs and acupuncture are better together than alone.
Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are prescribed using the same diagnostic methods and can complement each other as a result. So after you get acupuncture, taking herbs through the week can help prolong the treatment effects. Also, should you ever need to travel, having herbs available means you can continue healing even when away from your acupuncturist.