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Physiological Activities of Herbs

Physiological Activites of Herbs

by Peter Laker

Traditionally, an herbal remedy can be used in a combination or on its own for specific health conditions. For example, Devils Claw can be used for arthritis, Feverfew for migraine, Echinacea for infection and St John’s Wort for depression. Some conditions respond well to single herbs but there are many instances where a single herb may not have all the necessary physiological activities for the required effect. Each case is unique so it is often necessary to combine two or more herbs to create a therapeutic effect and achieve a positive result.

It is important to understand that each herb has many properties and can be used for a variety of conditions. For example, St. John’s Wort, which apart from its use in mild to moderate depression, is also used internally and externally to treat damaged nerves, sciatica, and neuralgia. It can also be used as an anti-viral for herpes type I and II as well as for mononucleosis. Most herbalists rarely use St. John’s Wort as a single remedy for depression but prefer to combine it with other supporting herbs for a better therapeutic effect.

Herbs contain a myriad of therapeutic constituents and nutrients and the combination and interaction of these constituents cause each herb to produce certain physiological activities (or herbal actions as they are called by Western Herbalists). A single herb contains more than one action. A good example is Chamomile which is used for digestive problems such as nervous indigestion, nervous diarrhea, gastritis and even mild cases of irritable bowel syndrome. Its actions are anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, astringent, carminative, anti-microbial, bitter, vulnerary and nervine.

Even though there are occasions when the use of a single herb is acceptable, a trained herbalist is not restricted to that approach. He will have extensive knowledge of each herb and understand its physiological activities or actions; he will also have the expertise to compound two or more herbs to achieve a synergistic effect for better results. The herbalist can confidently assess a patient and then customize a formula for that patient with regard to their overall condition and specific set of symptoms.

Understanding the actions of each herb is fundamental to understanding its therapeutic properties and effects. This is the foundation of Western herbalism. This knowledge is traditional, empirical, and handed down through generations of herbalists through direct observation of the effects each herb produces within a patient. It may not be scientific according to today’s standards, but Western herbalists accept and embrace this tried and tested approach which their own clinical experience has proven.

Scientific research has isolated and identified many chemical compounds in herbs, thereby supporting and proving the actions and therapeutic properties of many herbs commonly used in traditional herbalism. It is important to realize that any one herb may have a range of therapeutic uses because each contains such a wide variety of active constituents, including: proteins, oils, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fibre, flavonoids, essential oils, tannins, saponins, glycosides, alkaloids and so on. These work together synergistically in such a way that the effect of the whole herb is more than the sum total of its parts.

It is the interaction of the natural chemical compounds or constituents and nutritive components of each herb that produce positive therapeutic effects and which restores balance in the body.

Peter Laker