Medicinal Herbs / Essential Oils
The English word "herb" is from the Sanskrit word "bharb," which means to eat. It also originates from the Latin word "herba," meaning grass or fodder. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, an herb is " a seed producing annual, biennial, or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue," in other words, a plant without bark. This definition applies to all herbs because although some herbs have somewhat woody stems, none have actual bark. Another definition given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is "a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities."
Herbs have been used as medicines for centuries. They were kept in dried form in many pharmacies so that they could be used all year. This is why the word "drug" is from the Anglo-Saxon word "drigan," which means to dry. For centuries, herbs have been the principal if not the only medicines used in many countries. Even herbs we use today for seasonings in cooking were originally used as medicines. Herbs have not been used as often with the recent advances in medical technology, but many people have begun to use herbs as medicines due to their medicinal properties.
Medicinal plants have been identified and used throughout human history. Plants have the ability to synthesize a wide variety of chemical compounds that are used to perform important biological functions, and to defend against attack from predators such as insects, fungi and herbivorous mammals. At least 12,000 such compounds have been isolated so far; a number estimated to be less than 10% of the total. Chemical compounds in plants mediate their effects on the human body through processes identical to those already well understood for the chemical compounds in conventional drugs; thus herbal medicines do not differ greatly from conventional drugs in terms of how they work. This enables herbal medicines to be as effective as conventional medicines, but also gives them the same potential to cause harmful side effects.
The use of plants as medicines predates written human history. Ethnobotany (the study of traditional human uses of plants) is recognized as an effective way to discover future medicines. In 2001, researchers identified 122 compounds used in modern medicine which were derived from "ethnomedical" plant sources; 80% of these have had an ethnomedical use identical or related to the current use of the active elements of the plant. Many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to physicians have a long history of use as herbal remedies, including aspirin, digitalis, quinine, and opium.
The use of herbs to treat disease is almost universal among non-industrialized societies, and is often more affordable than purchasing expensive modern pharmaceuticals. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries presently use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care. Studies in the United States and Europe have shown that their use is less common in clinical settings, but has become increasingly more in recent years as scientific evidence about the effectiveness of herbal medicine has become more widely available.
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