Intro to Herbalism - Unit 1

Matthew Nguyen
Note by Matthew Nguyen, updated more than 1 year ago
Matthew Nguyen
Created by Matthew Nguyen over 4 years ago


Self study course regarding Herbalism by

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Intro to Herbalism - Lesson 1 What is an Herb? The dictionary gives two definitions for "herb." The first one, the more technical, is "a seed producing plant that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of the growing season." The second definition is more general, the one most commonly used, and the one that I am referring to when I use the word. An herb is "a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities." A "plant or plant part" means that an herb can be a single-celled algae, the bark of a tree, the leaf, root, fruit, seed, flower, or any other part of any plant, as long as it is used for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities. "Medicinal" means for health purposes, including the treatment and prevention of disease. "Savory" means herbs that are used to season food, such as garlic, rosemary, basil, etc. And "aromatic" refers to herbs, plant parts, or flowers that are used for their odor or aroma, as in perfumes, fragrances, incense, etc. There are numerous other uses for herbs that do not easily fit into these three categories. For example, herbs are used in the preservation of food, for dying cloth, pest control, decorating, and for many other purposes. Did I forget to mention that herbs are often used for food? "Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food." —Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine There is of course considerable overlap between the categories of herbs mentioned our dictionary definition. Most savory herbs, like garlic, cayenne and ginger to name just a few, have medicinal uses as well. And the science and art of aromatherapy has certainly taught us much about the health benefits of aromatic herbs. So keeping this overlap in mind, for the purposes of this course, we are more interested in herbs that are used for health purposes, or medicinal herbs. This brings us to a question that I am often asked: What is the difference between a drug and an herb? An herb is a plant part in its entirety, while a drug is a synthesized copy of one chemical component, such as a component found in an herb. Herbalists prefer using the whole herb and believe that one of the reasons why herbs have fewer side-effects is because of a balance of naturally occurring ingredients. Pharmaceutical companies like to isolate chemicals so they can produce a "pure" concentrate, acquire a patent, and reap large profits. Whole herbs can't be patented so there is little profit potential for the drug companies. Every herb consists of hundreds or even thousands of naturally occurring chemicals. The actions of most of these chemicals are not understood, but it is known that an herb's total effect is a result of the combination. Some chemicals have synergistic effects on others increasing their activity. Some modify the effects of others reducing undesirable side-effects. Scientists and herbalists will often use the term active, as a noun, to refer to what they consider to be an "active" ingredient of an herb. For example, hypericin and hyperforin are considered to be the actives in the herb St. John's wort. This is useful when it comes to standardizing an herb or when testing it for quality, but it is a little misleading if we believe that the actives are the only beneficial ingredients in the herb. The benefits that St. John's wort provides are not just a result of these two chemicals, but of a synergistic interaction between these two chemicals and a host of other naturally occurring chemicals found in the herb. Pharmaceutical companies often make the mistake of isolating an active from an herb, or extracting that active out of the herb without the herb's other naturally-occurring ingredients; or even worse, of making and producing a synthetic copy of the active. What they end up with is a drug that is far from what nature produced—without the benefits of the synergistic interactions of the herb's original ingredients—often resulting in negative actions or undesirable side-effects. Herbalism as "Alternative Medicine" Sometimes people speak of herbalism as alternative medicine. The implication is that the conventional corporate pharma-toxicological medicine as practiced in the Western world is the standard, and that anything else is an alternative. But most herbalists see it the other way around. Herbs have been around for millennia. The World Health Organization estimates that healing herbs are currently the primary medicines for two-thirds of the world's population—or some four billion people. Most of the tools currently used by modern medicine, including most of the drugs that are in use today, have only been around for a few decades or less. If anything is an alternative, historically speaking, it is the pharma-toxicological medicine that is currently practiced in Western nations. Health Care is Not an Exact Science It has been estimated by medical authorities that 80% of all medical diagnoses are wrong. If medical doctors—with all their training and experience—are only correct 20% of the time, then how much confidence should we put in a diagnosis made by a lay person? Not only is it unwise for lay people to diagnose, in many localities it is illegal. It's called "practicing medicine without a license." This is where the Body Systems Approach that we teach comes in. It gives the lay person a powerful framework within which they can safely and ethically work to improve their health, and help others to do the same. With the Body Systems Approach we do not diagnose or prescribe. We simply make use of, or recommend, food supplementation and other lifestyle changes to support the body's weakest systems. The Body Systems Approach—A Two Step Process The Body Systems Approach involves two simple steps: 1) An evaluation is made to determine your weakest body system(s), and 2) nutritional supplements and/or lifestyle changes are selected or recommended to support those systems. These two steps are then repeated at some point in the future to determine if changes have occurred and if modifications to the supplementation program are indicated. The Body Systems Approach is actually a part of the "ABC plus D" approach to designing a personalized nutritional support program. It helps us decide what to use for the "D," or "Direct Aid," portion of the program. A complete nutritional program must consider the A, B and C as well. (We will cover the ABC plus D approach in Lesson 5.) Online Health Assessment To help us apply the Body Systems Approach more effectively, we use the Online Health Assessment questionnaire. Once we have determined our weakest system using this questionnaire, we can select our nutritional products with greater confidence. At some later time, perhaps after having taken our nutritional supplements for six months or so, we can retake the questionnaire to see how we are doing. We can then modify our nutritional program accordingly. If our original weakest system has improved, we might decide to start supplementing the next worst system. You can see that the Body Systems Approach, along with the Online Health Assessment questionnaire, can turn an otherwise complicated and possibly difficult decision into an easy task. It is a very simple yet very powerful tool that can help you customize an effective nutritional supplementation program without the guessworkand inherent dangers involved in diagnosing. You will notice that Unit 2 of this course consists of a separate lesson for each of the different body systems. This course has been organized in this manner to make it easier for you to use the Body Systems Approach. The Body Systems Approach is perfectly safe, legal, and ethical for lay people to use. Just remember not to diagnose, promise a cure, or misrepresent an herb or a nutritional product as a treatment for a specific condition. In this lesson we covered the following: 1. What is an herb? 2. What are the different types of herbs based on their usage? 3. What is the difference between an herb and a drug? 4. What do we mean by the term "synergistic"? 5. What is "alternative medicine" and what is its place in our health care system? 6. What does "holistic" mean? 7. Is it necessary for herbalists to diagnose? 8. Introduction to the Body Systems Approach. 9. Introduction to the Online Health Assessment questionnaire. 10. The purpose of this course. Word Review List: Below is a list of some of the words that were mentioned in this lesson. active (n) alternative medicine aromatherapy aromatic diagnosis herb herbalism herbalist savory synergism system Body Systems Approach tonic

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