MISCONCEPTION #1: Herbs are 100% safe because they are natural.
If your Holistic Health Practitioner advises you to use herbs, ask her if they are safe. If she responds, “Yes, of course!” . . . Find a new practitioner.
Some of the most powerful poisons in the world exist among herbal remedies. Hemlock is a good example, which looks like harmless wild parsley.
Some mushrooms such as Autumn Skullcap and Webcaps are lethal.
So are herbal remedies safe? If taken properly, yes, the most popular medicinal herbs are fine for most people.
Herbs contain pharmacologically active compounds that react on the body like a drug, and all drugs can potentially cause allergic reactions, side effects, fatal injuries, and interactions with other herbs and drugs.
Herbs tend to be safer than medicinal products, though they might also have negative effects. For this reason, using them under the guidance of a skilled herbalist is very important.
“Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “mild”. Herbs are natural, but they can also be powerful. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbs and herbal preparations have the same role that drugs have in Western medicine.
MISCONCEPTION #2: Herbs with the same active principles as drugs have the same therapeutic functions and side effects.
Drugs’ therapeutic effects come from the active principle ingredient, which is a chemically synthetized molecule. Many of these molecules such as ephedrine or acetylsalicylic acid (found in Aspirin) mimic nature. But nature is intelligent. An herb’s therapeutic function is due to a combination of the natural active ingredient and other substances—such as enzymes, resins, essential oils, tannins, flavonoids, and more—that protect the plant from the side effects of the active ingredient and facilitate its action.
This means that herbs don’t have the same side effects as the isolated chemical active ingredients because the plant provides both the active ingredient and also the substances necessary to protect the plant and, therefore, also us from the side effects.
MISCONCEPTION #3: Herbs do not interact with drugs.
In February 2000, the British medical journal Lancet published an article that advised against the use of St. John’s wort, a well-known anti-depressant herb for patients with AIDS that were already taking protease inhibitors (at the time the most prescribed drug for AIDS). In reality, St. John’s wort reduces the hematic protease concentration, compromising the drug’s efficacy.
That same year, surgeons pointed out the risks associated with garlic. If taken in high dosages, garlic has a powerful antibiotic action and reduces hematic cholesterol. But it is also a powerful natural anticoagulant, which, if taken a week before undergoing surgery, can cause fatal bleeding.
A common and effective herb like Turmeric should not be taken with anti-clotting medications.
Yes, herbs can interact with drugs. So self-medicating with herbs is not advised. Use herbs under the supervision of an expert herbalist.
MISCONCEPTION #4: Herbs are less effective than drugs.
One reason many people think herbs are weak is because people misuse them. Herbs are not symptomatic like OTC drugs. Herbs work deeply, giving the impression that they are slower. Often, by the time people interrupt their therapy, the herbs haven’t yet had a chance to start working, or they are indeed working but you can’t perceive the effects yet.
Herbal therapy could often last more than three months. If well selected, they address and even solve your problem.
Unfortunately, even the dosages and the quality of the marketed herbal supplements are often questionable. This is another reason why self-medication is the wrong road. An expert’s guidance is important, especially regarding choice of brands, therapeutic dosage, and length of therapy.
MISCONCEPTION #5: There is no scientific support for herbs.
Despite legends of herbs possessing magical properties, which are rooted in ancient populations, loads of scientific literature exists supporting herbs, much of which is recognized by health authorities.
In many European countries, health authorities approve herbal medicine using the same procedure as pharmaceutical products. So, to be marketed, herbs require a lot of scientific support from herbal monographs, which prove the well-established use of the herbs.
Some of our oldest pharmaceuticals—such as aspirin, morphine, digitalis, and ephedra—come from plants.
Basic rules to take herbs safely are:
- Inform yourself. Do not trust friends. Instead, seek the support of an expert herbalist
- Choose products with a clear identification of the herb
- Follow the dosage recommended by a certified herbalist
- Respect your personal characteristics: some subjects, such as people with chronic allergies, are more sensitive to herbs
- Elderly people (over 65) should start with lower dosages
- Herbs should be used with caution during pregnancy and especially while breast feeding
- Pay attention to possible interactions
- Don’t take herbs just because the media advertises them
- Don’t give herbs to children younger than 2 years old
- Put your Holistic Health Practitioner in contact with your doctor. Make sure both have all the information regarding your health and the medications and herbs you are using.
Francesca Serraino Fiory is a Certified Clinical Master Herbalist and a Holistic Health Practitioner. Contact her at https://fireflychi.com/contact-me/