As mentioned in previous posts, herbal medicine -- be it the traditional, experience-based herbalism or the evidence-based phytotherapy -- has seen a revival in recent years. From alleviating depression, to strengthening the immune system, to fighting antibiotics-resistant bacteria: Herbal remedies are much sought after.
So let's see what the real world is doing with regard to the herbwoman's traditional remedies.
While many questions are still open concerning both the ingredients and healing virtues of medicinal plants, efforts are being made to research such plants and establish an evidence-based approach to herbal medicine.
Here are some medicinal plants from the herbwoman's medicine cabinet whose healing properties have been confirmed by long experience and/or modern science:
To treat heart disorders the local herb witch will prescribe a tincture made from Hawthorn (Crataegus) leaves and flowers. The herb supports the circulatory and respiratory system, and in modern medicine is used to strengthen the heart, and even to treat mild-to-moderate heart failure. Historically, Hawthorn berries were also used for these indications, so our imaginary village healer may also prescribe a potion or syrup made of the plant's red fruit.
As an antidote for mushroom poisoning, and to cleanse and protect the liver, a village healer should always have Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) seeds at hand. Milk thistle is the only effective antidote for death cap (Amanita phalloides) poisoning, and modern studies suggest (though do not prove conclusively) that the herb may support the liver's natural regeneration, making it the herbwoman's go-to remedy not only to treat poisoning, but also to fight yellow fever and other liver problems.
Another invaluable drug in the herbwoman's inventory is the stinging nettle (Urtica). A tea or tincture made from the plants leaves or roots can solve urinary problems and relieve the symptoms of prostate enlargement. Applied to the skin, the stinging leaves of the nettle counteract arthritis and relieve muscle pains. Nettle leave tea has historically also been used to cleanse the blood of inflammatory agents, and our village healer might prescribe the tea for a purification treatment to relieve joint pains like gout or arthritis.
If you are interested in further reading material, the following organizations fund clinical studies on the effectiveness of herbal medicine, and analyze and publish their results:
- The University of Maryland Medical Center has published a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide with a list of medicinal plants and their effects, side effects and interaction with other drugs.
- The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health funds clinical studies on complementary medicines and publishes their results.
- The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP) is an umbrella organization representing national herbal medicine or phytotherapy societies across Europe. They collect and analyze case studies about medicinal plants and compose scientific monographs detailing the remedies' effectiveness.
- The European Medicines Agency has a Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC), which discusses possible uses of medicinal plants and publishes its results.
- The German Kooperation Phytopharmaka publishes scientific articles concerning phytotherapy and compiles information on medicinal plants and their uses.
And Wikipedia provides a list of medicinal plants and their uses in traditional medicine.
*** Please note: This blog is not intended as medical advice. ***
Do not try this at home.
(Or at least, don't use any of the remedies described here this without consulting your physician first.)