What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicine involves the therapeutic use of plants to create remedies to help prevent or treat disease or illness and enhance or maintain general health and wellbeing. Herbal remedies may also be used as a preventative measure to ensure that a healthy pet remains healthy throughout its life by supporting the natural functions of the body.

Background

Herbal medicine has been used by mankind for centuries in the treatment of injuries, illness and disease and is considered the oldest form of healthcare known to mankind.  The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and Native Americans used plants for medicine, food and shelter and as mankind began to explore and travel, knowledge of medicinal plants was shared between civilisations. Armies, explorers and tribes also traded medicinal plants; while plants and seeds brought by armies and explorers for treatment during their travels were often planted at their campsite leading to the growth and cultivation of plants across the globe. 

Through the centuries doctors, surgeons and healers have advanced the knowledge of plants in the treatment of injuries, illness and disease, these include Aristotle, Hippocrates (468-377 BC) and Galen (AD 131-200) who are considered the founding fathers of medicine. 

In the last few centuries, advances in science and technology led scientists and doctors to examine the constituents (properties) and actions of plants to identify how and why they work to heal the body. As a result aspirin, opium, digitalis, pseudoephedrine and other drugs used today, which all originate in their native form from plants, were discovered. The main constituents of plants with medicinal and therapeutic actions have been extracted from plants and reproduced in laboratories to manufacture synthetic versions. The problem with this is that plants contain many medicinal actions that work together to heal the body and improve the normal functioning of the body. When these parts are extracted, synthesised and used in isolation the full healing action and benefits of the plant is not realised, and in fact when used in isolation some of these constituents become toxic. 

Conventional Veterinary Medicine and Holistic Herbal Medicine 

Holistic herbal medicine looks at not only treating the presenting condition but determining and treating the underlying cause of it, e.g. hotspots, reoccuring ear infections, itchy skin. Although herbal medicine can also be used to treat individual conditions, e.g. a herbal remedy to treat conjunctivitis, the holistic approach is to treat the whole animal and not just symptoms. 

Many conditions can be effectively treated with herbal medicine with either no side effects or fewer side effects than conventional veterinary drugs, for example, fungal infections, minor wounds, itchy skin, hot spots, skin inflammations to minor bouts of diarrhoea and some chronic conditions. However, herbal medicine does have limitations which is where conventional veterinary medication and treatment is crucial to the survival of an animal, for example when an animal has been hit by a car, requires surgery or has cancer. Herbal medicine will not cure cancer but it can support the body of an animal diagnosed with the disease.  

Other benefits of herbal medicine include:

  • Most herbs have nutritional properties including vitamins and minerals that prevent illness and deterioration

  • Herbs have healing and detoxifying actions and can be used as an effective medicine without stressing the body

  • Herbs support and assist the body to return to a normal state of health by addressing the whole system, as well as the root cause of an illness

  • When used correctly, herbs have either no or far fewer side effects than most conventional drugs do 

  • Herbal medicine does not include artificially manufactured chemicals

  • Some herbs have multiple therapeutic actions, in other words they are multi-purpose e.g. chamomile as an astringent can be used for conjunctivitis and as a nervine used in times of stress or anxiety

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