Are Herbal Remedies Safe?

"Natural" does not necessarily mean Pure. Herbal based does not necessarily mean it is 100 percent herbal in makeup. Organic does not necessarily mean it is truly, purely, organic. And something that is certified 98% Natural and Organic is actually 2% corrupted material. Let me ask this: If you take a 10 ounce glass of filtered water, guaranteed pure, pristine, non-harmful, and add 1/8th of an ounce of rat poison, how safe is that water to drink? Likewise, if you are using a product that is 98 percent pure, just how pure is that 100 percent product what is the other 2 percent of it contributing to the overall product?

People who are suspicious of traditional medicines often prefer to selfmedicate with herbal remedies in the belief that "natural" equals 'safe." Although popularly considered innocuous, herbal remedies may contain powerful chemicals such as quinine from cinchona bark, digitalis (a heart drug) from foxgloves or Taxol (an anti-cancer remedy) from yew bark and some contain contaminants such as arsenic, lead and other metals. A herbal remedy taken for medicinal purposes is not an over the-counter drug, but it does deserve caution and respect.

Probably the major difference between drugs from one of the major drug manufacturers and the herbs you grow in your herb garden or collect growing wild in nature is that the manufactured drug is usually a specific extract from the whole and as such is more concentrated and eliminates all the other associated components found in the complete herb. Further, their possible dangers are often spelled out on the package insert. By contrast, the safety profile of most herbal products is not listed. And there is a general unawareness of the lack of regulations governing their use by the public as a whole. Most herbal concoctions are not legally permitted to be sold as medications in Canada or the USA but are classified as foods. Since they're regarded as foods, warning labels are not required. Only a few herbal products bear federal Drug Identification Numbers (DIN) approving their sale as drugs.

After centuries of experience, the most highly toxic plants have been eliminated from the herbalist's stock-in-trade. Lily-of-the-valley, daffodil, deadly nightshade, jimsonweed and hemlock are among substances banned by Health and Welfare Canada for sale as foods or in food. Reports about the adverse effects of some herbal remedies are surfacing, ranging from minor to serious, from lethal poisonings to allergic reactions. Many of the adverse effects reported from herbs are from mis-identification but include: severe allergic shock from camomile tea, heart problems from liquorice tonics, liver toxicity from comfrey and dizziness from oleander tea. In one recent case, a woman who mistook oleander for eucalyptus died after drinking the tea. In another an elderly couple died within 24 hours of overdosing on digitalis, mistaking poisonous foxgloves for comfrey. Plants containing pyrrolizidine (e.g., Golden senecio or ragwort) are of increasing concern owing to reports of liver disease from consuming this substance. especially for long periods. Gordolobos tea containing this ingredient - widely consumed in the Southern U.S. - is no longer considered safe.

Harmful overdoses from herbals are most likely when they're made into strong teas, steeped for 10-20 minutes or more. For example. liquorice contains chemicals that, taken in large quantities, can cause sodium and water retention, high blood pressure and even cardiac arrest. In addition, herbal remedies can interact with OTC drugs. Some plants such as tonka beans, melilot and woodruff, which increase bleeding, should not be consumed by those regularly taking Aspirin. Several herbs - such as hellebore and hawthorn - can exacerbate the effects of the heart medication digitalis. Others such as bayberry, juniper and St. John's Wort, even coffee, are powerful diuretics that should not be taken if you are already taking prescription diuretics. In the final analysis, shopping for herbal products is a matter of know your product - or stay away!

Are Herbal Remedies The Answer?

It seems that almost every day we come across a story in a newspaper or magazine which raises concerns about the use, misuse, or overuse of a particular pharmaceutical remedy in the treatment of minor ailments, or serious medical conditions. Often these stories are quickly discredited as being ill-informed or based on insufficient evidence, perhaps medical opinion is divided, or particular experts in the field prefer to wait for an extended period of time, maybe years, in order to ascertain the safety, or otherwise of these commonly used remedies. This is not to criticise medical science, or its practitioners, who must rely on objective and statistically valid evidence before giving an expert opinion. However, it is little wonder that many of us turn to herbal remedies, either as a supplement, or as an alternative to manufactured pharmaceutical products. There is a reassurance in that simple word herbal, taking us back to simpler times, when there was little choice in how to treat our day to day bodily malfunctions, aches and pains and we made use of what was available to us, perhaps in our own back gardens!

Are herbal remedies the answer? Surely if they have been in use since men and women first walked on the Earth they must be both effective and safe? The answer to this, as to many questions, is Yes and No, or even Well its not as simple as that. In the past, herbal remedies were often administered or recommended by one particular person in the neighborhood, frequently a woman, (probably regarded as a witch), who was an expert in her field. This person would have studied and learned, by trial and error, about the efficacy and safety (or otherwise) of the product she was supplying. Herbal remedies may be natural, but that does not make them safe and we need to be well informed about the optimum dosage as well as about possible side effects and what are called contra-indications in the medical profession. After all, before a doctor prescribes a drug to you, s/he will refer to your medical history and question you about your lifestyle. We need to be equally cautious in self-prescribing, and take advantage of information and advice that is available to us from reliable sources.

Should herbal remedies be regarded as an alternative, or a complementary supplement to conventional medicine? We need to use our common sense in this matter. If a herbal product appears to be effective in treating a minor condition, then by all means use it instead of resorting to a manufactured product, with possibly dubious side effects. As regards more serious and even life threatening conditions, it seems unwise to reject the offerings of modern science, which for the most part have a proven record in alleviating suffering and prolonging life, whether or not they also cause undesirable side-effects. Herbal remedies may in these cases be used in a complementary way, if this is appropriate. Let us also not forget that many widely used conventional medications are based on a herbal product, (aspirin and digitalis to name just two), so we may be using a herbal based product without being aware of it. Herbal and conventional pharmaceutical remedies are not always mutually exclusive.

Are Herbs Weeds or Treasures?

My dictionary defines the word Weed as: a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden.

Herbs or medicinal plants are often considered weeds - usually because they grow in undesirable places. Many herbs have been introduced into Australia and because they are not native plants, they have often few competitors for resources such as water, soil nutrients and light and have few predators.

Subsequently, these plants can grow and spread unchecked, endangering native vegetation and even various animal species such as birds and insects. Weeds certainly can be a real threat to native flora, fauna, rain forests and even aquatic ecosystems.

Recalcitrant herbs are targeted by the authorities for eradication or sprayed on an ongoing basis, in an attempt to control their spread and protect sensitive ecosystems.

You dont need to go to exotic places like the rain forests to find medicinal plants, they usually grow right at your feed; on footpaths, roadsides, garbage dumps, even in your garden.

Given that most medicinal plants are weeds and because weeds grow as prolifically as they do, they are often easy to cultivate you will actually have more of a problem keeping them in a designated area, rather than a problem growing them.

Wildcrafted herbs are herbs gathered from the wild. The advantage of wildcrafted herbs is that these generally are very healthy and full of the desired medicinal properties.

Wildcrafted herbs are usually native to an area and thus are not weeds. They often occur in clusters and grow in ideal conditions under which they can attain their full medicinal potential.

A problem with wildcrafting medicinal plants occurs where there is little or no control over the amount that can be harvested at any one time or by any one person, at least this is the case in Australia. This can decimate a local population of wild medicinal plants. Taking of any vegetation is illegal without authorisation in Australian National Parks and protected areas for this reason. Some medicinal plants are actually becoming rare and endangered and the harvesting of these species should at the very least be regulated. Better still, organic farming of such herbs should be encouraged and promoted. This would provide struggling farmers with alternative cash crops during times when their primary sources of income are not performing well.

Weeds or Treasures - it really does not matter what you call them, the fact remains they are often very powerful medicinal plants that have the potential to address many of today's major health problems and they have done so for thousands of years...