What is herbalism? The natural properties of plants and how they affect our health￼
Using plants to enhance our health, herbal medicine is a great way to connect with nature.
Herbal medicines are made from leaves, flowers, roots and barks of plants and usually contain several of their active principles, called phytochemicals. In this article we will discuss the ancient art of using plants as medicines and you will find a brief introduction on how to apply them.
What does herbalism mean?
Let’s start with a definition: herbalism is the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants, now especially as a form of alternative medicine.
Plants are composed of many different compounds, the main active classes are alkaloids, glycosides, polyphenols and terpenes. Thanks to these molecules and structures, we obtain the health effects we appraise. Some plants have beneficial effects for digestion, others for the brain, others possess antioxidants, and other regulate hormones. However, most of them have more than one function. When combined with other plants, they have an even greater effect, as they say: team work makes the dream work! Herbalists use the combination of plants to synergically obtain a result or a health benefit for the body.
In some cases, the specific compound responsible for the effect is not recognized. This is why the synergistic effect is considered so valuable. Additionally, other factors such as the environment in which the plant grew, how and when it was harvested and processed will also affect its effectiveness.
According to the World Health Organisation, 80% of the population consume some form of herbal medicine. For some it is the traditional and only source of medicines. For others, it is an alternative to western medicine, as a healthier and more natural solution, and for others it’s complementary.
What is herbal medicine good for?
Herbs, as any medicine, can take seconds to weeks until we can notice the effects. Some plants have faster actions, such as chamomile for digestion, while others, such as agnocasto, which helps regulate and balance the female hormones, can take a weeks or even months.
Herbal medicine is good for prevention as well as treating illnesses. From acute circumstances (such as digestive problems, cistitis), to periodic (Premenstrual syndrome, breastfeeding), to chronic diseases (asthma, diabetes), herbalism can offer great solutions and support through these moments.
Just like in western medicine, herbal medicines can cause adverse reactions. It is important to know and understand that plants have positive and negative effects. As consumers, we need to know they exist, the limitations of them and when to consult a specialist.
Herbal medicines can also interact with traditional pharmaceuticals. Our body eliminates toxins through the liver, and both structures can be metabolised (which is a fancy word to say decomposed and eliminated) through the same channels making the drugs circulate for longer in the bloodstream. It is important to keep your doctor or herbalist aware of other drugs (natural or not) you might be consuming, as these can interfere with each other!
How can we consume herbal medicine? Why drink herbal teas?
Herbs can be consumed in several forms: teas, syrups, oils, extracts and tinctures. Herbal tisanes are the resultant liquid of extracting herbs in water. Infusions are hot water extracts through steeping. Decoctions are long term boiled extracts, used for harder substances as roots and barks. Maceration is the cold infusion of plants. Tinctures are alcoholic extracts. Through the different mediums and processes used, we are able to extract different active principales.
Infusions are a great and practical way to incorporate herbal properties into your health. With a 7-10 minute steeping period, we are able to extract the beneficial properties of plants, as well as the best spectrum of their flavour. Our new product line Wilden.herbals Health is focused on the medical curing properties of plants, combined to synergically enhance their effects resulting in a health balance. We use only whole herb cuts (larger than 1 mm), meaning that the properties of the plants maintain their higher quality. (Powder forms attract more humidity, and thus it oxidises and loses some of its effects).
What are the most common herbs used?
Different cultures consume different herbs. However, some of them are repeated throughout. Some of the most common herbs are:
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea): boost the immune system & shorten duration of colds and flu;
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba): antioxidant, increases circulation;
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): help induce sleep;
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): reduce inflammation, induce relaxation;
- Uva ursina (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): diuretic and antiseptic.
Wilden.herbals Health, a renewed way to approach health
In Wilden, we look into nature for inspiration and guidance. This is why we believe using the natural properties of plants to support us is the best way to find our body’s balance back. Using only the best biological ingredients, we have crafted Wilden.herbals Health, a new product line and a botanical mix of plants for cystitis, anxiety, breastfeeding and premenstrual syndrome. Each line is individually thought and crafted using the curative properties to respond to the biological needs of that particular situation.
- American herbalist guild. Herbal Medicine
- Mount Sinai. Herbal medicine
- Erbe aromatiche e piante medicinali: Guida pratica di fitoterapia, ricette erboristiche per la guarigione naturale e la salute quotidiana. Rifugio nel Bosco.
- Grossi, Spartaco: Piante medicinali. Carroccio. Librerie Accademia. Milano
- Johnson, Rebecca L. & others. Medicinal Herbs. National Geographic. Washington DC. 2010.