What is Herbal Medicine and Where Does it Originate From?

The origin of herbal medicine is tied back to the start of mankind itself. There is evidence of the use of medicinal plants in some of the earliest forms of the written word, and likely before that. There are strong ties between herbal medicines, food, religion and even what would become more “traditional” medicines.

Ancient Roots

Mesopotamia and Egypt. The written study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years when we see Sumerians’ clay tablets with lists of hundreds of medicinal plants like myrrh and opium. In Egypt, there are studies of “diseases of the skin” and there is written information on over 850 plant medicines, including garlic, juniper, cannabis, castor bean, aloe, and mandrake. Treatments were mainly aimed at ridding the patient of the most prevalent symptoms because the symptoms of the disease were incorrectly regarded as the disease itself.

India and China. India’s system of “ayurveda” medicine has used many herbs such as turmeric possibly as early as this  system. Many other herbs and minerals used in Ayurveda were later described by ancient Indian herbalists, like in the “Sushruta Samhita,” written in the 6th century BC and describing 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources, and 57 preparations based on animal sources. In China, the “Shennong Ben Cao Jing” lists 365 medicinal plants and their uses – including Ephedra (the shrub that introduced the drug ephedrine to modern medicine), hemp, and chaulmoogra (one of the first effective treatments for leprosy). Succeeding generations augmented on the Shennong Bencao Jing, as in the Yaoxing Lun (Treatise on the Nature of Medicinal Herbs), a 7th-century Tang Dynasty treatise on herbal medicine.

Modern Views

Herbal Medicine is the Only Medicine. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, herbal medicine was the primary form of medication taken worldwide. Physicians were few and far between, but access to herbs and herbal medicines in the United States in particular was commonplace. Publications such as Dodoens’ New Herbal, Edinburgh New Dispensatory and Buchan’s Domestic Medicine sought to guide the home herbalist in finding and dispensing medications to their family. Aside from European knowledge on American plants, Native Americans shared some of their knowledge with colonists, but most of these records were not written and compiled until the 19th century. John Bartram was a botanist that studied the remedies that Native Americans would share and often included bits of knowledge of these plants in printed almanacs.

The formalization of pharmacology in the 19th century led to greater understanding of the specific actions drugs have on the body. At that time, Samuel Thompson was an uneducated but respected herbalist who influenced professional opinions so much that doctors and herbalists would refer to themselves as “Thompsonians,” distinguishing themselves from “regular” doctors of the time who used calomel and bloodletting.

Pharmaceuticals on The Shelf. In the light of Thompsonians, and the beginning rift between doctors and herbalists, physicians were quick to embrace pharmacology in 19th century as it helped to treat particularly pesky diseases. As a result, though, the use of herbal medicines became known as “alternative medicine,” implying it is somehow lesser. An overcorrection had occurred and while bloodletting and other medieval therapies were put by the wayside, herbal medicine mistakenly was lumped in with those, too.

Holistic to the Rescue. As the 21st century dawns, the overcorrection of the modern, pharma-centric wave of medical practice seems to be subsiding. The “Opioid Crisis” as some have begun to call it has patients and care providers looking to treat illness in a safer, more traditional way, and herbal medicine is the obvious choice. Physicians are now providing a “holistic” approach to medical care – which may include herbal medication and diet recommendations along with pharmaceuticals.

Thoughts on Herbal Medicine Use in the United States

Herbal medicines are medicines that are plant-based, usually made from combinations of plant parts like leaves, flowers or roots. The different parts of the plant may have different medicinal uses, and extracting the medicinal qualities of a plant can vary depending on the plant itself. Fresh and dried plant materials are used, depending on the herb or condition being treated. People in the U.S. are relatively receptive to herbal medicines, and the Journal of Patient Experience reports that ⅓ of Americans use herbal medicines regularly, either contained in their prescription medications or in over-the-counter options.

Some common herbal medications include:

  • Echinacea. Used to address or prevent colds, flu, and infections and even for wound healing. Some studies have also shown that long-term use can affect the body’s immune system. It should not be used with medicines that can cause liver problems, and people allergic to plants in the daisy family (ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies) may have an allergic reaction to Echinacea.
  • Chamomile. Most commonly use as a sedative for anxiety and relaxation, chamomile is also used for wound healing and to reduce inflammation or swelling. Chamomile is usually taken as tea or applied as a compress. It may increase drowsiness caused by medicines or other herbs or supplements. Chamomile may interfere with the way the body uses some medicines, causing too high a level of the medicine in some people.
  • Garlic. No, garlic doesn’t just chase vampires away, it’s also used as an herbal medicine! Normally used for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, it also has antimicrobial effects. Researchers are even testing garlic’s possible role in preventing cancer.
  • Ginger. Commonly and effectively used to ease nausea and motion sickness, ginger can also relieve nausea caused by pregnancy or chemotherapy.
  • Ginseng. Known throughout the world as a tonic or even aphrodisiac, even by some as as a cure-all, ginseng is sold in great quantities around the world. The FDA recommends people with diabetes should not use ginseng. Valerian. Specifically, valerian root is used to treat sleeplessness and to help with anxiety. Valerian is even used as a flavoring for root beer and other foods. Like chamomile, valerian can cause drowsiness.

When taken to address medical issues, herbs are used in various ways, including several methods of ingestion or topical applications. Herbal preparations are normally used in one of the following ways:

  • Powders taken internally and applied externally, in loose form, or in capsules.
  • Herb juices.
  • Herb-based topical creams.
  • Herbal steam inhalations (with herbs like eucalyptus).
  • Baths or skin washes.
  • Gargles/mouthwashes.

When it comes to actual use of herbal medicines, there is more common herbal use among patients with increased age, and also with increased education. Often referred to as holistic or  integrative providers, there is an increasing interest among medical professionals in combining traditional medicine with herbal treatments as well. Known professionally as CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), this is a growing trend, with nearly half of all U.S. patients reporting the use of holistic medical care (Journal of Patient Experience).

Herbal medicine has its origins in ancient cultures, and is often used to enhance general health and well-being. However, some herbs have powerful ingredients and should be taken with the same level of caution as pharmaceutical medications. In fact, many pharmaceutical medications are simply man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. For example, the heart drug digitalis was derived from the foxglove plant.

It’s important to exercise caution and talk to your doctor when considering herbal medication use. “Natural” does not always equal “safe,” so take care to follow the instructions on any herbal medicine you take. Herbal medications and supplements may interact in harmful ways with over-the-counter or prescription medicines you are taking (St. John’s Wort is famous for this). If pregnant or nursing, always consult your doctor before starting any new medication.

When Fatigue Continues to Outrun Recovery, What Are the Results?

Muscle fatigue can prevent you from carrying out regular, daily tasks. Know the signs and symptoms of muscle fatigue to find the best methods of preventing lasting pain and weakness.

What Is Muscle Fatigue, and What Causes it?

Muscle fatigue occurs when a muscle loses its capacity to perform regular action or continued action and fails to work properly. This tiredness decreases the power behind regular muscular movements and results in muscle weakness. Symptoms that often accompany muscle fatigue include sore muscles, muscle twitching and cramps, and shortness of breath. If these symptoms worsen, medical intervention may be necessary. There are many possible causes of muscle fatigue ranging from age to disease to lifestyle. A nutrient deficiency can cause the muscle to lack the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to adequately perform certain tasks. High acidity levels due to overproduced lactate in the muscles can lead to pain and muscle spasms. Warming up improperly for exercise can lead to soreness and fatigue. Knowing the signs and symptoms of muscle fatigue can help you to target the cause of muscle weakness and find the best plan of correction.

How Can You Recover From Muscle Fatigue?

Getting adequate rest and taking time to warm up and cool down during exercise are just a few ways to help prevent and recover from muscle fatigue. Sleeping for a minimum of 7 hours a night gives the muscles time to repair themselves while you rest. Stretching the muscles before and after working out promotes flexibility and helps reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.

How Can The Well Theory Help?

Don’t let muscle pain affect your day. The Well Theory can help you say goodbye to muscle pain, stiffness, and stress with all-natural pain relief. Our daily supplements provide you with balanced vitamins and minerals that may be missing from your day. Our balms use natural ingredients such as herbs and oils that relieve muscle pain in the area of application. With other products ranging from patches to drops and creams, The Well Theory provides you with effective, natural methods of pain relief that fit into your daily needs and routine. Say no to expensive, chemical-based treatments, and say yes to natural, stress-free relief. For more information on The Well Theory, our products, and how to receive a Wellness Box customized to your individualized needs, visit our website at www.thewelltheory.com!

How To Maintain Health During a Busy Workweek

We understand how hard it can be to focus on physical and mental health during a hectic workweek. Follow these five tips to find balance during basic life-stress.

1. Allow yourself a few extra minutes in the morning.

Setting aside just ten additional minutes in the morning can give you an emotional buffer before starting your day. Take this time to prep your meal for the day, take care of housework, or to simply take a mental rest before walking out the door. Many find meditation works; others prefer to simply have a cup of coffee in peace and quiet.

A simple ten to fifteen minutes – or longer, if possible – can help you prepare physically and emotionally for the day. This can promote better focus and healthier interactions, leading to less stress overall.

2. Schedule time to exercise.

Your physical health should remain a priority, even during a stressful workweek. Set aside a time that works for you in the morning or evening to go to the gym or work out at home. Not only can a consistent workout routine help maintain a healthy weight, but it can also improve your quality of sleep.

One does not have to train for a marathon to exercise. Even a simple walk around the block helps. If that is too much or takes too much time and effort, try a few gentle squats, push-ups or planks and perhaps even a crunch or two. Even just gently stretching each day is better than doing nothing at all.

3. Prep your meals early.

Take time outside of work to prepare your meals ahead of time. Packing a balanced lunch and a supply of healthy snacks to keep at your desk will keep you from spending unnecessary money and calories on fast food alternatives. Obviously, only you can provide the best sourcing of quality ingredients and careful preparation of your snacks. You know your dietary restrictions and preferences and your goals; make your own foods! They will be the best.

Prepping your meals early helps you to make healthier choices, stay energized throughout your day, and save money on eating out. If you are unable to prepare your meals ahead of schedule, make a note of the restaurants close to your workplace that have healthy lunch options.

4. Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep.

Getting the right amount of sleep each night is crucial to your mental and physical health. Seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep is optimal and will help you to feel well-rested and more energized during your workday. Sleep is mandatory if you want to remove toxins from your brain; only in sleep can this occur.

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to set a sleeping schedule, and consider reading a book or meditating at night to further promote a restful night’s sleep. If you use a Kindle or phone at night to read, consider using blue-light blocking glasses to lessen the wakefulness caused by LED screens.

5. Take time for self-care.

Do something that makes you happy every week. Spend quality time with friends and family, go see a movie (bringing your own healthy snacks of course), or spend the night at home simply relaxing. Massage is a great way to both provide mental peace and reflection and to achieve good treatment for the body from a tough week.

Self-care doesn’t have to look like a bubble bath with a glass of expensive champagne – time spent outside, listening to your favorite music, exercising, or reading can go a long way in boosting your mood. The act of meal-prepping can provide reflection and peace as well. Any time you take for yourself will help to replenish you physically and emotionally before heading back into work.

Setting aside time during your day for each of these healthy habits can help make a busy work week a little less overwhelming.

Remember to allow yourself a moment to breathe, take time for physical and emotional care, and follow a healthy eating and sleeping schedule – then you’ll be ready to conquer your week!

At The Well Theory, we believe in the 4 M’s to living well – maintaining health, managing stress, cultivating mindful relationships, and producing meaningful work. Visit our website today to learn more about how you can find health and balance throughout your day with The Well Theory.