Nature’s Pharmacy

There was a time when, shockingly, people didn’t need to drive to the drugstore to buy medications when they got sick, and no, it wasn’t because they didn’t have cars. So what did they use when they fell ill? They used plants, but not just any old plant. Specific plants with certain qualities: herbs. Herbs that served as medications, but more importantly, herbs that served as a means to keep them from getting sick in the first place. Nature has her very own pharmacy, and it deserves a closer look.

For the average person, there are two main types of herbs. One is of the medicinal variety, and the other is more often used when referring to the “herbs and spices” used in cooking. Both types possess beneficial qualities, and most have dual functions, such as ginger root and garlic, which will be discussed shortly. Each herb has a specific part or parts used for its medicinal properties, but most herbalists agree that the effect of an herb is the result of all its ingredients working in unison. Sadly, this concept is in stark contrast with the aim of most pharmaceutical companies that strive to identify and isolate a single active ingredient while mostly disregarding the other parts of the plant.

Planting an herb garden has been done for centuries, and it is definitely worth the trouble. If space is an issue, there are many herbs that can be planted indoors or in pots, such as chives or marjoram. Because of the huge variety in herbs, it is best to do some research about the types and needs of herbs available. For the beginner, a combination of the most common culinary and medicinal herbs would be a good place to start. As a supplement to the kitchen pantry, plants such as basil, thyme and mint make a good choice, since they are hardy and easier to maintain for the budding enthusiast. Medicinal herbs to start with are echinacea, which is known to help treat the common cold while boosting the immune system, and chamomile as a soothing tea to calm our anxieties after a stressful day. Since most herbs are also aesthetically pleasing with pleasant aromas, they could serve as part of the garden landscaping.

A word about the dual function of herbs: Garlic has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities, while also providing a powerful flavor to any food; a delicious meal that will also heal you! Ginger, with its strong biting flavor, is a very common ingredient in Chinese cooking, while it is also known to fight nausea and other digestive problems. Many of our other culinary herbs can also be used for so much more than just cooking. Crushed parsley leaves can relieve itching after insect bites, and shiitake mushrooms might help fight cancer.

While herbs are certainly beneficial, they can be quite harmful and even lethal if used improperly. As with all medications, knowledge of dosage, concentrations, and applications is vital. There are many books to be found on herbs that offer detailed instructions on the usage, but how to diagnose without medical expertise? One way would be to seek the help of a professional herbalist or other licensed herbal expert. In recent years many traditional physicians have begun incorporating herbal medicine into their treatments, and it is become more common for doctors to send their patient home with a recommendation for an herbal remedy rather than a prescription for a drug. One herb that is too conspicuous not to mention in this context is the Cannabis plant, over which a whole controversy has sprung up. Supporters believe that the plant is useful in relieving chronic pain, while those against it claim it damages or impairs brain function and can be addictive.

Unlike people of yore, we now have cars to drive us to the pharmacy. But why not bypass the pharmacy and stop instead at the local nursery, where you can pick up everything you need to start your very own natural medicine garden. With the right tools and know-how, anyone can have a field of herbs at their fingertips, to add to the soup, or to help soothe an ailing child. It’s a win-win situation.

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