Most traditional healing practices around the world have focused on herbs to treat human illness. Herbs have been used since before recorded history both to spice our food and heal our bodies. Given the long timelines that humans have used and understood herbs, they also tend to be very safe and effective – and because they are naturally occurring, tend not to have the same pantheon of side effects that we find with modern drugs, which are often artificially created substances.
In fact, the drugs that we use which have the best track record of safety are often the result of isolating a substance from a previous traditional remedy. Aspirin is a great example. Aspirin is actually acetylsalicylic acid, and it was used as early as 460 BC in the form of willow tree bark powder. Hippocrates, who is considered the father of modern allopathic medicine, recorded his own use of willow bark and leaves to treat headaches, pains and fevers.
However, it took scientists until 1829 to isolate the compound salicin, which over time gave rise to the purified and buffered form we know today as acetylsalicylic acid. But the beginning of this commonly used drug was actually our knowledge of herbal and natural remedies from the plant world.
A more modern day example is the discovery of the active ingredient in turmeric, which is now being used to treat inflammation. Turmeric is better known as a spice, traditionally added to curry powders. However, turmeric is now recognized as more than just a flavouring for food.
The active medicinal ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Current research shows that curcumin can accomplish many of the same objectives as other anti-inflammatories and pain killers, but without the side effects of drug-based treatments. The same research also showed that curcumin works as effectively as commonly-prescribed corticosteroids for some kinds of arthritis.
Another modern day success story is olive leaf extract. This herbal remedy has been used for centuries in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries for boosting the immune system and helping people to recover from various sorts of infectious agents.
New research shows that not only does it help to protect and treat various viruses and bacteria, it can also help to lower blood pressure! Scientists have isolated the substance oleuropein from olive leaf extract, and have found that it can be used to treat high blood pressure with the same effectiveness as Captoril, a frequently-prescribed prescription medication. However, a twice daily dose of 500 mg of oleuropein was able to not only reduce blood pressure, but also reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, without any of the side effects of the medication.