Research Paper

Eric Klutz

Tonia Olson

English 3


Medicinal Herbs

Medicinal Herbs, also called botanical medicine or herbalism, are the founding principles of modern medicines.  Some may even argue that some old recipes of herbal mixtures are better than modern medicine. These herbs have several different uses, and have been used for treating a simple cause of dry skin to radiation sickness and much more.  With such a large range of known uses the possible applications of medicinal herbs is almost endless, while scientist are still discovering more and more uses for these medicinal plants still today.  But to get a better understanding of medicinal herbs and their uses we will have to look at them through historical and modern uses.  And the potential future uses of these seemingly magical plants.

People have been using herbal medicines for thousands and thousands of years, since before history was recorded. Some documents of herbs date as far back as 2700 B.C. A 60,000-year-old burial site in Iraq showed evidence of eight different medicinal plants.Therefore, the exact time herbal medicines came into play is unsure. This makes herbal medicine the oldest form of healthcare known to man.  In the past lots of herbs were used for incorrect applications based on the way a plant was shaped or just because the plant grew in a particular area.  This lead to much misuse of medicinal herbs for several thousand years.  In the early years of medicinal herb use herbs were thought to have mystical powers and where even used during rituals by native tribes from around the world, most likely because of their healing properties.  Though over the years people, mainly physicians to begin with, began taking a more practical and scientific view of herbal medicines.  Greek Physician Hippocrates was one of the first people to consider illness a natural phenomenon and stated medicine should be administered without the use of “magic”. Hippocrates also developed the first system of diagnoses and prognosis with herbs. During the middle ages, much knowledge of medicinal herbs was lost to the public but by 1652, Nicholas Culpeper wrote an herbal that systematically listed all herbal remedies known at the time, he dedicated his work to the common people so they wouldn’t have to buy expensive concoctions made by the physicians of the time.  Many advances have been made in herbalism since then including the organization and categorization of herbs, not including the many uses discovered for them.

 Native tribes began keeping track of which plants could be used to heal or treat certain illnesses when the herbs first started being used. This knowledge would be passed down from generation to generation before the uses could be documented on paper.  Many native tribes believed herbs to have mystical powers and where used in many stories by the tribe members.  These so called mystical powers could range from healing capabilities to inducing visions that allowed a person to speak with their God or Gods.  Due to these false accusations many tribes would use them in spiritual rituals in various ways.  But at any rate this is how native tribes would pass down their knowledge of medicinal herbs to the next genertion.  And eventually people began documenting which herbs could be used for what and recording this information on paper instead of relying on oral documentation. In fact many known medicinal herbs were derived from native tribes and their knowledge of herbal medicines.  Native tribes obtained their knowledge of herbs from observing wild animals and through trial and error.  Native Americans have been known to use several medicinal herbs such as the passion flower.  When the leaves dried, they would either smoke them or make tea with them.  The tea made from passion flowers can be used to help get rid of restlessness and help one sleep better through the night. One of the most comprehensive herbal written was by Nicholas Culpeper in 1652. This herbal was written for the common people so they would not have to buy expensive concoctions made by physicians. For many centuries, there was much confusion in the world of herbalism. In the early 1700’s, Swedish botanist Carl von Linné, better known as Linnaeus, developed the system of binomial nomenclature that gave a unique Swedish name to every known species of herbs.  With this the world of herbalism became much more organized and easier to understand.  Before this book was published many herbs shared names and even had multiple names, causing many misunderstandings in what herbs to use.  In today’s world herbs are far more organized and categorized.  Which also means that the use of medicinal herbs has become much easier and a lot less confusing than it has been in recent years.

 If you ever find yourself in the wild lost and trying to survive these are some herbs to keep an eye out for.  Broad leaf or Narrow leaf plantain this plant can be smashed or chewed up and used on wounds, the young tender leaves can be eaten as well in soup, stew or salad.  The best way to be prepared for surviving in the wild is to study herbs and edible plants that are indigenous to the habitat you live in.  A nice herb to look out for when trying to survive is Speedwell.  Speedwell is simple and affective as a lotion, it is applied to the skin to speed the healing process of cuts and scratches, as well as relieve itching.  If a cut is too deep to stop bleeding on its own you can use fresh leaves from Agrimony, Yarrow, and/or Rose.  Yarrow has been known as a wound herb since the ancient times.  It was said that Achilles used this herbs to heal the bleeding wounds of his men.  Clove is a good herb to use to clean an injury, it kills bacteria and fungi to help prevent infection of the wound, it can also be used to help relieve pain from a toothache  But while in the wild cuts may not be the only kind of injury you sustain.  You may also get burnt.  In case of a burn wound you could use an herb called aloe.  Common things that happen when lost in the wild included sunburns and frostbite depending on where you got lost.  Balm of Gilead can be used in such cases as sunburn and frostbite.  It also can be used to treat other skin injuries.  Another injury likely to occur when you become lost is broken bones.  It may be hard to believe but there are herbs that even help heal broken bones.  One such herb as this is called comfrey.  Comfrey is actually a very useful herb; it can be used to treat abrasions, cuts, bronchitis, bruises, sprains, diabetes, eczema, osteoarthritis and can even be used for cancer prevention.  Also an interesting fact about herbs, most herbs are not attacked by insects of by dieseases, although some herbs are effected by this many are not.

 Herbs are still in use today. About 25% of prescription drugs in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from an herbal plant. In most cases the active ingredient is extracted from the herb so that it is more potent than it would be using the actual herb.  More and more practitioners are looking at herbal remedies because of the lower cost, and often safer use.  A lot of the time physicians use a medicinal herb to help offset a side effect that may occur from medication that they have prescribed to a patient.  Although there is extensive research being done on herbs and what all they may be used to cure or treat with, the problem is medicinal herbs don’t produce the exact same amount of active ingredients from plant to plant.  Do to this fact physicians cannot prescribe a dosage amount that can be repeated.  Most research being done on medicinal herbs is to find a way to have the herbs produce the same amount of ingredient every time they are grown and to find a cheap, inexpensive way of doing this. This task may sound easy but it is a lot harder than it sounds to get all the plants you need to produce the same way.  Although several uses have already been discovered for medicinal herbs there is still a lot to learn about them and almost endless possibilities for uses that remain undiscovered.

Many people believe that growing herbs is just as easy or just like growing a regular plant.  But they are wrong.  Herbs require much more attention and care.  They can be grown indoors or outdoors.  For the beginner herbal gardner it may be difficult to decide which herbs you want in your garden, just keep in mind what you want to use the herbs for in mind there is plenty of information on the internet to help you with your decision.   When growing herbs keep in mind you should refrain from the use of chemical fertilizers.  If you do than the herbs you are growing can’t be used for any kind of human consumption.  Whether it be for food flavoring or for a home remedy for an illness.  It is advised to put down manure during autumn so it can break down into compost and nutrients.  You can also do this again once your herbs begin to sprout.  You will also need to put down some mulch to help keep moisture in the ground.  How much sunlight the herbs will need depends on the herb, some like lots of sunshine while other like lots of shade, some like to have a balance of shade and sun.  Some herbs can be grown from seed but other you will need a part of the herb to plant into the ground.  This could be a stem or roots from the desired herb.  Before planting an herbs outside you must let it sprout in a separate pot then transplant it to the desired location.  You will want to transplant the seedlings once they are four to six weeks old.  Before you put them in your garden you will need to let the herb get used to being outside by leaving the seedling outdoors for one hour in a sheltered area gradually increasing the time for ten days. After this process is complete you can transplant your seedling into an outdoor gardening area.  If you do not have a space available for a garden you can continue growing the herbs in separate pots.  Watering of the herbs depends on your location and the herb you are growing.  In dry areas a permenanet irrigation system may be necessary.  With all of this information in mind you are ready to being your own herbal garden.

Of course knowing which plants can be used as medicine and knowing how to use the plant as a medicine are two completely different things.  In herbal mixtures any part of the plants can be used, from the seeds to stems, leaves, flowers and even the roots of the plant. For example passiflora uses its leaves and roots to help treat insomnia, hysteria and epilepsy.  Plantain can be used to treat colds and the flu.  This remedy says to use 1 table spoon of whole plantain (seeds, stem and leaves included), dry or fresh, to one cup of boiling water.  Particular herbs only use certain parts of the plant.  The part of the plant that is being used is usually the part where the active ingredient for the medicine that is need is the most potent.  Different parts of an herb can have a larger amount of different active ingredients.  This could be dangerous when an herb may be prescribed to a patient because the amount that is needed to be taken could vary depending on how potent the herb that was used was.  Keeping this in mind it could be easier to overdose on an herb than on a prescription medication, depending on how much of a certain chemical the plant yielded.  Although overdosing on a medicinal herb is almost unheard of.   Perhaps the most common herb someone has overdosed on is salvia.  Salvia when smoked will cause haulucinagins and when a large amount is consumed it may cause some serious permenant problems.  In one case a man OD’d on salvia and now her can no longer walk or drive, he lost all sense of balance and has problems with self-cleanliness.

Many poisonous plants bear very beautiful flowers.  This is usually a dead giveaway for poisonous plants, they usually look very beautiful and/or exotic, you will probably be very tempted to pluck the flower.  For example the Foxglove plant has bell shaped flowers with purple and white spots on them and they hang towards the ground instead of pointing upwards.  Ingesting foxglove can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cardiovascular shock and even death when enough of the plant is consumed.  Several of these poisonous plants can also grow berries.  Berries will vary with each poisonous plant there is and there may be little to no similarities in the berries that are found on these plants.  Some poisonous plants even have prickly stems; sometimes the stem will have multiple colors in it.  Leaves and flowers can also give away a poisonous plant.  The leaves and flowers on these sometimes deadly plants can be identified by the way they grow from the stem of the plant.  Some poisonous plants can be easily mistaken as a safe edible plant.  But there is no guaranteed way to tell if a plant is poisonous just by looking at it, unless you just so happen to be an expert on plants.  Being able to tell the difference between a poisonous and non-poisonous plant can be the difference between life and death when trying to survive in the wild.  So it would be best to keep a book of indigenous herbs with you whenever you go hiking or camping on long outdoor trips.

Herbalism and some herbs are controversial.  Perhaps one of the most controversial herbs is medical marijuana.  Although the herb has been proved to have helpful uses it is illegal to have unless a physician has written a prescription for its use.  An interesting and little know fact about marijuana is that it is least damaging illegal drug.  In fact marijuana is less harmful to a person than tobacco or alcohol yet neither tobacco nor alcohol is illegal.  So why is marijuana illegal if it has helpful uses and is less harmful than other legal substances?  One reason being that marijuana is perceived as an addictive drug.  Also its medical uses are not yet widely accepted enough to be legalized.  Another highly controversial herb is salvia, but for good reason this time.  Unlike marijuana that has no records of ever killing someone, salvia on the other hand has several cases of overdosing many resulting in death.  Salvia is a smokable herb that causes haulucinagins or induced visions.  Although its not illegal to have salvia in your possesion in all states it is illegal to have salvia with the intentions of consuming the plant for recreational uses.  Not many herbs are illegal, but when they are it is usally for a very good reason.  So do not try to use any herbs that are illegal, because many of them could be potentially deadly.

Since our senior papers have to have a product for the senior project, I will try one of the following with herbal medicines.  My product will be to use an herbal mixture to help me to quit smoking cigarettes and to repair as much damage that has been done to my lungs as possible.  Herbs that I may use in this product include Coltsfoot to help soothe inflamed lung tissue; Garlic to help counteract the addictive properties of nicotine, Kava kava to help with depression or moods swings that may occur while quitting cigarettes,Licoriceas an adrenal tonic it helps restore energy while it soothes the lungs, lobeline in Lobelia , commonly known as Indian tobacco, acts much like nicotine although it is less potent the herb can help fool the body into thinking it has nicotine in the system,Mullein soothes irritated lungs and speeds healing of damaged tissues,  and Turmeric helps to remove carcinogens that smoking puts into your lungs.  With a mixture of these plants I might not only quit smoking but may also be able to repair some of the damage I have done to my lungs.

In conclusion of my research paper concerning medicinal herbs.  Hopefully you have learned almost as much as I did in writing this paper, including the origin, history, and documentation of these helpful plants.  I also hope that some of the mixtures I included in my paper might help you some way.  And if you ever find yourself lost in the wilderness or are out on a long camping trip and forgot your first aid kit remember to look out for herbs that could potentially save your life.  And as you have learned from this paper, people’s knowledge of medicinal plants has come a long way.  From thinking that these plants had magical powers to understanding what makes these plants helpful and finding new and better ways to use them.  And as we move to the future I believe once we completely understand medicinal herbs that they will replace all other medications.

Eric Klutz,
Mar 23, 2012, 6:51 AM