Are Medicinal Herbs Safe to Use?

An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor, or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicines have existed for thousands of years and have its origins in ancient Egypt. Medicinal herbs involve the use of a wide variety of plants to improve one’s health as well as to treat diseases. In today’s market, Medicinal herbs are sold in numerous forms such as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts, and fresh or dried plants. But, the question is, are medicinal herbs safe to use?

Many pharmaceutical medicines that are on the market today are based on lab created versions of herbal compounds that are naturally occurring in plants. Because of this, many herbal medicines should be taken with the same caution as you would with a pharmaceutical drug, simply because of the powerful ingredients that many herbal medicines contain.

Some herbs have potent (powerful) ingredients and should be taken with the same level of caution as pharmaceutical medications. In fact, many pharmaceutical medications are based on man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. For instance, the heart drug digitalis was derived from the foxglove plant. There are many examples of popular drugs that were made from herbs, one of which is aspirin. Salicylic acid is a main ingredient found in aspirin and naturally occurs in the meadowsweet plant. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of taking aspirin is that it may cause the lining of the stomach to bleed. However, the herb meadowsweet contains other compounds that help to counteract the irritation that is caused by the salicylic acid. This example is highlighted because although many herbs contain powerful ingredients, the effect of the entire plant is greater than that of its parts.

Overall, medicinal herbs contribute to far fewer side effects than prescribed medicines. Pharmaceutical drugs are typically very concentrated and have little taste. These two factors make it much easier to take an overdose of a pharmaceutical drug than a herbal medicine. In herbal medicines, the active ingredients are far less concentrated. Although most herbal medicines taste bitter, this characteristic helps to discourage overdoses.

There are a few safety tips that one must take into consideration when using herbal medicines:

  1. Never serve medicinal herbs to children under the ager of 2
  2. People over 65 need to start with low strength preparations
  3. Pregnant and nursing women should not use medicinal amounts of healing herbs
  4. People with chronic disease should be cautious when using medicinal herbs
  5. Pay attention to any side effects

There are many scientific journal articles that only focus in the dangers of herbal medicines but the fact of the matter is that medicinal herbs are neither “100% safe” nor are they “poison”.  Like pharmaceutical medicines, if you take too little of a medicinal herb, then nothing may happen. If you take the correct amount, then you will see the benefits, but if you take too much for too long a period of time, then you may be asking for trouble.