Today's emphasis on Wellness and a more holistic approach to healthcare
has given rise to a new popularity for herbs. More and more people are
using herbs for their natural, time-tested effectiveness in prevention as
well as for treating a variety of ailments.
The use of herbs in medicine dates back thousands of years. In fact, many
of today’s medicines were originally derived from herbs. For example,
aspirin once came from the white willow tree, quinine from the bark of the
cinchona tree and digitalis from foxglove. Herbs are still the basis for
Chinese medicine and are important constituents of many European natural
remedies. As Hippocrates said, ‘Let thy food be thy medicine, thy medicine be
Herbs have been used by mankind since early history. The beneficial effects
of foods beyond their nutrient function have been recognized since early times,
notably in the 5th century BC by the Greek healer Hippocrates. The use of
herbs to maintain health has been the popular choice throughout Europe
for many centuries. The consumption of teas, digestive drinks, juices, elixirs and
extracts prepared from herbs and used for health maintenance purposes has
become part of European cultural heritage.
Herbs and Homeostasis
The use of herbs for health promotion purposes can be explained by their
effects on the body’s homoeostasis. ‘Homoeostasis’ is appropriately defined by
the Council of Europe in their 2005 ‘Guidelines on the Quality, Safety and
Marketing of Plant-based Food Supplements’ as:
‘…the status of a person whose physiological parameters function within
the limits considered as normal’.
The body and body cells need to be in an ‘internal environment’ where the
conditions do not change much and never reach extremes that are damaging
to them. Homeostasis is the keeping of this internal environment stable.
Special ‘homoeostatic processes’ are needed to maintain this stability, and
conditions that are regulated in homeostasis include blood glucose level,
temperature, water content of the body, and the amount of carbon dioxide
and urea being carried by the blood. When the body is out of homeostasis
– during illness – and needs to be brought into homeostasis again, medicinal
products are indicated. Herbal supplements however, are taken with the
aim of supporting, maintaining or optimising normal physiological
processes and keeping the body in homeostasis in the best possible way.