How Herbal Medicine Works

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Herbal Medicine is growing in popularity again in modern times due to the fact that it is natural, largely safe and free from side effects. The other major bonus from using Herbal Medicine is that it gives your body the opportunity to heal itself by triggering healthy functions. This is something modern pharmaceutical medicine still fails to achieve successfully. This is because the components of our body are made naturally and originate from nature itself. Scientists are still searching today for new drugs in the plant kingdom.

For example, more than 20,000 species of plants are used in traditional medicines, alleged to be all potential reservoirs for new drugs and are considered a potential source of chemical constituents with anti-cancer activities. (2)

In this article, I will explain how herbal medicine achieves this incredible feat, and how science is now recognizing this.

WHat Is Herbal Medicine

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal Medicine is the practice of using plant material and plant extracts for the purpose of sustaining or restoring health. Plant parts used include roots, leaves, bark, flowers, fruit or any other plant part that contains the active compound required medicinally.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Aborigine, Maori, African, and most other cultures have a long history of herbal medicine. Since the times of the hunter, gatherer mankind has known about the drug effect of plants. Sick animals were followed and found to eat specific plants when convalescing. These herbs are often found to have benefits to humans as well.

Even the Bible speaks of Herbal Medicine “And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat and the leaf thereof for medicine.”  Ezekiel 47:12

The Heroic and Wise Woman Approaches

Heroic herbal medicine and Wise Woman herbal medicine represent two distinct philosophies and approaches within the broader field of herbalism, each with its own methodologies, principles, and therapeutic goals.

These two paradigms offer different paths within herbal medicine, each with its own unique perspective on health, healing, and the role of nature in human wellness. While Heroic herbalism may be suited for acute, short-term health crises requiring immediate intervention, Wise Woman herbalism offers a gentle, integrative approach to maintaining and enhancing well-being over a lifetime.

Herioc Herbal Medicine

Heroic Herbal Medicine

Heroic herbal medicine is often characterized by its aggressive, interventionist approach aimed at rapidly addressing acute conditions or symptoms.

Practitioners of this method tend to use higher doses of herbs and supplements, focusing on the immediate amelioration of specific health issues.

This approach is deeply rooted in the concept of purging and detoxifying the body, under the belief that illnesses are caused by toxins or imbalances that need to be quickly eliminated.

Heroic herbalism frequently employs potent herbs that can provoke significant changes in body chemistry, and thus, it requires a thorough understanding of herbal properties and potential interactions to avoid adverse effects.

Wise Woman Herbal Medicine

The Wise Woman Herbalist

In contrast, Wise Woman herbal medicine adopts a holistic, nurturing approach, emphasizing harmony and balance within the body’s natural systems. This tradition is centered around the belief in the body’s inherent wisdom and healing capabilities.

Practitioners of Wise Woman herbalism use gentle, nourishing herbs in smaller doses over extended periods, aiming to support and gradually enhance the body’s intrinsic strength and vitality.

This method prioritizes the cultivation of overall well-being and the prevention of disease, rather than merely treating specific ailments. It celebrates the symbiotic relationship between humans and plants, encouraging a deep, respectful connection with nature as a source of healing and sustenance.

Unlike the Heroic approach, the Wise Woman tradition focuses on slow, sustained healing processes, nurturing the body and spirit in a holistic manner to promote long-term health and resilience.

The First Drugs

An extract from the bark of the white willow tree had been used for centuries to treat various fevers and inflammation. The active principle in white willow, salicin or salicylic acid, had a bitter taste and irritated the gastric mucosa, but with a simple chemical modification was much more palatable. This was acetylsalicylic acid, better known as Aspirin®, the first blockbuster drug. At the start of the twentieth century, the first of the barbiturate family of drugs entered the pharmacopeia and the rest, as they say, is history. (1)

In fact, 25% of modern pharmaceutical medicines today originate from plants.

Penicillin was first discovered by accident when fungi appeared to inhibit the growth of bacteria in a Petrie dish. The native bush in New Zealand is currently being searched for the next super antibiotic from potential native fungi. Herbs have played a major role in medicine since man first walked the earth and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

What medicines do plants contain?

Plants contain therapeutic compounds called Phyto-chemicals. We all know about substances like caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, and opium. These are examples of pyto-chemicals. There are thousands of different phyto-chemicals which are applied in herbal medicine and each plant is unique.

These compounds range from simple fiber, gel, and proteins, to complex neurotransmitters and cell-specific immune modulators and hormonal mediators. We will not go into all of the different types of compounds in this article.

Click here for a short list of some Plant Phyto-Chemicals

Herbal Medicine Superiority

What makes plant medicine superior in many cases is that plants are uniquely composed of an exact cocktail of several compounds, not just one isolated chemical, like a pharmaceutical. This means that the effect is more balanced, and that side effects are averted. This allows the body to heal and recover naturally. The problem with conventional man made drugs is the many side effects and eventual toxicity, which can cause more harm than good in the long-term.

When a herbal medicine is used the effect is much more gentle, balanced and healing. Usually, the organ or system being treated is supported and encouraged to function properly. This means after a course of treatment with a herbal medicine the body is potentially healed. The herbal treatment can then often be stopped without a rebound effect or relapse.

This is usually not the case with artificial drugs.

The choice to follow a course of herbal treatment usually involves more commitment from the patient, as dietary and lifestyle changes are required to get the best results.

Home Remedies

Another great thing about herbal medicine is that you can find a lot you can do yourself at home. You can grow plants such as these for your home pharmacy:

  • Aloe Vera: for healing burns and wounds
  • Lavender: for congestion, coughs, and colds
  • Comfrey: for aches pains and damaged joints
  • Feverfew: avoid migraine headaches
  • Dandelion or Nettle leaves: keep the kidneys clear of stones

You can make your own cough mixtures, healing lotions, herbal teas and much more. It’s really just a matter of doing some research and taking control of your health.

There are also many herbs and spices from the pantry that have medicinal value.

  • Rosemary: protects the brain
  • Thyme: to keep away the viruses
  • Turmeric: A powerful anti-inflammatory
  • Cloves: Kills stomach bugs and intestinal parasites
  • Ginger: Calms the stomach and improves circulation
  • Cayenne: Improves heart function and relieves stomach ulcers
  • Fennel seeds: Soothe bloating and indigestion
  • Chamomile and Peppermint teas: Relaxing and Calming, reduce indigestion

The list goes on and on, but the real point is that we should always look first to the most simple solution. If that does not work then look further. I guess in the end it’s a matter of using what you have available at home when and where possible to prevent problems from escalating and turning to other alternatives such as supplements and then pharmaceuticals as an absolute last resort.

List of Herbs and Spices and their active constituents.

Click to expand
active constituents in herbs and spices


Preventative Medicine

Herbal medicine often falls into the category of preventative medicine. This means it can be used on a long-term basis to strengthen and tone the organs, tissues, and glands. Examples of this approach are tonic herbs such as Ginseng and Ginkgo for brain health or Bitters for digestive health.

Herbal medicine is usually given in three stages.

1. Treat the symptoms to provide quick relief. (high doses can be used for a few days)
2. Treat the underlying cause or imbalance. (moderate doses over several weeks)
3. Treat the person as a whole, support the constitution. (maintenance doses over a lifetime)

Once you find the right herbs for you and your needs you can keep taking them for life, maybe with a top up once a year for a re-balance, cleanse or boost. Then you have a recipe for long-term health and the avoidance of complications throughout life. This is preventative medicine in a nutshell.


Flavor-active compounds, including spices, also modify digestive, absorptive and metabolic processes through direct activation of signaling pathways or via neurally-mediated responses. These may modify energy balance through effects on food digestion, energy absorption and metabolism. Thus, collectively, flavor has the potential to modify energy balance. (3)


My favorite herbal program is the Ultimate Herbal Detox which I have personally designed and have now helped over 100,000 people complete. I highly recommend a Herbal Detox each year to cleanse the colon and liver is also a great way to use herbal medicine to prevent metabolic imbalances, toxicity, and inflammation.

Click here to see how this works.

I hope this has been helpful

Brett Elliott

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