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What is an Herbal Remedy?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An herbal remedy is a solution for health problems that uses plants or plant extracts. The remedy may be prescribed by a physician, nutritionist, or herbalist. Herbal remedies are often considered alternative medicine, natural medicine or known as home remedies because they do not require a physician's prescription or traditionally manufactured medication. The most common forms of herbal remedies include teas, tinctures, creams, oils, and poultices.

Many countries require herbalists to be trained and licensed prior to prescribing an herbal remedy. In Europe, herbalists are widely accepted, and apothecaries, or pharmacies, sell both traditional medication as well as herbal remedies in the same store. In the United States, herbal remedies are most often sold at stores that specialize in vitamins or other health-related supplements as opposed to pharmacies.

Herbal remedy formulas vary, and many of the health claims in the United States have not been substantiated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When choosing an herbal remedy, consumers should research the ingredients and reported benefits before purchasing. If there is a pre-existing illness already being treated by traditional medications, proceed with caution before introducing an herbal remedy, as there are potentially harmful contraindications when mixing medications.

Teas are the most popular way to administer herbs. The leaves or berries of the plant are crushed and steeped in hot water for several minutes so the water absorbs the flavor and nutrients of the plant. The herbs are sold either in tea bags or loose and the most common forms are chamomile, rose hip, and green tea. For loose leaves, a steeping ball is often used. This metal ball has a fine metal mesh outer covering that allows the flavor to seep into the water without the leaves escaping.

An herbal remedy tincture is an alcohol extract and is most often made by combining ethanol with the leaves and berries of plants. The leaves are steeped in the ethanol for several days or weeks until the desired concentration is achieved. Compound tincture of benzoin is a common tincture used to treat cuts and is often used as an antiseptic.

Topical herbal remedies such as creams, oils, and poultices are also very common. Herbal remedy creams use plant oil extracts mixed with salves to provide either cosmetic or medicinal help. A poultice is a wound covering made by crushing an entire herb instead of just the leaves or berries. The mixture is applied directly to the wound and covered with a bandage. Since many herbs have antibacterial or soothing properties, herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries.

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