In recent years, there has been a resurgence in herbal medicines traditionally used to improve health, either alone or in combination with conventional medicine.
One of the main reasons to seek herbal medicine or other alternatives to conventional medicine, is the belief that it will promote a healthier life.
Herbal remedies are therefore often seen as a balanced and moderate approach to healing. With the many side effects of modern drugs and the growing resistance to antibiotics, people around the world are looking to herbal medicine as a safe way to stay healthy and to treat and prevent disease.
Dr Caren Hauptfleisch, President of the South African Association of Registered Herbal Therapists (SAARP), who has over 30 years of experience in herbal medicine, says the steady increase in the use of herbs can be seen around the world entire.
“The introduction of modern health care as we know it has resulted in the disappearance and displacement of many indigenous health practices, but scientists around the world are now turning to plants and herbs to formulate new herbal agents ( herbal treatments) to prevent and treat disease. South Africa, and in particular the Western Cape Floristic Region, is home to a wide variety of native medicinal plants that have been used safely and effectively since time immemorial. Science and clinical use support their medicinal value,” said Dr. Hauptfleisch.
These herbs include rooibos, honeybush, buchu, aloe ferox, and devil’s claw, among others. Marketers around the world are clamoring to include them in their products as demand for herbal medicines and natural health products increases.
Dr. Hauptfleisch highlights the benefits of some of our local herbs and how they can be used to maintain health.
Rooibos (Aspalanthus linearis):
Rooibos is a herb of great importance. It is rich in antioxidants, also called polyphenols, which are compounds that allow plants to resist infection and insect infestation.
Drinking it regularly can help: eimprove immunity, reduce the incidence of cancer due to its cytoprotective effect, regulate blood sugar, protect the heart from degenerative damage, slow down the aging process, since it is able to reduce oxidative stress and, in turn, reduce free radical damage, prevent certain skin cancers, when used topically, its anti-inflammatory properties can soothe skin irritations, such as eczema and dermatitis.
Dr. Hauptfleisch added, “Rooibos is a good daily supplement to improve overall health in combination with a healthy lifestyle.
Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens):
Dr. Haupfleisch notes that herbal medicine should only be used if it can be grown sustainably. Human use and trade of a plant should never threaten its existence in the wild.
Herbs like devil’s claw, which have been used in the treatment of pain associated with arthritic diseases, liver and kidney problems, fever and malaria, have been nearly extinct by its export to the overseas market, which led to the commercial cultivation of the herb.
Devil’s claw is also used in an ointment to treat various skin problems such as sores and boils.
Herbs used in the prevention and/or treatment of common winter ailments:
Herbs commonly used for the prevention and/or treatment of common winter ailments found in Cape Town and various parts of Africa include:
Wilde als/ umthlonyane (artemisia afra) prevents and treats various respiratory infections.
Kankerbossie / cancer bush (lessertia frutescens) helps the body ward off infections and health problems, when used regularly. It also alleviates symptoms related to colds and flu.
Wild olive (olea europaea subs africana) prevents infections, including viral infections of the respiratory system.
Pelargonium sidoides and other pelargoniums, Tulbaghia violacea (wildeknoffel) treats the common cold and associated symptoms of wet cough and soothes inflamed respiratory tissue, including sore throat.
Sage (species of salvia) targets viral respiratory infections and relieves sore throats.
Helichrysum species helps treat cough.
Mint (mentha longifolia) soothes lung infections, headaches, fever and colds.
Sand olive (dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia) traditionally used for the treatment of colds and associated sore throats, flu and measles.
The above herbs are usually used as infusions or can be steamed. Some of them can also be purchased as herbal pills or tinctures.
Doctor Hauptfleisch says when using herbal medicine, it is important to use the right herb for the associated ailment and in the right dosage. If in doubt, it’s best to ask a professional before trying it at home.
“When herbal medicine is used correctly and in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, it is an effective and safe approach to healthcare. Humans and animals have used herbal medicine for centuries. Like our food, our body is designed to respond to herbal medicines. Many of our modern medicines were first isolated from plants,” she said.
She says herbal medicines contain a mixture of different phytochemicals that work in combination with the cells, tissues and chemicals in the body to improve health. It can work quickly or at a more steady rate over time depending on what is being processed.
She concluded, “Treatment should be started at the first sign of illness for best results or preventively as part of your daily health regimen.