There are many different kinds of herbal medicines. In fact, almost every culture and country has their own plant-based remedies.
What Are the Kinds of Herbal Medicines?
While it would be quite a large project to describe every known type of herbal medicine, below you will find a few select versions of this ancient form of health management.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
For thousands of years the Chinese have used herbs for medicinal purposes, and the oldest Chinese herbal text is over two thousand years old. The primary idea behind traditional Chinese herbal medicine is the existence of qi, pronounced "kee." Qi is the energy in your body that nourishes you, cleanses you, and keeps you alive. There are many kind of qi, such as your central qi, digestive qi, and protective qi.
There is a lot more to know about Chinese herbal medicine, such as the theory of yin and yang, the five elements, and the eight principles that affect yin and yang. Imbalance is thought to be the root of all illness, and the number one priority of Chinese medicine is to bring the body into balance. Through the use of herbs and acupuncture, the body is returned to a healthy state of equilibrium.
Native American Herbal Medicine
The Native Americans relied on the plants around them to treat illness and injury. Since there are many tribes native to North America, there were a wide variety of traditions and beliefs scattered across the continent. Native medicine made good use of herbs, but also incorporated praying, dancing, and chanting into treatments. These treatments were usually administered by the tribe's medicine man, who acted as doctor and spiritual advisor to the people.
The theories behind Native American herbal medicine were handed down from generation to generation, but were not usually recorded for posterity. While there were once a great many people who understood this native science, many of the original recipes have been lost over time. Some basic ideas remain, though, and many of the concepts that the Native Americans introduced to westerners have influenced our modern medical science!
Naturopathy & Homeopathy
Naturopathic doctors believe in treating the underlying cause of an illness through natural, individualized treatments. Known for bridging the gap between conventional and alternative treatments, naturopaths use both medical science and natural remedies to support the body's inherent healing abilities.
Just like a medical doctor (M.D.), naturopathic doctors (or N.D.s) must attend a four-year medical school where they learn basic medical science. Naturopaths also study a holistic and natural approach to healthcare, with a strong concentration on prevention and overall wellness. In addition to a standard medical curriculum, an N.D. must train in the areas of clinical nutrition, homeopathy, herbal medicine, psychology, acupuncture, and a host of other practices. After they complete their education, naturopaths must pass a rigorous licensed exam before they are allowed to practice medicine on the public.
Homeopathy is a holistic system for healing the body. Like naturopathy, homeopathy strives to bring your body back to health by concentrating on overall wellness and looking for an underlying cause of illness. And like Chinese medicine, homeopathy touts the idea that the body maintains a central energy flow, or vital force, that must be in balance for optimal health.
Treatments through a homeopathic practitioner follow a "like cures like" line of thinking. This means that the patient is given extremely small doses of substances that, when given in a much larger quantity, can produce similar symptoms as the illness in question.
Homeopaths must go through extensive education and a licensing exam before being allowed to practice in the United States. While in Europe it is a practice all its own, in the United States homeopathy is usually studied alongside another complementary discipline, such as naturopathy, acupuncture, or conventional Western medicine.
Here are a few links that will help you to better understand the many kinds of herbal medicines:
- The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, where you can find a naturopathic doctor in your area.
- A site describing Jamu, an Indonesian form of herbal medicine.
- The Philippines also have their own system for using medical herbs.
- The NIH's Naturopathy Page
- The NIH's Homeopathy Page
- The NIH's Acupuncture Page