Herbs. What can they do for us? Why are they important?

Holistic Vet Nick Thompson, MRCVS explains.

Imagine a world without coffee. Without tea, or green tea or jasmine tea or mint tea after dinner. We would come to a grinding halt.

Herbs are not just used in the kitchen for culinary flavouring, but have become integral to our way of life. And in many instances, you wouldn't even know that what you're using or benefiting from is actually derived from herbs and botanicals.

We might take aspirin for headaches, use Permethrin in a spray for flea infestations, use Vincristine as a chemo therapeutic agent in the fight against cancer and morphine to combat pain.

But did you know that from Aspira filipendula we get aspirin, from chrysanthemum we derive permethrin, from Madagascan periwinkle we derive Vincristine, and from Poppy we derive Morphine. So, essentially, drugs that have changed the face of Western society and they all derived from herbs. We need to bear that in mind when we appraise how valuable herbs are in our society.


I use HERBS as an acronym to spell out their many uses and just how essential they are:


H: Herbs are Healthy


The definition of a drug is where you either synthesis a molecule, or if it's derived from a plant, you take one tiny molecule that is grown and found within that plant and you make a drug that has a very specific effect. The problem with narrowing down the effect of a plant just to its one active constituent is that you lose other balancing elements that mother nature has put within the original plant to make it much safer. Which is why, generally speaking, using whole herbs as a medicine is much safer than using drugs. Most drugs have side effects. This is where the molecule (in a pharmaceutical), as well as attacking a single pathway, may also affect other pathways in the body which have similar characteristics to the one you want want to affect. You might take aspirin, for example to get the effect of the willow bark. If you chewed enough willow bark you would get a mild pain killing effect without getting stomach ulcers, But, when you take the extract of willow bark and turn it into aspirin, and have more than 3 or 4 days of it on the trot, you can cause erosion or ulceration of your stomach lining. That's the problem with refining these incredible elements of herbs. 


Every herb we know of contains between 400 – 800 active elements within it and most of those, when it comes to acting on us, have a balancing effect such that the more potent and active ingredients are tempered with a calming effect that will temper any side effects.


E: Herbs are Economic


Herbal preparations are grown in the ground. They are carbon fixing and they are minimally processed. They are not synthesized in factories, and they don’t use oil derivatives, and so they are a much cleaner and a less polluting way to make ourselves and our animals healthier. Because they have a lower intensity of production, they can be more economical.


R: Herbs are Reliable


Herbs have a very good efficacy profile, and reliability comes from choosing the right herb for the job.


B: Herbs are Broad Spectrum


Broad spectrum means that herbs are made up from lots of elements within them which all work together like an orchestra to produce an effect that we’re looking for. A drug, which would be the first violin in this analogy, is one instrument that can deliver one range of notes. But a herb would be the first violin playing together with an orchestra to create range of notes and sounds, that together create a symphony.


Using herbs is like an orchestral intervention. When we have molecule, a drug goes to work by acting singly on a target. It provides a very specific response, but because it lacks the natural balancing properties of herbs can also come with side effects. When we have herbs, a range of properties will come into play, with an anti-inflammatory effect, an anti-bacterial effect, and a carminative effect, (that gentle quietening of the stomach). All the essential elements of a herb coming together to act synergistically.

And because of their multi-action effect, it is impossible to see resistance to herbal products because of their complexity. Whereas, when we use a single antibiotic or an anthelmintic, the bacteria or the worm can develop resistance to those drugs – and this is how we develop multi resistant strains of bacteria. Going forward, herbs may well be part of the solution to issues of multi-resistant bacteria, which we are sure to face in the future. They are also antiviral.


S: Herbs are Sustainable


Growing plants in the ground is always going to be a sustainable solution for the future.  They have always been a massive part of medicine, and look set to play an increasingly important role in helping to create a healthy future.


Interested to learn more?

Holistic vet Nick Thompson explains why he chose a natural approach to animal health - read the article

Why we need to rethink our approach to fleas, ticks and worms - read the article

Taking care of animal health, naturally - browse the range.

August 04, 2020 — Verm-X Store Manager