To truly understand and appreciate the healing potential of herbal medicine, we must keep firmly in mind the key differences between herbal medicines and pharmaceutical drugs, and the advantages of the natural herbal approach. The main advantages are:
Herbs work with Nature, not against it. Herbs work by enhancing the natural physiological functions and defensive healing reactions of the organism. Many modern medicines, on the other hand, suppress key bodily functions and block these natural healing reactions. Over the long term, this negative approach wears down the inherent vitality and resistance of the organism.
Herbs are gentler, safer, and have far fewer negative side effects. The negative side effects of pharmaceutical drugs cause thousands of unnecessary deaths every year. Herbal medicines follow the key Hippocratic precept: First, do no harm.
Herbs have the nutritive value that synthetic drugs lack. No pharmaceutical drug that your doctor can prescribe will be able to rebuild your body; only whole foods, nutritional supplements and herbs can do that. Many herbs are nutrient-rich superfoods; as whole natural substances, their nutrients are better absorbed and retained by the organism than even the finest natural vitamins, which are fractionated, concentrated extracts.
Herbs have the biological intelligence of the Life Force inherent in them. Herbs are living medicines that can vitalize and energize the organism; synthetic drugs, as lifeless substances, can’t do this. Also, the biological intelligence inherent in herbs gives many of them a bivalent capacity to adjust or optimize key bodily functions, like digestion, circulation, metabolism and immunity. Synthetic drugs, which lack this biological intelligence, work only in one direction, and their dosages must be closely monitored to avoid excess or overdose.
The wheels of Nature (and herbs) grind slowly, but they work very well. Herbs usually take longer to work than synthetic drugs, but they work naturally, and get to the root of the problem. Synthetic drugs may give you the quick fix, but this is often deceptive; many times, pharmaceutical drugs merely mask the symptoms, suppress the body’s natural healing processes, and may even drive the root cause deeper into the organism. The choice is yours: Do you want to be healed slower, but better, or quickly but not as well?
Many herbal therapies are unequaled by synthetic drugs. There are certain things that only natural herbs can do for the body, which will probably never be matched by any synthetic pharmaceutical drug. These are:
Hepatoprotective: Balancing, normalizing and optimizing liver and bile metabolism; regenerating liver cells. Many herbs benefit the liver, the principal organ of the Natural Faculty, in this way, because they’re only natural. In contrast, many synthetic pharmaceutical drugs have very negative or damaging effects on the liver, and are contraindicated with any history of liver disease. With the liver being one of the most important internal organs of the body, do you really want to subject it to the stress and abuse of pharmaceutical drugs?
Immunomodulatory: Optimizing immune system function by reducing harmful allergic or autoimmune reactions while enhancing positive immune response to protect against infections. Conventional medicine’s best answer to autoimmune disorders is a global suppression of all immune response, both good and bad, which impairs the body’s ability to fight infection. Immunomodulatory activity is a bivalent action of herbs, and a manifestation of the biological intelligence inherent in them. Synthetic drugs, which lack this biological intelligence, are incapable of this immunomodulatory activity.
Alterative: Cleansing the blood and lymph and improving detoxification and eliminative organ functioning. Only herbs can assist the body in its vital cleansing work, and reduce the toxic load on the organism.
Adaptogenic: Adjusting, stimulating and optimizing the functioning of multiple organ systems to enhance the healing and protective responses of the organism and improving its resistance to stress and disease. The nonspecific, broad spectrum action of herbal tonics and restoratives is unmatched by any synthetic drug. Instead of producing negative side effects, herbs deliver multiple side benefits.
The Greek Way of Herbal Healing
In classical Greek science and medicine, everything in the universe has its own inherent nature and temperament, or balance of the Four Basic Qualities: Hot, Cold, Wet and Dry. This is the basis of how Greek Medicine analyzes the natures and properties of herbs.
To more precisely calibrate how Hot, Cold, Wet or Dry an herb was, Galen introduced a system of four degrees for each of the Four Basic Qualities. This allowed the physician and pharmacist to formulate and prescribe medicines more accurately.
The usual method of herbal treatment is to use medicines whose natures are contrary or complementary to the nature of the disorder to bring the body back into balance. In conditions of plethora or excess, eliminative herbs with qualities contrary to those of the offending humor are used to reduce or disperse it. In deficiency conditions, tonic herbs with qualities or essences that the body lacks or needs are used to restore health and wholeness.
In addition, Greek Medicine recognizes that various herbs have different affinities for certain organs, tissues or parts of the body. Herbs whose actions focus on the heart are called cordials. Herbs that treat conditions of the head are called cephalics. Liver tonics are called hepatics, whereas digestive tonics are called stomachics, and so on.
The basic formula or method of herbal treatment in Greek Medicine is this: Use herbs that are contrary or complementary to the nature of the disorder in kind, yet equal to the imbalance by degree; let them also have an affinity for, or pertain to, the part being treated. If these basic guidelines of treatment aren’t followed, there’s the risk that the physician will cure one disorder only to cause another more desperate than the first.
Greek herbal medicine, like other traditional systems of herbal healing, uses the pronciples of herbal tastes and energetics to further refine their therapeutic classification and usage of herbs. Let me illustrate with a few examples:
All herbs that improve stomach and digestive funtion in some way are called stomachics. Bitter stomachics are cooling and detoxifying, and are indicated for hot, inflammatory, hyperacidic and bilious stomach conditions. Aromatic stomachics gently harmonize and stimulate gastric function in cases of sluggishness and congestion of the stomach. Pungent stomachics are even hotter and more stimulating in their action, and strongly eliminate excess coldness and phlegm.
Out of all the various kinds of herbs that relieve pain, anodynes relax and disperse muscular aches and pains through their gentle warming and dispersing action.
Greek Medicine is a constitutionally based healing system that treats the person, not the disease. In herbal prescribing, it’s also necessary to adjust the formula to the constitutional nature of the person being treated. For example, those with a stronger constitution will be better able to withstand the rigors of radical purgatives, whereas those of a more delicate constitution will require a more moderate and gradual cleansing.
In herbal prescribing, the weather, climate and environmental conditions must also be taken into account. For example, if the weather or season is cold, a formula to warm the body and disperse chills must be more heating in nature than if the chills are caught in relatively warm weather.
In Greek Medicine, several different innovative and efficient herbal preparations, designed to deliver maximum healing power to the site of the disorder, are used in treatment. Herbal teas, pills or powders are mixed and matched with various standard preparations, like syrups or tinctures, which are kept on hand. External or topical treatment methods, like compresses, liniments, salves, cataplasms or poultices, and fomentations are also used.