How Does Herbal Medicine Work?

Herbs contain a large number of naturally occurring chemicals (constituents) that have some type of biological activity. Herbs work in a similar way to many pharmaceutical. In fact, some pharmaceutical medicines are still obtained from plants. For example, the malaria medicine quinine is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, and the pain medicine morphine is produced from the opium poppy.

Plants produce these biologically active chemicals, not just in themselves, but also in other organisms. Some of these chemicals enhance their own survival. Some plants produce chemicals that act as herbicides to inhibit the growth of competing plants, such as the salicylic acid produced by willows.

examples of active plant ingredients that provide medicinal uses for humans include:


•Alkaloids
•Bitters
•Cardiac Glycosides
•Cyanogenic Glycosides
•Flavonoids
•Minerals
•Phenols
•Polysaccharides
•Proanthocyanins
•Saponins
•Tannins
•Vitamins
•Volatile oils

All of which have very specific uses and contributes to various different attributes of health and nature itself.

When trying to define how medicine in general works in the body herbalists and chemists alike use terms such as, synergy and polyvalence to often explain the effects of the many constituents found in herbal medicinal products and their extracts, particularly where it is difficult to distinguish the ‘active ingredient’.

This concept of ‘active ingredient’ has been useful in defining the chemical basis for the biological effect of a large number of medicinal plants.

Many naturally occurring compounds can be found; such as atropine, morphine, digoxin, quinine and menthol,

Synergy:
The literal meaning of synergy is ‘working together’ but a useful definition is ‘an effect seen by a combination of substances that is greater than would have been expected from a consideration of individual contributions.’
Which is a complicated way of saying
“The right combination of chemicals used in the right amounts”

Polyvalence:
Polyvalence can be defined as the range of biological activities that an extract may exhibit which contribute to the overall effect observed clinically or in vivo.
This can otherwise be defined as
“having a chemical valence greater usually than two”

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