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The use of herbs for health purposes has been around since the fourth century B.C. when Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, began using simple herbal remedies. Herbal medicine developed through the centuries beginning in ancient Greece and continuing through the middle ages in Europe. European herbal remedies were taken by colonists to North America where natives taught them how to incorporate new plants indigenous to the region. Separate lines of herbal use developed in China as well as India where it is referred to as Ayurvedic medicine.
An herb is any plant or plant part used for medicinal, nutritional, culinary, or other beneficial purposes. Through the centuries hundreds of different compounds have been identified. The usable herb may come from just about any part of the plant - roots, flowers, fruit, or leafs. The part used varies by plant. The final form of the herb may vary. Common forms include dried herbs, teas, concentrated essential oils, and tinctures among others. Quality and potency will vary depending on weather and soil where the herb is grown as well as the timing of the harvest and the manner of preparation and storage.
Herbs can be classified in different ways. The traditional Chinese herbs categories work just as well as others. There are four categories:
Tonics: These herbal remedies are typically mild and act slowly in the body. Often they act on a single organ, nourishing it and providing gentle stimulation. American ginseng is an example of a tonic.
Specifics: Herbs categorized as specifics tend to be strong and have a particular, or specific, action. Specifics are used for a short period of time to treat a clearly identified condition. Specifics should not be used for a long period of time. Echinacea is an example of a specific.
Heroics: A heroic is a high potency herbal remedy and can potentially be toxic. Heroics should never be used to self-diagnose but always under a trained practitioner.
Cleansers and protectors: These herbs aid the body in removing waste and pollutants.
Herbal supplements are generally safe to take when used according to dosage directions. Not all herbs are safe to use with infants and children. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also be careful with herbal extracts.
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