Sep 10, 2010

Ancient Remedies for Modern Ailments

Modern medicine has made huge changes to the way we view and manage our day to day upsets and illnesses.  

Recently however, many people have realized that we may be paying a high price in terms of side-effects, after-effects and related stress effects with our widespread use of new, technologically enhanced chemical drugs. Many people have decided that it is time to regain control of our own lives, our health and our future.

Taking control of our health requires a fair bit of effort, at least to begin with.  Most of us have become so busy in our lives that we seldom take the time to look after ourselves properly.  It is quicker, easier, more convenient and sometimes even cheaper to pop into the local doctor or pharmacist for a ''quick-cure'' prescription.  But at what cost?  Really?

Perhaps it is time for us to join the worldwide trend of people embracing both the best of the old tried and true Herbal traditions and the expertise of modern medicine in order to live happier, healthier and more productive lives.

The Many Properties Of Herbs

Increasingly we are turning back to Ancient ways and making use of nature’s natural pharmacy with its huge, potent, unpretentious and widely proven medicine-chest filled with herbs.

The word 'Herb' comes from the Sanskrit word ''to eat'', which later became the Latin word ‘herba’, which means 'grass or fodder'. An Herb has properties that enable us to use it as food or medicine, for its scent or flavour. Many of the Herbs we use today as seasonings were originally used as medicines. Tumeric is a good example. Most people treat it merely as 'a poor-man's Saffron' and use it to colour their rice. Yet in India Tumeric is used as widely as a medicinal home remedy to treat bruising, inflammation and infections, as aspirin is used in the West.

Throughout the world from earliest times Herbs have been used for a multitude of purposes. They have been used in foods, drinks, medicines, poisons, cosmetics, incenses, paper and even clothing. Our distant ancestors were hunter-gatherers who used all sorts of plants in their daily lives. Over time and through trial and error they determined which ones were bitter or poisonous ;  which ones were nourishing or soothing;  which ones could be used for foods or medicines; and which ones provided mind-altering effects when brewed, inhaled or ingested. They gained their knowledge through a process of 'live and learn', which is what we are still doing today.

Throughout history Herbs have been used for magical purposes, to create love or death potions, for divination and in religious and personal ceremonies. Herbs were considered powerful and had an important role in the rituals that enhanced traditional life. Herbs could make or break dynasties;  the Borgias for example, rid themselves of unwanted family, friends and foes with pledges made in poisoned Herbal wines.

The Herbal Wisdom of Ancient Physicians

The Ancient Egyptians believed that the Heart was the source of 36 Channels to the rest of the body and that blockages in these channels caused sickness and dis-ease. They believed that pain was caused by substances that entered the body from outside and could be countered by the use of special protective Herbs. Their Herbal treatments (such as the use of rotten bread for infection) and early surgical procedures (such as the use of flour and water to make a cast for a broken limb) were ridiculed in more recent times, until modern science showed why these treatments worked. We now know that, among many things, the Ancient Egyptians knew the effectiveness of penicillin and plaster-casts.

Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned for their skills. In fact, one of their doctors became so famous that he was later revered as a god – Imhotep – the god of Healing.

The Ayurvedic medical discipline was developed in India from approximately 3,000 BC, and still widely practiced today. Ayurvedic physicians concern themselves with the functioning of 'Body and Spirit as a Whole', rather than focussing on a single organ or disease symptom. Their use of Herbal medicines has come down through the centuries to provide the backbone of India's modern medical practices.

Ancient Sumerian records dating back to 3,000 BC, refer widely to the medicinal actions of many herbs that are still widely used, and the first recorded Chinese Herbal text, written around 2700BC, lists more than 300 Herbs and their actions and therapeutic effects.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complex and fascinating system in which Herbs are used extensively. It concerns the balancing of the two fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy - Yin, the feminine, passive, dark, cold principle - and Yang, the masculine, active, light, hot principle, and this is the cornerstone of this system. The Chinese physician takes everything about the patient into account - the patient's background, genetic history, present symptoms, psychological state, diet and lifestyle are all appraised and considered in relation to the nature of the disease and its progress. Following diagnosis a combination of herbs and treatments are brought together to balance the Yin/Yang energy in the body, thus creating Health and Harmony of Mind, Body and Spirit.

The Chinese believe that ''the superior physician treats the patient before the illness is manifested. It is only the inferior physician who treats the illness he was unable to prevent.'' 

The Ancient Greeks and Romans used Herbs for many purposes. Dioscorides’ treatise on medicinal herbs, written in the first century, has remained an authoritive reference for the Western world well into the 17th Century. The Greeks god of Healing, Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, is symbolized by the serpent entwined around the staff which is today the symbol of the Medical Practitioner. 

It was most likely in Aristotles’ time in the 4th Century BC, that traditional medicine and early pharmaceutical medicine began to diverge. At this time the role of the physician became acknowledged as legitimate and the role of the entrepreneurial ''drug'' marketers began to expand. 

Traditional medicine has many forms, some formal and regulated, others informal and undocumented. While most of the oldest forms are mainly folkloric, magical and religious in nature, some of the more developed Ancient forms such as those found in India and China were comparable to Western medicine prior to the scientific revolution of the last 200 years, in their organisation and application. Ancient texts provided the framework and modern Holistic medicine is still based on the wisdom from these writings.

The 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries proved to be the 'Golden Age' for European and British Herbalists as information became available in local languages rather than only in Latin or Greek. The most famous scientist and researcher in the 17th Century was the Englishman Nicholas Culpepper (1616 – 1654), whose unique mixture of traditional medicine, research, folklore and magic provided many remedies for the common folk.  Culpepper started as a humble apothecary who went on to write the English Physician in 1651. These remedies, easily made from common ingredients, were used widely as treatments for the many medical complaints faced by an increasingly urbanised population. Other great Herbals were written by John Gerard (in 1597) and Parkinson (in 1640). 

In the 18th and 19th Centuries there were great developments in surgery, chemistry, bio-chemistry and pharmacy. A new industry began, engineering scientifically developed drugs based on the chemical formulas of Herbs. These drugs provided an easy alternative to having to 'do it yourself' at a time when increasing numbers of people were taking on factory work and were thus unable to grow herbs or find the time for preparing medicines at home. It was during this period that the use of Herbal medicines went into decline and the pharmaceutical industry began to establish its power base.

Attitudinal shifts have also played a part in this change. In 1948 the public health act was introduced in Britain enabling everyone to obtain free medical treatment. This led to a change in people's attitudes and they came to believe that responsibility for their health and wellbeing lay with the government rather than with themselves;  unfortunately this has become a common attitude in many parts of the Western world.

Another belief that has become increasingly evident in the West as the 20th Century has progressed, is the belief that modern pharmaceutical drugs are ''cure-alls' and that there is no longer any need to take care of the 'Self''. We seem to think that if we become ill we can simply take a course of pills and be cured. 

To a large extent 20th Century Westerners have thrown out the wisdom handed down by earlier generations. There hasn't been the time nor the need to bother with Herbal medicines. But attitudes are now changing and we are starting to see that balance is probably the key. 

People are discovering the benefits of combining the best of old and ancient traditions with the expertise of the new.  In the modern Western world, where our energies are being consumed in the pursuit of material success at the cost of contentment and harmony, we are constantly seeking new ways to achieve some sort of balance and consistency of energy. While we no longer need to fear scurvy, typhoid, small pox, epidemics and plagues, we now face cancer, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome and a variety of stressful new allergies and other modern day afflictions. And there are still many ailments which cannot be fixed or healed through the use of modern pharmaceutical drugs.

In much of the world immunization has had a major impact on health, freeing millions from the scourge of many killer diseases. But are some of us suffering side-effects from these taking vaccines?  That is a big question confronting the medical world. Many naturopathic schools of thought believe we have changed one set of ills for another, and a growing number of people are turning to the 'back to nature approach', rather than the 'fix it quick and forget the consequence' attitude which has become widespread.

The Basics of Looking After Ourselves

The Ancients and Mother Nature have shown us time and again that the body will heal itself given the right conditions. There are plenty of choices to be had in this world and a wide variety of authorities to tell us how to make them, but ultimately the responsibility of your own healing is totally up to you.

Health is about being alive in yourself and being happy with yourself. The best medicine is the one that works for you, and becoming informed is the first step in your healing process and your self-empowerment.

Many of the old traditions have much to offer us. Take the notion of convalescence when you were given space and support to recover. Today, when time is money, you are expected to return to work immediately following an illness. In fact, most of us tend to feel guilty about being away from work at all so we don't give ourselves time to regain our vitality. Our immune system struggles along till the next time it breaks down again because it just cannot cope.

The simple rules still apply; when the body needs to rest, allow it. A tired body is probably telling you that you are out of balance – therefore take time to relax. Stop, look and listen. It is YOUR life and your choices.

Rest is a simple, wonderful healing remedy, yet most of us 'soldier on' when we have a cold, headache or the flu, feeling we must go to work and perform. Failing to listen to a tired body's calls for help and it’s need for the simplest remedies and rest, will result in working yourself into the ground (literally). 

Sleep is also vital to our health and wellbeing. It is essential for restoring energy and optimism and allowing the body to rebuild its reserves. If you don't sleep well for one night it is annoying;  but if you loose the ability to sleep well at all you will seriously deplete your body’s reserves. The Chinese would say you are starting to erode your essential chi – your life force energy, leaving you open to all sorts of infections, dis-ease and ill health. If you have begun a pattern of sleepless nights and stressful days, consider using some of natures gentle assistance, such as; Chamomile, Valerian, and some of the other 'helper herbs''. 

Stress has come to lay a huge part in our lives and we need to look at how we can deal with it. Here are some guidelines:

                   *  take some regular time out
                   *  find your own centre
                   *  Stop Look Listen and Learn
                   *  Learn from Ancient Wisdom and knowledge.
                   *  Best of all, try a few of the Herbal Helpers growing right outside your backdoor – you won't even need a prescription.

From Ancient times Herbs have helped all sorts of people with all sorts of conditions, in all sorts of cultures.  Ancient remedies can lead to modern cures.

Common Modern Ailments

Throughout history, humans have coped with a wide range of health problems, ranging from infections to functional disorders, metabolic disorders and degenerative diseases.  

Not so long ago our major concern was with the many deadly infections that were rife. For example, more people died in the influenza epidemic that followed World War 2, than died in the war itself. Since then, with better hygiene, sanitation and diet, complimented by the development of vaccination and anti-biotics, our focus has shifted.

We now know that we are what we eat, breathe and think. Or one could say, that our state of health is the result of the fine balance between physical, psychological, physiological, social, environmental and Spiritual factors.

Today, there is certainly a greater prevalence of the degenerative diseases (such as Cardio-vascular disorders and arthritis), immune diseases (such as allergies), and metabolic disease (such as Diabetes). This is a cause for serious concern. These diseases seem to be developing earlier in these modern times, than they did several decades ago, and are thus more serious. They probably result from our current way of life. One consideration is our Western diet. It seems dietary intake is a major factor in conditions such as Diabetes, Gout and Cardio-vascular disease. Another influential factor, over which we have little control, is environmental pollution. Air pollution is a worsening problem, and our fruits, vegetables and meats are often full of chemicals, some safe, and some dangerous. The body absorbs all of these chemicals and presents with a range of illnesses as a consequence. In addition, the way that many of us live, results in high stress levels, which in turn can seriously affect our health. While many of our 'modern ailments' are ones that have been known throughout history, there are others that are increasing in prevalence, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, allergies and arthritis. 

Ancient remedies are coming into their own once more, with a growing number of people turning to balancing therapies as they view health issues more Holistically. A Holistic approach entails healing by way of lifestyle and through natural means of preventing and treating disease.

Joanne Walmsley 

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