Classification of economic important herbs
As I mentioned in an earlier article on this subject, a lot of interest has been generated and people in different works of life have joined the bandwagon becoming practitioners of herbal medicine. For the benefit of the recipients of herbal medicine, the patients and those who may be routinely receiving these herbs, it is important that we begin to sound a note of warning that herbal medicine may not be completely risk-free. To do so, presenting a classification of herbal medicine may be a good place to start. Doing this, I am hoping that everybody, the recipients and practitioners will become better informed to make the right decisions in future.
There are numerous ways of classifying or categorising herbals. In this article, I am going to categorise Herbs according to what they do. This is a method of classification known as “action-types.” Many herbs fall into more than one category and the reason is that they have more than one specific effect in the body. Understanding these action types will definitely help while choosing herbs for specific and/or general use in the body.
Specifics and tonics
These two terms refer to whether an herb is to be used for a particular symptom or it is to be used to boost the health and optimal functioning of an organ or the whole body system. An herb such as valerian for example is specific for insomnia because the chemical compound in it has sedating properties, which makes it able to promote sleep. A tonic like astragalus on the other hand, has the ability to build up an immune system that has become weakened because of a recurring illness. Some herbs function as both specifics and tonics. Herbal preparations that are used as specifics are usually administered for short periods, while the tonics are used for longer periods of time.
Classification by action-types
As I present this classification by action-types, mention will be made of certain chemical properties and content that give the herbs the kind of action they display.
1. Astringent herbs
Tannins are the active ingredients in astringent herbs. They act by tightening or constricting or the tissues thereby reducing fluid discharge. They affect the circulatory, digestive and urinary systems. Astringents in large doses can be toxic to the liver. Examples of herbs in this category are: Comfrey, slippery elm, red raspberry and eyebright.
The active components in bitters are: laxatives, diuretics, glycosides, alkaloids and saponins
The bitter herbs are divided into four major types and these are laxatives, diuretics, saponin-containing herbs and alkaloid-containing herbs.
Bitter laxative herbs act on the gastrointestinal system mildly causing contraction of the intestinal muscles. It also causes the release of bile secretions.
There are 2 types of laxatives:
Mucilants, which contain mucilage that lines the inner wall of the stomach. It reduces irritation and inflammation, absorbs and eliminates toxins via the intestinal tract. Furthermore, it regulates positive intestinal flora, heals the tissues, decongests the respiratory system and increases bowel movement. Examples of mucilants are marsh mallow, slippery elm, Fenugreek and aloe vera.
The second type of Bitter Laxative Herbs is the stimulants. These contain antraquinone and they function by causing contraction (spasm) of the intestinal wall to cleanse the digestive (mostly colon) tract of toxins. Stimulant herbs contain antraquinone, which are still being researched for health benefits. They should therefore be used with caution. Examples include: Senna, buckthorn, cascara sagrada, and rhubarb.
Diuretics: Bitter diuretic herbs like the name suggests, induce loss of fluid from the body through the urinary system. The fluids released from the body help to cleanse the vascular system, kidneys, and liver. Examples of diuretic herbs are: Burdock, dandelion, nettle, parsley, milk thistle and horsetail.
Saponin-containing bitter herbs produce foam when mixed with water. They increase the ability of the body to absorb other active compounds. Examples are Alfalfa, and ginseng.Alkaloid-containing herbs are organic compounds that contain nitrogen. They are antiseptics, respiratory tonics, stimulants, and nervines. Valerian and capsicum are examples.
The more familiar herbs that contain carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins etc. make up the culinary or nutritive herbs are the next category of herbs that I shall present in next Thursday’s edition of the Guardian Newspaper.
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