The Safety of Herbs
In point of fact the safety of herbs is very much a non-issue. The myth created in the media, through politics and lobbyists to degrade alternative methods of health as being unsafe is deliberate but, has absolutely no proof to back it up. Herbs are a proven effective and inexpensive means of aiding common maladies and sustaining health.
In our times this is not and never will be a clear cut, black and white discussion because there are too many competing interests in our modern world. However, as it can be said that driving a car is a generally safe practice; as long as one knows how to drive a car! Herbs are generally safe with few exceptions; provided that one knows what they are doing or if one is dealing with someone who knows what they are doing, it can safely be said that there is very little to worry about.
In General, due to their track record through millennia of successful use, herbal and other natural therapies and remedies are regarded as being quite safe. The herbs that are commonly being used in supplements are among those that have been in continuous use for thousands of years. Although no one can offer an absolute guarantee or any other assurance of absolute safety of any product; let alone a substance that is commonly being ingested in the present day; with herbs, the fact that thousands of herbs have been in continuous use for over a period of several thousand years should reassure most of their general safety and perhaps attest to their general effectiveness as remedies for common maladies. There is no way of disproving or otherwise writing off these facts scientifically without implying the absolute stupidity of hundreds of millions, if not billions of people who use or have used herbs on a daily basis worldwide throughout all of human history. Common and collective human experience must be given credit, have some weight and count for something otherwise we are at the mercy of those who would replace self interest and marketing for reason, actual fact and individual personal experience and responsibility.
The two main criticisms used against herbs are:
a) that they are dangerous and,
b) that they are ineffective.
Both of these claims are disproved by the ubiquitous, worldwide and historical track record of herbs. That there may have been charlatans in the past and at present who have swindled people through the unethical, blind or unskilled use of herbs is just part of the nature of some human beings and can never be completely eliminated. All one has to do is watch the evening news to see that charlatans exist and have always existed in every profession even today in spite of laws, modern technologies and of being legally regulated and credentialed. And, for that matter, while watching the news how often does one actually hear a story about herbs actually being dangerous.
It is true that there are known substances that are toxic found in many herbs. Generally, these pose a problem only if taken as isolates. But, this can be said of many common foods as well. Apples and potatoes, for example, contain cyanide. It could be argued that they and perhaps many other common foods should be banned or at least become controlled substances by today’s standards. Yet, world wide, how many people have ever died from having eaten apples or potatoes over the thousands of years that they have been ingested? It would be safe to say that there are virtually no such credible incidents.
The reason why people do not die or get sick when eating these types of foods is because of the relatively low concentration of toxin and it’s combination with the other contained ingredients which in their combination with the toxin can even make the toxin beneficial. (In fact, some of the best healing substances from the plant kingdom, although not in common use, are toxic. The secret in their safe use was the manner of their preparation, which rendered them safe. But, these are not in general use for obvious reasons.) Also, in order to render or produce a toxin from a plant one has to do this deliberately through very specialized processes as it is very difficult to produce a toxin from herbs by accident.
Cocaine and heroine are good examples. Chewing coca leaves will produce a stimulating effect but not a cocaine effect. The Indians in the Andes have done this for millennia for stamina in high altitudes. There is no actual cocaine in coca leaves just like there is no actual plastic in raw petroleum. It has to be processed and artificially manipulated. These substances are not readily available or extractable by making a simple tea. The only other way to cause harm with an herb is by deliberate, habitual and extremely foolish abuses, or through the already mentioned deliberate refinement. ie. example – smoking processed tobacco or other well known herbal substances, deliberate over consumption of ephedra, opium, cocaine et al. These are deliberate abuses that could never, ever be mistaken as remedies and in general are recognized as being detrimental practices.
Having said this, it is clear that a certain amount of caution and responsibility needs to be taken when ever ingesting anything! This includes any over the counter remedy, common foods and the ever increasing accompanying food additives in foods. For the most part although these additives are not naturally occurring they are legal in spite of the fact that they can be potentially lethal and are known for producing illness or other effects that are deemed favorable by the industry that produce them ie. a craving (addiction) for the foods, drinks or other substances that contain these additives, etc.
Most people will ingest substances, like foods that they have eaten before because they hadn’t suffered any ill effects in the past from having eaten them. When a new or different food is placed before them they are a little wary of trying it. This is normal and also explains why people who have used herbs and found them effective have continued to use them without concerns for millennia – seeing their benefits and having suffered no ill effects they continued to use them without concern for themselves and their children. Some in the “scientific” community describe and consider this reasoning as “quaint,” “anecdotal,” or otherwise unsound or worthy of merit. The implication of this snobbery is that most of us are too stupid to know what is good for us and mass human experience counts for nothing.
Unlike the thousands (conservatively) (the numbers vary from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands depending on the study – lately in the media number as high as one million have been used) of well documented annual deaths due to pharmaceutical and medical substances and practices within the United States alone, there are virtually no fatalities directly related to any herb or herbal product world wide annually. These simple facts have been proven and documented and nothing more need be said. The fatalities mentioned above are produced by substances that due to their known extreme toxicity have been classified as controlled substances. They are legally administered by licensed professionals yet in spite of the fact that they produce these incredibly high number of fatalities receive little scrutiny. Or, if scrutinized, the media reports it and then quickly brushes it aside. These are the same people who proclaim themselves to be experts on human well being and authorities on health yet state that herbs are dangerous without ever having used them to heal. (This would be like proclaiming to a well seasoned carpenter that wood is an unsuitable or unsound building material without ever having used wood before. This would be a sound tactic if one wanted to discourage the use of wood for building if one were to be trying to monopolize the market for, say, concrete as an exclusive building material.)
It is an odd and interesting irony that pharmaceutical products produced by highly educated and specialized individuals in the most sophisticated laboratories on Earth and being handled and dispensed by highly educated licensed professionals should produce such high annual casualties (more than in all wars combined) yet, herbs handled by far less educated or even non-educated people produce none. Where is the extreme danger!?
If herbs posed such a danger what are we to do with “unsupervised” chefs preparing meals in expensive haute cuisine restaurants and grandmothers making tea. Who knows what unspeakable horrors they might cook up over their stoves and in their kitchens. Should they be licensed to boil water? Herbs are being used as we speak by household food preparers and world renowned chefs as well as natural health practitioners on a daily basis everywhere on the planet without incident. This has been done for thousands of years without any problem. Why should it be a concern or a problem now?
In order to produce an injury using accepted and common natural methods and substances it would have to be done deliberately by someone who is knowledgeable and at the same time unethical. It would be highly unlikely that personal injury would occur by accident.
It is an established fact that in today’s world there are many people in the developed industrialized countries that are not healthy due to the lifestyles that have come into being because of industrialization and the marketing of unsound food and non-food products. It is expected that those who are afflicted by the accompanying debilitations of this lifestyle might react adversely to substances that should otherwise make them well. Even though these type of reactions are the result of the body attempting to remove what is getting in the way of normal health, they understandably become concerned. Under these circumstances there is a cause for concern but, the cause is not the herbs; the cause is the pre-existent lifestyle with the inherent toxins in the foods which is prevalent everywhere.
It should be noted that most of the implied dangers of herbs are the result of the above mentioned pre-existing circumstances and are further and unfairly exaggerated by media hype and not cold blooded fact. Another noteworthy fact is that the biggest media sponsors are pharmaceutical; the only alternative or threat to which are herbs or other natural therapies. So, when a story having even the slightest implication of herbs being involved negatively, it is milked for all it is worth whether it has merit or not. The aforementioned industry has enormous, enormous clout in today’s world as witness by a vast majority of television advertising being pharmaceutical in nature.
Whenever science becomes tinged by profit it ceases to be pure science, making it difficult or impossible for a cold blooded, purely scientific conclusion to be drawn. Having said this, when the phrase “scientific, scientifically proven, or scientifically tested, etc, is used in today’s world when everything is suspect, it should be scrutinized for ones own protection. By now most people should realize that many so called “scientific studies” are simply “made up” and made credible merely by the endorsement of credentialed people. Were this not so, these supposed “scientific studies” would stand the test of time. Instead their conclusions are reversed by other people with the same credentials, sometimes weekly. These studies are cited because most people do not investigate a study or report and even if they did there would be no forum to adequately voice a finding.
Everyone has a stake in their own preservation and the personal freedom that good health has to offer, therefore, it is up to every individual to research and learn on their own what is real and what is fiction because where there is extreme self interest involved there is very little truth and in the end the benefit or tragedy of any resultant experience has to borne by the individual.
It does not matter what anyone has to say about anything; how it affects us and our loved ones is what really matters. Our decisions should be made in a sober and cold blooded manner for our own personal benefit without harm to anyone. When it comes to the safety of herbs, one has to be objective in their observations. As human beings we are endowed with senses and an intellect that allow us to make sense of our lives and the world around us. No one can state that the thought processes of one person or group of people are better than those of another, regardless of ones education. Experience has shown that there are as many educated fools as there are wise not formally educated people. Furthermore, in a world that is in love with or even blinded by its technology, it should be remembered that our technology should never overshadow us. No machine has senses nor the capacity to actually think or reason. If a person chooses to no longer trust their own senses or reason, the choices that they will make will be made without intelligence and ultimately not be of benefit to them but, will likely benefit those who undermined their trust in their own inborn capacities which through commercialism can very, very easily be done. Our faculties are what makes us human! When we surrender the personal responsibility of keeping ourselves whole through a pure heart and active mind, we are giving it up to someone else who likely has their own personal interest at heart.
As human beings we are a product of Nature, not a product of human self-interest. Nature sustains itself and its creations free of charge, without a vested interest. The same cannot be said about human self-interest. When it comes to determining the safety of anything one need only ask where it originates from, who else is using it, has it actually helped anyone or made them subject, how long has it been used, how much does it cost, etc. In Nature, virtually everything is available free of charge, one need only make the effort of learning how to find what is needed and how to judiciously use it, as there is enough information available in today’s world for anyone to draw sound conclusions using ones own faculties.
Please Note: This article is not intended as scientific proof of point. It is an editorial comment.