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Medicinal plants call for knowledge and caution.

Medicinal plants comprise the vast expanse of the plant kingdom, from tiny single-cell organisms to huge trees. Practically speaking, no matter what your location is, you should be able to find, some forms of medicinal plants or trees.

All medicinal plants are essentially some form of poison. Some medicinal plants require only minute dosage amounts to kill you, while others require relatively large dosage amounts.

Medicinal plants require absolute positive identification, through knowledge of dosages, accurate diagnosis of illness, etc.

Medicinal plants are useful but thorough knowledge is necessary for proper use, and as long as modern medical facilities are available, you should use them.

To really comprehend the danger of plants, call your local poison control centers and ask how many plant poisonings occurred in the last year. This simple exercise will help you understand why medicinal plants require respect.

Plant poisons may be external or internal. Internal and external overlap. An example is poison ivy. It is an external poison usually but if it is burned in a campfire and the smoke is inhaled, then it enters the lungs, nose, throat, and mouth and becomes an internal poison.

Some plant poisons require specific antidotes. In other plant poisonings, only symptomatic care can be given because no specific antidote exists. Only supportive care can be given.

Medicinal parts of plants may be any part of, some portion of, or all of the plant. This includes roots, rhizomes, bark, leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, and pollen.

Proper usage requires proper collection (time of year, hot or cool day, time of day, etc.), cleaning (remove insects, slice roots, washing, etc.), preparing (drying, distillation, etc.), storing (labeling, airtight containers, light-proof containers, etc.), upkeep (inspect for insect damage, fungi or mildew growth, etc.).

Some relevant characteristics for collection are: 1) History. Was the plant sprayed with chemicals, was the climate right for production of the medicinal constituents, etc.; 2) Physical and chemical properties. Concentration of plant products, adulteration by unwanted contaminants, etc.; 3) Action. How does the drug work, where does it work in the body, etc.; 4) Absorption. How fast, where, how much, is the drug absorbed, etc.; 5) Body effects. Do different parts of the plant interact, does repeated use compound the effects, etc.; 6) Effects produced. Are there side effects, does the plant cause damage to the heart, liver, does the drug affect behavior, damage fetuses, etc.; 7) Other. General health of person, age, sex, weight, is the drug addicting, etc.

Believe it or not, after all this there are some effective and relatively safe plant medicines that most people can use. For reference, I suggest acquiring Magic and Medicine of Plants by Reader's Digest Press. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Rodale Press is another useful book. These two references are more than adequate for the beginner. They can also serve as a useful reference to the more advanced student.

Most of the older herb books, especially reprints of earlier editions, contain inadequate or wrong information. This is especially true of 16th, 17th, 18th and early 19th century herb books.

Before you collect medicinal plants, you should plan ahead and before you begin collection, you need to take the proper tools. You also need to locate the plants from previous hikes, get permission of the landowners, and take proper storage containers.

Try not to destroy the plant. Leave the plant alive because you might have to return again to collect from the plant later.

Growing medicinal plants at home obviously eliminates a lot of the problems. By growing the plants at home, you can control to some extent the plant's growing conditions which is an essential part of the plant's method of producing the critical medicinal compounds found in the plant.

The plant medicines you plan to use can be used in the following ways: teas, lotions, creams, syrups, lozenges, pills, compresses plasters, baths, soaps, inhalation, mouthwash, among other ways.

Some herbal plants can be used for diet substitutions for people who can't eat certain foods such as wheat, rice, and others.

Remember, always positively identify the plant, properly prepare the plant, check indications for use, contraindications, cautions, and other relevant information in current reliable references before using medicinal plants, see a doctor if it is possible before use. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment is inadvisable when physicians are available.

In today's world where a crisis can occur suddenly, a knowledge of medical herbs can be useful if the modern medical systems break down. Even today over 50 percent of all western modern medical prescriptions written are plantbased or synthetic derivatives of plants. Outside the western developed world, almost all the medicines used are plantbased because no other medicines are available. The plant medicines used are usually quite adequate and result in cures as rapidly as western medicines can.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Flanagan, John
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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