What is Herbal Medicine?

What is Herbal Medicine

Have you ever seen a commercial for a prescription drug and thought, “wow, that’s a lot of side effects”? You know, the part where the person talks really fast, hoping you don’t understand what they’re saying. That exact reason is why herbal medicine has boomed in popularity in recent years. If natural treatment options don’t have the adverse side effects of common prescription drugs, wouldn’t you be interested? 

In today’s article, we will go over what herbal medicine is, whether or not it’s effective, and the health benefits of herbal medicine. 

What is Herbal Medicine

These treatment options have been around for thousands of years. Even though there have been considerable advancements in modern medicine, these ‘natural’ treatment options continue to grow in popularity. 

Herbal medicine aims to restore balance within the body. It helps accomplish this by combining plant elements, animal by-products, and minerals, so even though “herbal” is in the name, it’s not always plants. In fact, in medicine, herbs can be roots, flowers, leaves, stems, barks, seeds, and even stones in some cases. There are several different forms of herbal remedies, with the most common type being herbal tea. 

What Can Herbal Medicine Help Treat?

Before going any further, it’s important to point out that research regarding herbal medicine is still in its infancy. With that being said, the research we have shows promising results. Below are some of the conditions researchers believe herbal medicine can help with:

  • Arthritis
  • Insomnia
  • Colds and flu
  • Heart and circulatory conditions
  • Allergic responses
  • Psoriasis, acne, and eczema
  • Peptic ulcer, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and heartburn

If you are considering herbal medicine, it’s important to consult with your doctor first. Pairing herbal medicine with certain types of conventional medicines can be dangerous. You should also avoid replacing conventional medicines with herbal medicine unless your doctor approves. 

Common Types of Herbal Medicine

Understanding the common types of herbal medicine and the benefits they offer can help you find the one that works best for you. Some of these herbal medicines have been used for centuries, even millennia! Let’s go over some of the common types of herbal medicine, the benefits, and the most conventional way to apply them:


Also known as coneflower, echinacea is a flowering plant and one of the most common herbs used in the herbal medicine industry. It has a long history, being used by Native Americans to treat a variety of different ailments. Some research points towards echinacea lowering your risk for developing a cold. It’s commonly used as an ingredient in tea and can be found at most grocery stores and health food stores. 


Ginseng is a traditional Chinese medicine. The plant’s roots are steeped to make a tea or dried to make a powder. While human research regarding the plant is lacking, animal studies point towards its effectiveness. For example, one study found that the ginsenoside compound found in the plant provides neuroprotective, anticancer, antidiabetes, and immune-supporting properties. 


When talking about herbal medicine, it’s impossible not to mention elderberry. This ancient herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years to help relieve headaches, nerve pain, and viral infections. Again, human studies are scarce, but test-tube studies show that it has antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. It’s often used as a syrup or lozenge, but it’s also possible to make a tea out of elderberry. 


Many recipes call for turmeric, but it’s also used as herbal medicine. In fact, it’s boomed in popularity in recent years due to its anti-inflammatory properties. This is because curcumin – the major active compound in turmeric, is used to treat chronic inflammation, pain, metabolic syndrome, and anxiety. While the amount of turmeric you eat in food isn’t enough to make a significant medicinal impact, you can purchase supplements anywhere supplements are found. 


Just like turmeric, you can find ginger in thousands upon thousands of recipes. It’s also an ancient herbal treatment option used to treat colds, nausea, migraines, and high blood pressure. Test-tube studies reveal the potential to prevent illnesses like heart disease and cancer. Again, like turmeric, the amount of ginger you eat in a dish is likely not enough to make a medicinal impact. However, ginger supplements are plentiful.  


Valerian has a deep-rooted (no pun intended) history as a treatment option for anxiety and insomnia. In fact, you can trace valerian all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome, where valerian was used to treat restlessness, tremors, headaches, and heart palpitations. Once the root is dry, it’s used as an ingredient in tea. It can be consumed in capsule form. 


Just like with elderberry, you can’t discuss herbal medicine without mentioning chamomile. This flowering plant is one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world. Chamomile contains over 100 active compounds. Test-tube studies show chamomile has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. It’s often consumed through tea. 

Risks of Herbal Medicine

There are some risks involved when it comes to herbal medicine. First and foremost, human research regarding the health benefits of herbal medicine is lacking, to say the least. Therefore, it’s important to be careful when purchasing products. Do your research on the herb, the company, and the product itself. 

Secondly, some research points towards herbal medicine harming our kidneys. Researchers believe this happens when herbs are mixed with toxic ingredients during preparation. Further research is needed before we can make any definitive claims regarding the effectiveness of herbal medicine. 

Functional Medicine Can Help

Herbal medicine is one of the most popular methods of functional medicine. If you’re looking for more functional treatment options in the Rockville, Maryland area, our team here at Today’s Integrative Health is here to help! We offer a wide range of functional medicine treatment options. 


Picture of Dr. L. J. Leo

Dr. L. J. Leo

Dr. Leo began his education at the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he earned his doctorate in osteopathy. He completed his internal medicine residency through the U.S. Army and had the honor of serving multiple overseas tours before retirement.

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