Commercial plantations of medicinal herbs are an accomplished fact and future demand for our herbal products is guaranteed as the trends towards safer more organic medicines climbs year by year.
The latest word in herb growing for medical purposes is “standardization” which simply means that in every product made with a “standard” herbal extract the consumer is getting the full measure of that particular plant’s active ingredients.
Standardization also means that dosages can be more precise and the measuring of curative effects can also be more precise. There is no “corner on the market” for standardized herbal products; several well-known national companies utilize this procedure.
However, it is up to the consumer to ask for the standardized product when buying an herbal preparation and not to assume that all products have been standardized. Standardization is a major break-through in natural medicine and healthcare.
These medicinal herbs will continue to be star performers and we should get to know them well. Meet the “G” Force: Golden Seal (Hydrastis Canadensis), Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba), and Ginseng (Panax and Eleutherococcus Senticosus).
1. GOLDEN SEAL
To begin with GOLDEN SEAL, you may be surprised to know that this “antibiotic” of the herb world is closely related to the Ranunculaceae family which also includes larkspur, buttercup and peony.
It is considered by modern herbalists to be one of the most useful of treatment herbs and it has been known to Western Medicine for its curative properties since European settlers in America learned of it from the Indians of the Northeast USA.
One of Golden Seal’s major applications was an eyewash for conjunctivitis and was sometimes called “eye root” by the Indians. Golden Seal was also the preferred herb for wounds, sore throats and digestive complaints. Where any inflammation is present, Golden Seal can help.
Studies have shown Golden Seal has good effect on fever states, infectious diarrhea, and heavy menstrual bleeding. It is especially soothing to the respiratory tract reducing both mucus and catarrh. In chronic yeast infections (such as thrush or Candida Albicans) it assists the lining of the gut to resist yeast growth.
Golden Seal’s key activities in the body can be summarized as (a) antimicrobial, (b) digestive and (c) supporting the immune defense system.
Presently, Golden Seal is available as an herbal supplement in capsule form and as ointment for external applications. The ointment version is an extremely valuable addition to any home medicine cabinet as its usefulness for eye problems, such as styes or minor infections, is unsurpassed. Taken internally. Golden Seal is very helpful where respiratory congestion is chronic or where digestive complaints, such as peptic ulcers or colitis, are present.
The second of our herb superstars is the amazing GINKGO tree. Ginkgo’s importance demands further attention. A true “dinosaur”, Ginkgo is the oldest surviving tree on earth. Its botanical family is called Ginkgoaceae and it is the only member species.
Ginkgo’s association with antiquity and agelessness. Ginkgo is the premier herb for treating conditions which are often found in old age: stroke, heart disease, deafness, blindness and memory loss.
Traditional Chinese medicine knew the Ginkgo for its application in cases of poor circulation. The extract of the leaves is a vasodilator (opens the arteries for better passage of blood) and an anticoagulant (blood thinner). European civilization was introduced to the Ginkgo in the 18th century but at the time the tree was imported for parks and garden plantings and the Ginkgo’s medical value remained of secondary interest.
It is only in this century – indeed in the past 45 years – that western medicine has “rediscovered” the value of Ginkgo with Germany standing at the forefront in the scientific investigation of the herb’s properties. Today, Ginkgo herbal products are among the widest selling herbal preparation with sales well in excess of $500 million annually.
European studies into Ginkgo’s applications have covered stroke, memory and reaction time, heart attacks, intermittent claudication, macular degeneration, cochlear deafness, tinnitus, chronic dizziness, asthma, blood clotting disorders, allergies and high blood pressure.
Ginkgo is currently available as a standardized extract and is marketed in capsules, tablets and liquid tincture mediums. While it has a good safety record for self-administration, anyone who has a history of blood clotting disorder or is pregnant should not self-medicate without a doctor’s consent.
The third and last of our herbal superstars is one most will probably recognize since it has a famous reputation (some of it unearned) as a powerful “cure-all” – the herbal family of GINSENG.
Botanically, Ginseng is related to ivy (family Araliaceae) and it is native to America, the Korean Peninsula, Siberia, China and Japan. Three major types are recognized, two are of the Panax genus (the Korean, American, Chinese and Japanese) and the third is Eleutherococcus or Siberian.
Ginseng’s reputation as a “cure-all” owes its promotion to the ancient Chinese who used it widely and extolled its virtues for everything that ailed mankind. So strong was the demand for Ginseng in China that its uncontrolled collection in the wild led to near extinction.
Chinese Ginseng became so rare that its value rose astronomically and was worth literally more than gold until North American imports of the Panax quinquefolius variety renewed availability of the plant. Nevertheless, the medical value of Ginseng was not recognized in Western medicine until the 18th century when Jesuit missionaries who had lived in Asia reported the herb’s positive applications particularly in the treatment of long-term illnesses and disabilities.
Ginseng is what modern herbalists classify as an “adaptogenic” medicinal. This term broadly defines Ginseng’s ability to help the body cope with a wide range of stressful situations, for example, an athlete using Ginseng will find it helps reduce fatigue, a student using it will find mental concentration easier, someone suffering long-term illness will benefit from the herb’s ability to enhance the immune system.
Other “stressful” conditions that are assisted by Ginseng are radiation treatment (Ginseng has been shown to protect healthy cells), cholesterol management (Ginseng acts to increase High Density Cholesterol in the blood – the so-called “good” cholesterol), emotional distress (Ginseng counteracts adrenal exhaustion by preventing depletion of stress-fighting hormones in the adrenal glands).
Ginseng is not an “aphrodisiac” and should not be used by anyone suffering from blood-clotting disorders, anyone who is pregnant, anyone who suffers from asthma, high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmia.
Long term use of Ginseng should be monitored and the preferred type of herb for this is the Siberian or Eleutherococcus senticosus variety. Panax Ginseng (the Korean or American varieties) are best for short-term use. Ginseng is available today in standardized herbal preparations.
Ginseng is not a herb to be grown in one season and needs careful husbandry to produce well. It is native to shady under-story forest locations with temperatures not exceeding 75 degrees F. It takes a full 6 years for the roots to grow to maturity and in the process nearly all the mineral and organic nutrients of the surrounding soil is absorbed by the plant.
Consequently, after harvest the soil in the growing area must be either left fallow for ten or more years, or must be carefully re-fertilized with applications of organic matter and minerals.