A guide to herbal remedies
Wednesday 30th July
What you need to know before trying medicinal plants.
Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years and our ancestors would have taken them to ease aches and pains, and other common ailments. Modern medicine has in fact learnt many lessons from these traditional cures, and certain prescription medications today have their roots in the natural world. For example the active ingredient in aspirin, acetyl salicylic acid, is a synthesised version of a compound found in willow bark. Like all medicines, however, herbal remedies can have side-effects and may interact with any other medication you may be taking.
The herbal medicines below have traditionally been used to cure or ease the following conditions. The scientific evidence to support their efficacy is, on the whole, patchy at best and there are now strict regulations in place to limit the health claims that the manufacturers can make.
- Black cohosh: thought to ease menopausal symptoms and menstrual pain.
- Echinacea: thought to support the immune system and taken to ward off colds and flu.
- Evening primrose: thought to help with arthritic conditions and premenstrual syndrome.
- Garlic: thought to support a healthy heart and to prevent colds and flu.
- Ginseng: thought to improve energy levels and reduce stress.
- Green tea: thought to counteract fatigue and lower cholesterol.
- St John's wort: thought to help mild to moderate depression.
Are herbal remedies for me?
There is no single definitive answer and it is often down to personal preference. However, there are some important safety recommendations to bear in mind before you try.
- No herbal remedy can be guaranteed to be 100% safe, as they can cause side-effects and allergic reactions.
- Herbal medicines are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, for children or the elderly.
- They are generally not recommended for those with a history of liver or kidney problems, or other serious health conditions. In these cases, do not take any herbal medicine without speaking to your GP or consultant first.
- Herbal remedies can interact with prescription medicines, reducing or even increasing the effects of your medication, including possible side-effects. For example St John's wort is known to affect hormonal contraceptives and a long list of other types of prescription medication. If you are taking a medicine on prescription, therefore, speak to your GP or a pharmacist before taking any herbal remedies.
Know what you're buying
In addition to the recommendations above, another sensible safeguard is to check for a THR certification mark on the packaging. This means that the herbal remedy is part of the
Traditional Herbal Remedy scheme controlled by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The THR mark shows that the MHRA has tested the product to be sure that it meets set safety requirements and manufacturing standards, and is accompanied by accurate product information.
The NHS Choices website has an entire section on herbal medicine. Read more about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) along with topics on keeping healthy in our a healthier you section.
Click on the relevant link to find out about the CAM therapies, including homeopathy, that are covered by our cash plans for those aged 65 and under and the over 65s.