Herbal Medicine: A Quick History
Herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years. In fact, archeologists have found flower fragments and pollen from many different medicinal plants in the tombs of Neanderthals that are more than 50,000 years old. Cannabis has been used in China for over 8,000 years and there is evidence that the poppy seed (and the opium obtained from it) has been used for over 5,000 years. And in 1991, the mummified remains of a human, estimated to be 5,300 years old and known as “Iceman,” was found with two pieces of birch fungus which were believed to treat intestinal parasites.
The reliance on botanical medicine remained throughout the ages, and in fact, were formalized into areas of study in many cultures, with the Indian study of Ayurveda and Chinese Herbal Medicine being two of the more popular. In the United States, herbal medicine was used through the early 1900s. Many of these herbal remedies were prepared and administered as fluid extracts and tinctures. But with the passage of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act, there was a cultural and philosophical shift in the approach to medicine. This shift was accelerated a few years later when new and promising medications such as sulfanilamide (a new German antibiotic) were introduced, offering a more efficient and economical way to develop synthetic drugs. As a result many of the herbal medicines, once readily available in pharmacies, were eventually replaced with synthetic versions until by the 60s, botanical remedies had disappeared. (1)
A European Inspired Throw Back
But herbal remedies, which had never really been discarded in Europe, were proving not only therapeutic for the patient, but more economical. Echinacea and saw palmetto were two herbs in particular that were reported to contain therapeutic benefits – without any significant adverse side-effects. Americans began asking for these and other herbal products, companies began selling them and by the late 1990s, the annual sale of herbal supplements in the US had reached almost $4 billion.(2) Not surprisingly, laws and regulation were an issue, and remain one in the US today.
Still, the numbers don’t lie – herbal and vitamin supplements are here to stay. According to a 2019 study by The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), 77 percent of Americans use dietary supplements. A few interesting specifics in this survey:
- 79% of female adults
- 74% of male adults
- 76% of retired adults
- 79% of adults 55+
Of the types of supplements taken in the survey, vitamins and minerals were most frequently used (76%), followed by specialty supplements (40%), with herbal and botanicals next (39%). (3)
Results from this survey reveal a strong consumer confidence and trust in dietary supplements. The CRN has identified growth potential in specific categories, such as herbals and botanicals, as well as in specific supplements, such as vitamin C and melatonin.
Tulsi: An ancient herb with power
Of the medicinal herbs getting attention lately, Tulsi (Holy Basil) is one that deserves a closer look. A native to the Indian subcontinent and grown throughout much of southeast Asian Tropics, Tulsi is sometimes referred to as “Elixir of Life” for its healing powers:
Tulsi Supports A Healthy Immune System
A study published in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Tulsi was administered to a control group (300 mg capsules) to study the levels of Th1 and Th2 cytokines (hormonal messengers responsible for most of the biological effects in the immune system). After four weeks, the results were a significant increase in the levels of T-helper cells of the control group. (5)
Tulsi Helps Fight Infection
Because of its antimicrobial properties, phytochemicals and antioxidant properties, Tulsi has been proven to protect against all kinds of infections from viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa. Tulsi was even effective against malaria and typhoid. (6)
Tulsi for Stress Reduction
Stress is a part of everyday life. There’s no avoiding it, no ignoring it. Stress can be external (the weather, work, traffic) or internal (chronic disease, hunger, fatigue). Resolving stress sometimes is as easy as eating a meal or taking a nap. Other times, it takes a bit of effort and steady support from family and friends to get through a stressful situation. And the long-term effects of stress, especially on the immune system, often show up as inflammation in the body, which, over time can lead to stress-related diseases such as hypertension and some neuro-generative diseases, and even depression. (7)
In a randomized, double-blind study, after six weeks, tulsi was shown to decrease to improve symptoms related to stress such as forgetfulness, sexual problems, exhaustion, and sleep issues by as much as 39% with no adverse side-effects. (8)
A quick search online will show that there are a number of ways to add tulsi to a diet:
- Tea is the most common and easiest.
- A traditional ayurvedic preparation of tulsi is to mix it into ghee, oil or honey. This preparation is supposed to slow the assimilation by carrying the herb further down the digestive tract.
- Fresh leaves of tulsi, juiced, can be rejuvenating for the immune system. Typically the juice is mixed with honey to help resolve colds, fevers and respiratory issues.
- 3-4 Raw leaves chewed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach can boost immunity.
- Take Be Serene daily to get the benefits.
Natural Immune Support
The numerous research articles seem to indicate that adding tulsi, the “Elixir of Life” to a person’s regular health regimine can not only help improve immune function, but manage stress and modulate blood pressure. Still, a quick review of the tulsi supplements available online shows the need for caution and proper guidance when considering adding tulsi to an existing health regimen.
There are other natural ways to improve immune function, including: diet, exercise, sleep/rest, breathwork, yoga, bodywork (massage, acupuncture),
Before making any significant changes to an existing health regimine and/or diet, it is best to speak with a medical provider or nutritionist so that a patient’s health can be monitored properly. In addition, if tulsi or any other supplements are suggested, proper dosage can be prescribed, best products recommended, and any potential negative interactions with present medications can be monitored.
1. Tyler, V.E. Herbal medicine: from the past to the future. Public Health Nutrition 3(4A), 447-452. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7c21/188826fb3dc1d43d3eb347acb6f29b976afd.pdf
2. Breboort, P. The booming U.S. botanical market: a new overview. HerbalGram. 1998; 44: 33-46. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue44/article1309.html
3. The Council for Responsible Nutrition. Dietary supplement use reaches all time high. https://www.crnusa.org/newsroom/dietary-supplement-use-reaches-all-time-high
4. Jamshidi, N., Cohen, M.M., The clinical efficacy and safety of tulsi in humans: a systemic review of the literature. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 2017: 2017: 9217567. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5376420/
5. Mondal, S., et.al. double-blind randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (ocimum sanctum linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2011 Jul 14; 136(3): 452-6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21619917/
6. Cohen, M. M. Tulsi – ocimum sanctum: a herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4) 251-259. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/
7. Mohd. Razali Salleh. Life event, stress and illness. Malayasian Journal of Medical Science. 2008 Oct: 15(4) 9-18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/8. Saxena, R.C., et.al. Efficacy of an extract of ocimum tenuiflorum in the management of general stress: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2012. Article ID 894509. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/894509/