Herbal medicine – a new vision

I woke up this morning with a new vision of herbal medicine. (I’m not sure it really was a vision, but it came to me that way.)

God gave us the plant kingdom to feed us. I think we’re all pretty clear on that (and I’m glad he has a sweet tooth).

And to protect us. It wasn’t an accident that Jesus was a carpenter.  What is the single best building material in the world?  If you had to choose only one, wouldn’t it be wood?

And to heal us (and maybe more).  Here’s where things get muddy.

One more thing: in some way, much of this has been corrupted.

It’s like a whole barrage of things I’ve been studying lately fell into place.

Last spring I was teaching Sunday School and we did a little thought experiment: What would remain if all were right with the world? Think about your own neighborhood – what would be gone?  What would remain?

It’s easy to start with the obvious – no bars, no strip joints, no gambling storefronts.  Without trouble-makers, fires, and disease we’d need no police, no firemen, no hospitals, (and no government.)

What use would there be for doctors, or clergy, or tax-supported schools? No funeral homes, no drug stores, and perhaps no butchers.

Men weren’t made to drudge through life, doing the same old thing day after day.  So what would happen to coal mines, steel mills, off-shore drilling?  We know where mankind went wrong – on day one, more or less.  I don’t think we can even imagine where we would be if the world were filled with good.

Surely we wouldn’t need dentists – reason enough to rejoice, as I sit here with another thousand bucks of hardware in my mouth.

No tobacco shops, no tanning beds, no banks, maybe no football.  And no divorce courts or child abuse.

No churches, even.  Who would need them if God lived among us?

So what’s left? In my neighborhood the only thing my Sunday school class left standing was the ice cream shop.

Well, things aren’t right with the world, and some would say that’s just the way it is.  Evolutionists would think so.  But maybe that’s not the way things are.  Perhaps there are unseen powers battling it out over good and evil.

I was reading a book entitled In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation.  For one scientist, his belief was based on the apparent design seen within ecosystems, and how every component has a role and a purpose. Remove enough elements – sometimes only one – and the ecosystem collapses.

Does this mean that every plant has a purpose, or is it simply there, a stray seed blown by the wind, landing where it may?  I think most of us see the world this way.  Perhaps we’re wrong.

And then there’s C. S. Lewis, who said God has not given us desires that have no possibility of fulfillment.  Perhaps God has allowed no disease (other than death) without the possibility of a cure.

Remember when God looked at his creation and said it was good?  Is poison ivy good?  Not around me!  But perhaps it is good for something as yet unrecognized. Or perhaps the dermatitis it causes is due to corruption either within the plant or within our immune system.

Herbalists swear by the curative powers of jewel weed for poison ivy, though medical studies have not concurred.  But just because research does not confirm the benefit of a particular folk medicine does not mean it doesn’t work.  Perhaps the methodology was flawed, or the timing was off, or maybe the wrong part of the plant was used.

It’s a difficult job to sort out the snake oil from the truly effective.  Double-blind placebo-controlled studies are best at doing so, but are expensive, time-consuming, and unlikely to make it into the literature unless every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed. And in the medical world, if it’s not in a respected journal, few will listen.

As for medical prepping, it makes far more sense to learn how to use the plants that grow in your backyard than to stockpile herbs from China.

It also seems unlikely that God would wait until the 20th century to give us answers to disease, and unlikelier yet that he would reserve that power for big pharma.

Yet the scientific method is sorely needed in the realm of naturalistic healing.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is trying to make sense of it all.

What does this all mean for me, or you? I’m looking at those dandelions in my yard differently now.  I know I could eat them (if I had to). I know the flowers can be made into wine. But according to NCCAM, “There is no compelling scientific evidence for using dandelion as a treatment for any medical condition.”

Well, maybe they’re wrong. And maybe I’ll have to help prove it.

Copyright © 2011 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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27 Responses to Herbal medicine – a new vision

  1. Beth B says:

    For any biochemists/pharmacologists out there, I was wondering if anyone had thoughts or knowledge as to whether the strain of penicillin found in blue and Roquefort cheese had any antibiotic benefits.

  2. Beth B says:

    Sorry, my last post was addressed to GWTW!

  3. Beth B says:

    On August 1 of last year you challenged anyone to show “a plant or herb that cures a known disease/health condition.” I will give you two.

    First, there is a protocol for, of all things, gallstones wherein the stones are softened and then passed through the common bile duct and expelled via the rectum. The protocol involves two different herbal combinations, unfiltered apple juice, olive oil, lemon juice, and laxative. Before you start laughing, you should know that I have personally seen the successful results of this protocol, which have also been confirmed by ultrasound with an “empty” gall bladder.

    Secondly, I have successfully controlled my husband’s blood pressure (as evidenced by satisfactory MD visits) for 33+ years with a combination of odorless garlic capsules and CoQ10. After 36 years in nursing, I am painfully aware that Western medicine, while definitely valuable, is not a silver bullet.

  4. DanielinIllinois says:

    Personally, I believe that it is the innoculations and vaccines that truly HAMPER our development as a species. Why are we trying to dodge a sickness when it’s proven that the human body can fight off nearly anything. Just my two cents. P.S. ANYONE associated with big pharma will say that I am uber wrong, because the lies pay their wages.

    • Doc Cindy says:

      One’s attitude toward immunization changes some when you see a vaccine prevent a baby’s death. As a young physician, I encountered several babies who died of Haemophilus influenza infection (meningitis). Since the vaccine became standard, this tragic situation has changed.

      I once saw a dog die of distemper. That was no fun, either, and I’m a fan of distemper shots. Rabies shots, too. Certain vaccines, say Hepatitis B vaccine, are less palatable, especially when the disease is largely preventable by avoiding sex and needles. The logic behind giving this to newborns is the hope of wiping the infection out in the next generation.

    • Chris MD says:

      Daniel, let me advise you against swallowing the antivax stuff whole. There are few people in this country anymore who have seen the consequences of vaccine preventable disease. I know of no one who would volunteer to get polio or smallpox, which in the bad old days were classic examples of how our ability to “fight off just about anything” is not that great if our immune system is not prepared.

      When I was in residency, we admitted infants with H. flu meningitis regularly, and they followed the rule of thirds: 1/3 recovered intact, 1/3 died, 1/3 were permanantly disabled. Since the HIB vaccine, I have not had to deal with it at all. I do not miss it. In San Diego recently the consequences of vaccine avoidance began to show itself in a pertussis outbreak that killed 11 babies and led to hundreds being hospitalized. In my office we have had 2 babies die of pertussis in the last couple years. These things are real, and in a S*** situation, would only be moreso. Tetanus, pertussis and influenza are still very much here and would love to get a chance to spread. Get yourself current on vaccines while you can.

      Oh, let me point out that the “pharma shill” gambit holds no water. I would make a good bit more money if I did not give vaccines. Look around at the for-profit clinics and you will find almost all send patients to the health dept for vaccines, because they are a money loser. And the routine childhood vaccines (specifically excluding the newer shots) are money losers for the manufacturers, which is why there are so few left. We are constantly fighting shortages of the “normal” shots because the companies that make them run on a shoestring. Yes, there are some (currently, Gardisil stands out) that make money for the manufacturer, but most of the moldy oldies (DTaP, HIB, IPV, MMR) are long off patent and making no money for anybody.

  5. GoneWithTheWind says:

    It is reported that when Steve Jobs got a vary rare but treatable cancer he opted for “alternative medicine”. Jobs was a billionaire and not stupid so there is only one reason he would have made this choice: he, like many others, lived in a world where he constantly heard great things about alternative health care and negative things about science-based health care. In the year that passed before he realized eating healthy and browsing on herbs was not going to help him, his cancer progressed to the point where he could no longer be saved by science-based health care and he would die sooner then he needed to. This is a testament to so-called alternative medicine and what it means to all of us. You aren’t just dabbling in superstition because by your acceptance and compliments, you are convincing others that maybe peach pits will cure cancer or you don’t need to vaccinate your kids, just eat “whole foods” and walk briskly once a day and you will be beautiful at 90. Sadly, ignorance does hurt. “You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” I wonder, but will never know, did Steve Jobs realize at the end that he had been duped by the witch doctors and what he believed all those years was just superstition? Personally I would like to see his “naturalpath” on trial just as Michael Jacksons “doctor” is on trial…

    • There’s always something new in natural cures. One fascinating study currently in progress at Ohio State is the use of a virus that selectively kills cancer cells, leaving normal cells alone. It would be wonderful if this technology (Reolysin) fulfills its hoped-for goals.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        I sincerely hope some significant breakthrough occurs in the fight on cancer. However I have two points:
        1. I wouldn’t consider this “natural” since it would be science-based.
        2. After 5 or 6 decades of false hopes, failures, build ups to a let down and trillions spent looking for a cure for cancer, I’m thinking we aren’t going to find it. Either there is something wrong with the process or there is no cure. It’s certainly not from lack of funding.

  6. Diane says:

    for Gone with the Wind: I have to disagree with you and the disingenuous attitudes regarding plants. True, they are not a magic cure-all, but neither are statins or SSRIs… and look at the havoc they cause! I think, that as medical people, we have the ability to pick and choose the best of both worlds in herbs and allopathic medicine .. and to educate our community at the same time. If you want science, I’d suggest you look at Dr. James Duke’s websites for some science on plants. Having worked ICU and ER for many years, I certainly wouldn’t want a cup of chamomile tea if I was having a heart attack .. but send me home stable and I may look at changes in diet/lifestyle and some hawthorn in a whole new light.

  7. GoneWithTheWind says:

    Let’s separate what is possible from what is.

    Make a list of all the herbs and supplements that are hyped and sold today to treat health problems. I don’t think you can point to one that is safe and effective. Almost without exception these herbs are being sold to the gullible and will not help them.

    Now, is it possible that there are cures and new drugs yet to be discovered in exotic and common plants? Sure! I think it is likely we can find new drugs and real cures from plants and herbs. Let science study and test them and I will welcome their success. However make no mistake, no one pushing herbs today has any clue about these undiscovered chemicals. If you take the herbs and supplements being pushed today, you are shooting in the dark and are far more likely to harm yourself then help yourself.

    Regarding modern scientific-based drugs, I disagree. Lives are saved and real and serious illnesses are avoided or cured. Millions and millions and millions of people are alive today thanks to modern medicine. Are some medications potentially harmful, YES! Do most/all medications have side-effects, mostly undesirable side effects, YES! Over-the-counter pain relievers kill over a hundred thousand people every year and many prescription drugs can be deadly. I don’t take the risks casually and I recognize the effectiveness varies for a lot of different reasons. But what else do you have? I choose science over superstition.

    Last: People are harmed by the snake oil salesmen. You can absolutely go into a store that sells herbs and supplements and the 20-year-old high school graduate there will tell you what you can take to cure cancer, diabetes, and other serious diseases. They are breaking the law and selling hope to people who should be seeing a real doctor. Anyone who chooses to associate themselves with the herb and supplement industry needs to be very careful. The books that are available are pure baloney and the part of that community that is selling the products are stepping over the line.

    • chris3win says:

      I think your version of science is much more of a religion, and my anecdotal evidence and personal experience (with natural remedies) is backed by nothing but personal experience (and the experiences of thousands of others), and not a huge tightly ‘self’ regulated industry with the motivations of profit and power.

      Allopathic medicine has its place… acute / emergency care. Natural medicine has its place too… chronic / long-term care.

      When I was working at the Harvard Medical School and Boston General Hospital in the late 1980’s I was amazed at the level of ignorance about basic nutrition among the interns and residents with whom I interacted everyday. Nutrition and wellness was just not a part of their worldview, and although more and more doctors are learning about the efficacy of a wellness approach to health, I believe most are just paying lip-service to the idea… Drugs and Surgery is the name of the game… It is a worldview and it has its place, like I already stated, acute care. I do not blame the individual doctors for this, they are taught, trained and educated by a system that has a financial interest in the product of that education (doctors) having a very specific set of ‘blinders’ on to ensure that they continue to sell their products (i.e. drugs).

      Just my $.02

      • And very few medical students are thinking of primary care because the pay just isn’t enough considering the average debt load of over $200,000.

        You’re also right that it takes a different mind-set, one surgeons are unlikely to acquire, and primary care doctors only when they can actually get paid to practice herbal medicine. We’re in a bit of a quandry.

  8. KF says:

    Our early ancestors used nature’s biologicals for treatment of symptoms, infections, maladies, and analgesia.

    When pharmacological drugs run out in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, those tinctures, poultices, teas, and compresses will again be utilized and become “standards” of treatment.

    It is prudent to be prepared and knowledgeable of the potential chemical and treatment properties of a broad range of herbal and biological plants that can be grown in your specific region. Seek out reputable reference texts now,while they are available, so you will have them in hard copy and at hand in your own medical library for reference use. Purchase open-pollinated seeds for any plants you want to have on hand, now.

    If biologicals are the only sources I will have access to, to treat an ailing patient with, I sure am going to use them.

    • KF says:

      Two good reference texts that give chemical property analysis as well as pharmaceutical scientific data on herbals are:

      The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines by Andrea Peirce

      PDR for Herbal Medicines, 4th Edition, (Sept. 15, 2007)
      by Thomson Healthcare

    • Jacqueline says:

      Thank you for a reasonable, intelligent response!

  9. GoneWithTheWind says:

    Most of the claims of some beneficial medicinal effect of herbs is just some hocus-pocus, a fraud, BS. There are indeed some plants that can provide some relief of symptoms of minor health problems. There are no plants/herbs that will cure even minor health problems much less serious health problems. This is not to say that plants cannot be used as a source to refine and purify an actual medicine, but that is not the same as consuming the raw plant to get the same effect. Just as crude oil contains complex chemicals that with considerable refining and synthesizing can create wonderous things that are NOT crude oil any longer, a plant is a chemical factory that creates complex chemicals that can be extracted. But even after conceeding that, there are few plants/herbs that can be used as found (or dried or steeped or smoked) that have a medicinal value. Arguably pot is an exception, but it too falls into the category of masking symptoms vs curing health problems. The point is that “herbal medicine” is a pseudo-science and not a science. The many books which describe in depth which herbs and supplements provide what medicinal effect are pure baloney. It “looks” like a science they way it is described but it is pure ** and would make a witch doctor blush with embarrassment.

    I defy anyone to show me a plant/herb that cures a known disease/health condition.

    • Hi GWTW,

      You give me food for thought. But two comments: most of the medicines we use don’t cure anything either, aside from antibiotics, and even they require an intact immune system to succeed. The body heals itself for the most part, and physicians are privileged to nudge it along at times.

      I do agree that much of herbal medicine would not pass the test of true science, but some would. And you’re right, that plants are chemical factories, and if a berry or leaf is effective, it is probably only one or two specific proteins that are responsible for the improvement.

      I do not agree with those who take a gram of truth and expand it to a pound of advertising. Don’t you at least agree, GWTW, that scientific studies could verify some benefit of plant-based therapies?

      And, BTW, the only meds that can really be effective are biologically-active ones, that is, chemicals with an organic basis that can interact with an organic beings. Plants are a natural source of organic chemicals, as would be animals (and some minerals).

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        A few years ago 5 people attending a party died of poisoning and 3 did not die, but needed serious medical help, i.e. liver transplant. The culprit was some mushrooms the host had picked in the fields and forest that he incorporated into his dinner party meal. Do plants and herbs contain powerful chemicals, many of which could help us? Certainly. But most of the effective ones were incorporated into science-based medicine years ago. There are undoubtedly more as yet unidentified plants that may be beneficial, but of course they are unidentified. So what does that leave us with? 90% superstition, like rhino horns or tigers penis, and 10% that may have some beneficial effect for headaches or constipation, etc. How much do you take? Plants vary depending on time of year, weather, other environmental conditions. So how much will “cure” you and how much will make you sick? Most of what is written on the subject is superstition based from witch doctors and their equivalent. If the civilized world were to break down tomorrow and no doctors or medicines were available, headaches and constipation are the least of my problems. What will likely kill me or one of my loved ones will be something far more serious then willow bark can treat. I know of no herb/plant that will replace antibiotics or vaccinations. I think we would be fooling ourselves if we believed that herbs and plants will replace science-based medicines. Go to almost any third world country and you will be able to see the result of a lack of scientific-based medicines. THAT is what it would look like for us in the first world countries if we experience TEOTWAWKI.

        • Charles, MA, LCDC-III, CPC says:

          What we call “herbal” or “alternative” medicine here is called “primary medical care” in most of the world. Yes, there are risks with herbal treatments, but there are risks with anything. You need to know what those risks are and not be an idiot about it. Just because pills are “science-based” doesn’t mean they are safe and that I can go eat a handful of them. On the contrary, eating a handful of pharmaceuticals has a much greater chance of killing me than eating a handful of some random plant. And if the S ever does HTF, Pfizer and Merck won’t be around. Plants will. 🙂

          • GoneWithTheWind says:

            “Just because pills are ‘science-based'”!!!!!!
            DUH! What is the other option? Why it is superstition-based. Are you really trying to place a superstition on the same level as science? That is the whole point. If there were any value to a herb or supplement, then the science-based community has already used it or copied it. What is left in the “natural” herbal medicine are those things with little to no value or perhaps even harmful. 100 years ago you could argue that your risks and prospects were about equal in a choice between real medical doctors and witch doctors. To do so today makes you appear a fool and a throwback. Do you really believe tigers penis will make you virule or echinacea will prevent or cure anything? If you do, you are ignorant, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I mean you are not paying attention to legitimate scientific studies and your knowledge base is 100 years old.

            Regarding the comment “eating a handful of pharmaceuticals has a much greater chance of killing me than eating a handful of some random plant,” I can only incredulously reply DUH! Drinking too much water can kill you. If you took any science classes in school you would know that everything and anything is harmful is sufficient quantity. Your statement is stupid on it’s face. Let me help you with what I suspect you meant: Most modern medicines have side-effects and many can have serious side effects and they must be taken under the guidance of a doctor. But surely you don’t disregard the tremendous improvements in survival and reductions in symptoms that modern medicines have brought the world. Yes, there are risks and every individual in consult with their doctor has to decide if a particular medicine will provide them sufficient benefit for the risk involved.

          • Drover says:

            If things ever do get really bad, Big Pharma will not only be around, they will thrive. They will be the only (poison) game in town.

    • Chris MD says:

      GWTW, I agree wholeheartedly that there is much hocus-pocus, rejection of science, tree-hugging, nature-worshiping, wishful-thinking stuff in the current incarnation of herbal medicine, but I would think twice about discarding the whole of it. As I have said before, I am not willing to be completely dependent on pharma meds in a true TEOTWAWKI situation. I will use my deep aid kit as long as it holds out, but I do feel that I need to have something to fall back on afterwards. Honey, garlic, opium, willow bark aspirin, and a few others may not “cure” (depending upon your definition), but having a palliative option can make life more bearable. In my third world medicine experience, pain killers are in huge demand just for the aches and pains of living a hard life. Being able to make aspirin would make you VERY popular in such a setting.

    • chris3win says:

      That is a great challenge… however the medical industry has deemed it illegal for anyone but a licensed MD to cure anything, so how is it legally possible for anyone to show that an herb cured anything when to do so would be practicing medicine without a license and therefore subjecting themselves to the potential consequences of a broken system…

      Many herbs and natural remedies are as effective as drugs and are far less risky.

      Yes, you can’t just go to a flunky snake-oil salesmen and get your remedy.

      However, most well-trained herbalists will help with many remedies to a much greater extent and at much less cost that an allopathic physician can or would.

      Again, this is not because doctors are bad or stupid, they are neither, and I have many friends who are MDs, and I value their insight, and seek their counsel, yet they are not the only path like GoneWithThe Wind is explicitly stating.

    • Moggy says:

      GWTW…In response to your challenge: Asclepias tuberosa a/k/a Pleurisy Root. It is a diaphoretic, expectorant, carminative, sudorific, anodyne; large doses are emetic and cathartic. It cures fevers, pleurisy, pneumonia, inflammatory rheumatism, dyspepsia, tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis…but I wouldn’t recommend it for children.

      It possesses specific action on the lungs. After three weeks in a hospital an acquaintance was sent home with little hope of healing. Applying the instructions given regarding this herb that I dug fresh from my medicinal herbal garden, she was cured and back on her feet in less time than she spent in the hospital.

      • Though I have no experience with this herb, doctors would call this anecdotal evidence. Maybe she was going to get better anyway, maybe not. Should I have time in this world, I’d like to do some controlled studies of various herbal remedies, but such studies are very time-consuming and/or expensive – especially if you follow protocols for typical randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled research. Doctors are accountable for what they advise, your neighbor is not.

  10. Charles, MA, LCDC-III, CPC says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I have recently started some to formally study herbs for some of the same reasons. When I walk out my back door, I have access to a wide variety of edible and medicinal plants: dandelion, blackberry, plantain, chamomile, wild carrot, and a wide variety of others. To me, being prepared encompasses not just what I can buy, but what I find around me, as well. I am beginning to understand exactly how much God has already provided.

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