Humans and plants have been evolving together for millennia. We know each other: nature connects to every one of our 50 trillion cells. Plants work on a cellular level to repair and balance our own physiology, while alleviating symptoms. Plants therefore have few side effects if used correctly and appropriately. This is the major difference between mainstream and natural medicine.

From left are Anri van Rooyen (holistic health coach and partner in Ariani Health Solutions), Dr Arien van der Merwe (medical doctor specialising in natural medicine and founder of Ariani Health Solutions), Mariette van Niekerk (reception and admin) and Paddy Wallington (Weight Control Clinic nurse) in front of The Green Healing Space in Hope Street, Hermanus.

We sometimes forget that most mainstream medicines originally came from plants. Plants cannot be patented. Therefore, some active ingredients were isolated once technology developed, and these were then patented, while natural herbal remedies were maligned and fell out of favour. Now warnings around the dangers of herbal remedies abound!

However, it is mostly the prescription or OTC (over-the-counter) drugs that are bumped off the cell receptors because our cells recognise and prefer plants. Therefore, the medications accumulate and cause more side effects, and not the herbal remedies. We often forget that our natural state is to be healthy! Once this natural state is restored, health shines through. Of course, we also have to do some mind training to heal the messages (informational substances) we ourselves send to our cells! Read more about this on my website – under neuroplasticity and epigenetics.

Herbs are fresh plants (root, flowers, seeds, leaves or all of the above) with healing or medicinal (botanical medicine), aromatic and culinary properties. Most herbs and spices have all three characteristics and these can be used freely. When you add herbs and spices to your food, you not only improve the taste and aroma of the dish, but you and your family are benefiting from the healing properties of the herbs. When you put a bunch of fresh lavender or roses in your home, you brighten your space, but also enhance your mood with the specific properties of these flowers.

Garlic, ginger, turmeric, thyme, rosemary, basil and sage are herbs with a wealth of healing properties, acting mostly as anti-inflammatories – they also improve the taste, flavour and texture of most foods. Grow your own herbs and use them generously in food or take them as a tea.

Essential oils of lavender, camomile, orange blossom and rose geranium can be added to a bath to relieve stress and anxiety. These herbs can also be taken as a tea, as well as hibiscus flowers, sage and rosehip.

Echinacea, garlic, nasturtium flowers and leaves, camomile, sage and thyme are natural antibiotics which also support the immune system.

I believe in supporting the immune system to do what it is supposed to do, and that is to protect the body against all disease-causing agents. I advise against reacting in fear to a viral threat such as the Coronavirus, because the fear itself suppresses the immune system! And please remember that antibiotics are not effective against viruses at all. I therefore recommend Echinacea drops twice a day, for two days before traveling to the Far East, while away, and for seven days after your return. Echinacea is effective against viruses, bacteria and parasites (e.g. malaria).

Only a few general examples are mentioned here. More herbs are discussed in my book (also available as eBook) Health and Happiness and on my website (www.DrArien.co.za), where specific herbs are recommended to support different systems of the body. Also read about Medical Cannabis (Parts 1 and 2) on the website if you’re interested to know more about this and our marvellous Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and how to enhance its function through many herbal remedies.

Herbs with medicinal properties specifically, can improve our health and wellbeing, while restoring physiological function to the systems of the body. Although herbs are natural, the ones with mostly medicinal value must be used circumspectly, and some herbs are not always safe to take together with prescription medicine.

An example is St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is excellent for mild to moderate depression, but cannot be taken together with prescription antidepressants, because the prescribed medication then becomes potentially more harmful. Ginkgo biloba, on the other hand, is great for mild depression, to lower high blood pressure, improve concentration and memory, and can be used together with a prescription antidepressant. I would prescribe this to patients, while I support them throughout the process of gradually tapering their prescription antidepressants should they wish to do so. Ginkgo biloba has also been well researched for its efficacy in improving memory, concentration and blood supply to the heart, brain and extremities.

The increased interest in the use of medicinal herbs does not mean that we always understand exactly how they work. Plants are complex creations and forces of nature, where most active ingredients haven’t even been identified, and understandably, these compounds work together synergistically inside the plant. A herbal remedy therefore, is always much more complex than the use of single active ingredients.

There is not enough information and research on the interaction of prescription drugs with one another, let alone the interaction between prescription drugs and herbs. Herbs are combinations of many ingredients. Do not randomly mix herbs with over-the-counter and prescription medication. If you are uncertain, consult someone who is knowledgeable about herbal remedies as well as prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Having said that, most herbs are beneficial and improve general health because they support our physiology naturally, gently and effectively.

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