Our focus will be to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of
herbal remedies versus traditional pharmaceuticals
For example why would someone take St. John's Wort vs Prozac or vice versa?
We will also be interested in addressing the question: why do plants make these chemicals that effect us so strongly?
Plants of Power
a BBC program
down side of natural
Use of herbs traced back to iceman who was carrying treatments for the intestinal parasites he had
UVa Exhibit on herbals
The web of species site has a listing of plants and animals on campus with lovely photos many of which I've used to decorate this page
The rules have changed and the FDA has less jurisdiction over "dietary supplements" which has resulted in skirmishes between traditional pharmaceuticals and herbals, big bucks are at stake
There are dangers of quakery
kitchen prescribed supplements
drug or supplement?
Common effects include: emetic, laxitive, increase or decrease blood pressure, slow down or speed up the heart, brain depressents or stimulants, anti-bacterial, deworming, stimulation of digestive juices, hallucinogenic
Consider the differences between us and plants. We meet our basic needs of food, water, shelter from weather and pests, and mating through movement. The data collection, processing and decisions going on in our brains is largely about where, when and how to move next.
Plants meet similar needs with a minimum of motion. They take what comes in terms of weather, nutrients, and pests. They accomplish their ends often by biochemical means. It should be of no suprise then that plants have chemicals that are usefull against bacteria, fungi and worms.
To understand the other effects consider the phytoestrogens. These compounds are apparently useful in preventing breast cancers when part of ones diet. However, sheep that eat a lot of these plants develop reproductive problems. Presumably the plants make these compounds as a defense against mammals, but small amounts may have a beneficial effect for us.
Most herbs fit this model i.e. their effects if a lot is consumed are unpleasant (vomiting, intestinal upset) or dangerous (heart stoppage, blood pressure problems, mental confusion )
Plants have also benefited from cooperative arrangements with other species, recall the accacia plant and the ants and the bees. Pollination and seed dispersal especially are dependant on these mutually beneficial systems. Fruits are the rewards that many birds and mammals get from plants for inadvertantly spreading their seeds. The laxative properties of fruits insures the seeds rapid transit through the digestive system and safe deposition with fertilizer.
an example of plants working together
herbs for skin disorders