Herbalism is the use of plants and herbs as medicinal drugs for medical, cosmetics or nutritional purposes. Two third of the plants around the world have therapeutic properties. As the research has established, over 40% of plants consist of the key ingredients which can be used in drug industries (herbtreatment.com/importance-of-herbal-medicine/page1.html). Popular use of medicinal herbs makes it necessary for us as health care providers to be aware of its benefits, risks and adverse effects so that we can educate the public about their use (O`Hara & Farrell, 1998)
History and Culture
Historic overlook is essential to understand the origin of herbal medicine. In the 9th century, the Islamic medical schools, called Bimaristan, started to appear in the medieval Islamic world. The Arab scholars highly thought of the Greco-Roman culture knowledge and translated thousands and thousands of them into Arabic. Arab scientists travelled to very remote places to bring in more knowledge and the other world sciences (wiki/List_of_Arab_scientists_and_scholars ). They travelled to China and India and brought different kinds of plants. They used those plants as medical herbs. The Muslim physicians expanded into herbalism and discovered the basics of this science such as Al-Dinawari, for example, who described more than 637 plant drugs in the 9th century. In addition Bin al-Bitar discovered more than 1400 plants; foods and drugs used for healing ( wiki/Herbalism). Baghdad, as Al-Andalus was an important station in the Arab & Islamic herbalism (wiki/Herbalism)
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In the Islamic culture, the Qur`an and Sunnah provide the guidelines of Islamic medicine. According to Sunnah, we recognize that for every disease on earth there has to be a treatment. The prophet Mohammed (pbuh) used the herbs to prevent and treat different diseases. He advised his followers to live a healthful lifestyle, control eating habits, avoid anxiety and have healthy sleep patterns ( Mohammad, Reeza, Lindsay, Ibrahim & Anke, 2008)
There are some natural products and herbs which are mentioned in the Qur`an and the Sunnah as a potent treatment for many diseases. Oils and vinegars or any extract from herbs could be used such as black seeds, olives, vinegar, honey and dates. Recent studies showed that the components of honey; sucrose, enzymes and minerals, decrease disease symptoms and improve health status ( Mohammad, Reeza, Lindsay, Ibrahim & Anke, 2008). Olive, Ginger, Marjorum, black cumin and vinegar are some of the herbal drugs which the prophet (PBUH) advised to use, which shows the concern of the prophet (PBUH) to get the wellbeing and good health for his followers (irfi.org/articles/articles_251_300/medicine_of_the_prophet.htm)
The focus of the paper will be tailored around the benefits and the different uses of herbal ingredients and how they can easily be applied as home remedies by anyone. I will concentrate on how to get benefits of most popular herbs in our culture and how to use them in different diseased conditions.
Why use herbs?
Nowadays, people have shifted their attention to different kinds of therapies. They are overwhelmed by the modern medicinal drugs in treating conditions that have no cure. Medicinal plants could be an alternative choice. Therapeutic herbs can be used to promote good health and prevent diseases. The lack of efficiency of the conventional medicines and the belief that everything natural has the most beneficial effects attracts people to use them (Furnham, 2002). Herbs can be used in different forms; dried or in powder form as in a capsule, liquid which is prepared from fresh or dried leaves like teas, and volatile oils for external uses only. (brighthub.com/health/alternative-medicine/articles/18467)
The purposes of herbal use include; maintaining wellbeing and nutritional support, preventing diseases, for relaxation or stimulation, and for therapeutic purposes. For example, to maintain a good health and nutritional support, herbs can be used daily for long periods of time. If used as a preventive measure, it must be taken intermittently; used for three days, stop using herbs for four, and then used again for three, and so on and so forth. Other herbs can be used as sedatives and stimulants, which should be used carefully and for short term only. The last type of herbs is relatively powerful and must be used with caution as they can be hazardous if not used correctly. These herbs should never be used long term. (brighthub.com/health/alternative-medicine/articles/18467)
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Herbs are useful in treating bodily pain and discomfort. They neutralizes the discomforts resulting from arthritis pain, hemorrhage and itching (Laughlin et al. Patent number 5854291, 1998). Herbs for pain treatment have analgesic properties by inhibiting the activity in the brain stem associated with pain receptors. This action may relief pain and decrease anxiety (Dillard & Knapp, 2005). Ginger, called zanjabeel in Arabic, is one of the most popular herbal supplements used in Kuwait mainly for gastrointestinal problems and anti-inflammatory conditions (White, 2007; Minaiyan, Ghannadi & Karimzadeh, 2006; & Kim et al. 2009). In pregnancy- induced vomiting and post operations, it has been shown to be very effective in treating nausea and vomiting (White, 2007; O`Hara & Farrell, 1998). The dosage for pregnancy induced nausea has not been studied yet, but most research recommends using 250 mg of powdered ginger 4 times a day.
Ginger may be used as an anti-inflammatory drug in many diseases such as arthritis ( White, 2007). In people with osteoarthritis, all the treatments were used to alleviate the symptoms such as pain and swelling. Altmaman and Macrussen in 2001 investigated the effects of ginger on patients with knee osteoarthritis. The researchers prescribed to the participants capsules containing the ginger extract. This study revealed a significant decrease in knee pain with mild gastrointestinal adverse effects In another study, it was proven that patients with knee OA can use ginger instead of Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Altmaman & Macrussen. 2001; Haghighi, Tavalaei & Owlia 2006). In 2006, Minaiyan, Ghannadi, and Karimzadeh showed that ginger reduces the duodenal mucosal damage in male rats by administering hydrochloric ginger extract orally (Minaiyan, Ghannadi & Karimzadeh, 2006). Recently, ginger has been proven to prevent the growth of human cancer cells by stop the proliferation of those cells. Ginger is considered to be a prevention material against different cancers types such as colon, lung and skin cancer ( Kim et al. 2009).
In Kuwait, asthmatic patients need special attention especially the children, because of the unstable dusty and humid weather. In asthmatic patients, the dyspnea levels, wheezes, coughs and chest tightness were significantly reduced when using ginger (Rouhi, Ganji & Nasri, 2006). These patients can use the ginger oil, which is 50% oil and 50% ginger juice, which is externally applied by wrapping the throat and the chest wall. The most effective form of ginger treatment is by using a ginger compress or plaster to both the anterior and posterior chest wall and to repeat this every few hours before the attack reoccurs ( Kushi, 2005). To expel secretions form the chest ginger tea is recommended; dried ginger pieces are boiled for 15-20 minutes and then drunk ( Kushi, 2005).
In stomachache, ginger tea is very effective in strengthening the stomach. Ginger tea can be prepared by boiling 3-5 grams of ginger in one cup of water. Ginger oil can also be used as drops in the middle ear to reduce inflammation ( Kushi, 2005). It was showed that using ginger juice in infants reduces the gastroesophagical reflux ( Rouhi, Ganji & Nasri 2006) . For menstrual pain, a warm ginger compress can be applied on the lower abdomen to relax the muscles. This can be done by boiling ginger roots in water for 15-20 minutes and dipping a towel in it. This will give like a deep heating effect (herbs2000.com/disorders/menstrual_cra.htm).
Basil, also called rayhan in Arabic is one of the kitchen herbs most used in Middle Eastern food. It has several therapeutic effects. Basil leaves known to be good treatment for pain and cough. Furthermore, it has a medicinal effect as anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and antioxidant (Ilhami Gulcin, Mahfuz Elmastas, Hassan Y, Aboul-Enien 2007). Basil has been used to treat everything from the common cold to bronchitis and even fever. Also it has been used as a digestive aid and can be beneficial for ulcers. Many studies examined the oral effect of basil and promised to be more than effective in all the aspects mentioned above( Kilham. atdonine.org). Basil can provide relaxation and stress relief and help the body to cope with the stress without affecting the mood by reducing the stress hormones. Basal can control blood sugar level in type II diabetes (Esiyok, Otles & Akcicek, 2004). Also, basil provides a mild sedative effect and treats headaches. The basils leaves are used ( Todd, 2001). Basil tea is made by putting 1 teaspoon of basil leaves in a cup of boiled water, and letting it sit for 10 minutes. This can be drunk three times in the day. The volatile oil can be taken internally in the amount of two to five drops three times per day (vitaminworld.com/vf/healthnotes/hn_live/herb/basil.htm).
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Rosemary, called iklel aljabal in Arabic, is composed of a needle-like leaves. It is a famous type of herb used as a flavor in food and to tender the meet while cooking. It also has many therapeutic effects; including an antiseptic, diuretic (Abu-Rabia, 2005), anti-carcinomas , antioxidant ( Zheng, & Wang, 2001), anti-inflammatory and anti-HIV (Peng et al., 2007). Rosemary is advantageous in improving poor circulation, heart palpitations and provides analgesic effect. It is also known to decrease headaches and relieve sleep disorders ( Todd, 2001). Part of the rosemary ,called needles, are used as a muscle relaxant ( Todd, 2001). Furthermore, rosemary can used to provide beauty by tightening the sagging skin and darken the hair color ( Todd, 2001). Rosemary tea can be made by using 3-4 spoons of fresh or dried rosemary and steep in hot water for 10 min ( Todd, 2001).
Sage, called miramia in Arabic, is one of the famous herbs in the Arab world. Historically, by our grandmothers, it was used for diarrhea, relieving menstrual pain, regulating menstruation and for stomach aches (Abu-Rabia, 2005). Also sage can be used for improving the nervous system function ( Todd, 2001) and improving cognition abilities in Alzheimer's patients (Akhondzadeh, 2003). In the cosmetics field, it is a good conditioner for the hair. Sage tea can treat sore throat (truestarhealth.com/Notes/1192004.html) by using 3 grams of the leaves with 150 ml of boiling water and waiting for 10 minutes (truestarhealth.com/Notes/2158004.html) then ingesting it.
Thyme, also called za`atar in Arabic, has a strong flavor and is very famous in the Levantine countries. Eating thyme with bread and olive oil can decrease the digestive effort for digesting the bread. Palestinians believe that eating thyme can increase the intellectual level in children. Maybe one day I will research that to prove whether that is a fact or fiction. Thyme is known to have an antioxidant effect (Zheng, & Wang, 2001). The whole upper part of the plant is used. Thyme is mainly used for healing the pulmonary system by drinking it after putting it in boiled water for five to ten minutes. In cosmetics and beauty, it helps clean acne in teenagers. The face rinse can be done by using three to five teaspoons of dried thyme in one and half cup of boiled water for 30 minutes. After that, it can be filtered and put in the refrigerator and use daily ( Todd, 2001).
From ancient times, lavender, also called khuzama in Arabic, has been used in many ways. Lavender was used in the War World I to relieve pain and to prevent infections (Hale, 2005). In the medicinal field, the flowers of the lavender are used as a pleasant tea which has sedative properties to provide relaxation, treat headaches and sleep disorders ( Todd, 2001). Insomnia can be treated by inhaling lavender oil as in aroma therapy (Leung & Foster, 1996). Lavender improves sleep patterns in hospitalized patients. Applying lavender oil with the combination of massage techniques will improve quality of sleep in rheumatoid patients (Hale, 2005). Also, lavender oil has antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal effects. Furthermore, it can decrease the anxiety levels in the heomodialysis patients. Lavender baths decrease labor pain for three to five days post-delivery (Hale, 2005). In cosmetics, a lavender bath mixture can be made by using two tablespoons of basil, lavender and cinnamon with two cups of witch hazel then left to steep for two weeks. After two weeks, a half cup can be put in bath water to enjoy a relaxing bath. For aching and tired feet use a handful of lavender and mint with hot water. They are refreshing. A combination of thyme, rosemary and lavender oils improve the hair growth in patients with alopecia (Hale, 2005).
Chamomile, called Babunij in Arabic, is an herbal plant known to be a treatment for headaches, sleep disturbance and relieving stress. The dried flowers are used to make chamomile tea. In cosmetics, it tones up relaxed muscles and lightens the hair and increases growth levels. To be used as a hair rinse, two spoons of chamomile can be put in four cups of boiling water and covered for thirty minutes ( Todd, 2001). For menstrual pain, chamomile tea can be used. Also, herbal bath composed of warm to hot chamomile tea and ginger tea can be beneficial in decreasing menstrual pain (herbs2000.com/disorders/menstrual_cra.htm). Chamomile is well known for treating skin disorders like eczema (Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). To treat upper respiratory tract infections, the vapor of the chamomile is inhaled (Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). Furthermore, it has been proven that chamomile reduces coronary heart diseases in elderly men ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). Also, chamomile is said to be helpful in removing gases from the stomach and easing the food motion in the intestine ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). Two Cups of chamomile tea, taken in the morning, treat nausea and vomiting disorders ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). For health promotion, a cup of chamomile tea enhances the immune system and prevents infections ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). In osteoporosis, chamomile enhances the discrimination of osteoblastic cells and exhibit anti estrogenic effect. However, extra research needs to investigate these effects ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). Chamomile improves quality of life in cancer patients by reducing anxiety, nausea, depression and pain ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009).
Most of the people who use therapeutic herbs believe that there is no limit to their use. They believe in using them over and over without dangerous side effects. However, chamomile, which is one of the sedatives, can cause severe allergies ( Janmejai, Srivastava & Gupta, 2009). Some of the herbs that are used as stimulants to reduce bronchial spasm can cause heart attacks and strokes. There are many herbs which can obstruct the effect of anti-coagulants such as garlic and ginger. Those can cause excessive bleeding. Garlic may interfere with the work of immunosuppressant. Some herbs must be avoided in pregnancy because they can pass through the placenta to the infant (Dash, & Sahu, 2007). Therefore it is advised to educate oneself about the appropriate dosage and usage of any medicinal herbs. Moderation is key and when in doubt consults a health care provider.
Home Remedies: Recipes
Herbs can be easily used at home. The most popular way for prolonged use is in form of teas. Herbal Teas are prepared by putting three spoons of the dried herb in a cup of boiled water and waiting for five minutes before drinking it. There are other types of teas which do not need to be boiled called decoction. Decoctions are made from roots, seeds or berry but need to be simmered in water for twenty to thirty minutes. When boiling the herbs with sugar, this kind is called syrup. In addition, vinegars are made by adding organic cider vinegar to the herbs and let it steep for two or more weeks. To use the herbs orally, they should be dried and then powdered and put in capsules. Herbs must be kept dried and clean in airtight containers. Extracts and infusions are also very common way to use herbs. When the herbs are pressed and then soaked in water or alcohol and then evaporated this makes the extracts and keeps its benefits. So when you decide to use them just dilute them in water. On the other hand, infusions are made when the herbs are steeped in hot water (not boiled) so that the benefits are not destroyed.
For external topical use of the herbs, four techniques could be used; oils, herb extracts, poultices, and compresses. For example oils can be used in massages to the sore areas. Herbal extracts can be added or any other forms of herbs, to an ointment and applied to the affected areas. The poultices are made from adding flour or other substances to the hot and wet herbs then extend on clothes and applied to affected area to relieve pain and inflammations. Furthermore, compresses are the moist clothes with the herbal solution and can be applied to affected area (brighthub.com/health/alternative-medicine/articles/18467.
Based on the information mentioned above, we can conclude the reason of the recent increase in numbers of people who use herbal medicines. Herbal therapies provide a cure without side effects or pain and they are what most of mankind is searching for. People have started to find alternative treatments other the convent readily available and inexpensive alternative to harmful chemical medications. In our Arab countries, using herbs extend the food and kitchen and become a cultural habit in using it as medications. Herbs are near and dear to my heart. They are a common practice among Muslims and in Arab cultures. Also they are inexpensive and easy to use. Herbs are used daily in my household. But, they have to be used wisely because some herbs can be harmful if mixed with others. For example, hypotension, fever, diarrhea and dizziness can all be caused by undesirable herbal interaction (Wong, Chan & Chan, T., 2003). Grandmothers always get some things from their kitchen to cure aches, pains and strains at the spot, with their motherly touch. Hopefully this traditional cultural medicine shall not extent in the Arab and Muslim world. In my supplemental material, which is a video, I will show how to make different types of herbal teas and how to use the ginger compress in different applications.