Herbalists aim to treat the person as a whole, using the whole plant medicines to stimulate the body's own ability to heal itself. Herbs are chosen carefully to suit the patient as well as treat the disease condition.
Whereas an orthodox drug is a single compound, either isolated from a plant source or (increasingly) synthesized in a laboratory, a herbal medicine contains hundreds or thousands of different compounds. Sometimes it is possible for pharmacologists (who study the physiological activity of drugs) or pharmacognosists (who study plant medicines) to isolate and identify the active constituents.
However, herbalists believe that the activity and therapeutic effects of a plant medicine result from the combined action of the many constituents working together. In other words , "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts". There is evidence that this occurs, and a good example is found in Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis). This plant is used by herbalists to treat heart failure. It contains cardiac glycosides which are similar to those found in the Foxglove (Digitalis spp) but whereas the compounds in Digitalis can be isolated and shown to have pharmacological activity, those in Convallaria show very little activity as isolated compounds, but marked activity when combined in the whole plant. Both act to increase the power and force of the heartbeat without increasing the amount of oxygen needed by the heart muscle. Digitalis is also used extensively in orthodox medicine.
Another tenet of herbal medicine is that some constituents in the whole plant may "buffer" otherwise harmful side efefcts. There are plenty of examples of this occuring as described here:
Herbs can be used at home to treat minor ailments and to maintain good health. If you intend to do this a few common sense rules should always be observed.
Herbal medicine can treat almost any condition that patients might take to their doctor. Common complaints seen by herbalists include: