The Whole Herb: The Most Important Principle of Herbal Medicine
One of the problems with supplements overall is the tendency for pharmacological science (commonly referred to as “Conventional Medicine”) to attempt to isolate each and every chemical in the supplement. Conventional Medicine then bases a supplement’s efficacy on the individual chemicals and pronounces an “edict” as to its effectiveness. This “edict” is based on the results of testing with individual chemicals identified and either extracted from or duplicated (reproduced) in the lab. These actions violate one of the foremost principles of Herbalism and Naturopathic substances:
The whole herb or food is more effective than any of its parts administered individually or in combination.
What this means is that with all herbs (especially those identified as utilitarian for the human body), there are constituent parts that render the herb effective in one or more “departments,” such as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, diuretic, and so forth. The constituent utilitarian part of that herb is in balance with all of the other constituent parts/component substances…for that particular plant. The plant is in balance. From a biological perspective and in medical terminology, the plant is maintaining homeostasis…the physiological balance of form and function…with the amounts of component chemicals and substances in it…that are balanced/counterbalanced by other substances.
Let’s take garlic (Allium sativum), for example. Allicin is the substance found in garlic that is productive as an antimicrobial and antibiotic when consumed by humans. That level of allicin in the garlic is also balanced by a host of other chemicals, such as sulfur, for example, in a proportion that maintains homeostasis for the herb. In other words, when you consume the herb, you take in the substance that will benefit you (the allicin) as well as other substances that can be beneficial to you and that also “buffer” the effects of the primary beneficial substance. Also, it is a fact that garlic loses part its efficacy when it is rendered into a capsule, tablet, or extract: the fresh, whole clove has the greatest/highest level of allicin content, just as it is crushed, cut, or chewed fresh.
In its natural state, the herb or food is in a form that readily promotes its consumption. This is the natural state of affairs in all of life (not to become either didactic or philosophical), and can readily be seen by observing nature as a whole. Pineapple has bromelain, a substance that readily promotes the production of HCl (Hydrochloric acid) in the human stomach. Pineapple for this very reason helps a person to digest meat. The Dole Corporation would jump up and down reading this. The bromelain is made more effective when taken not as an extract, but by eating the pineapple with its Vitamin C, its fiber, and the amount of water that is in it naturally.
Carrots are another good example. They have a large amount of Vitamin A. Guess what? Too much of anything is not a good thing. Those carrots have enough Vitamin A to sustain a person’s RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for it. It is also in a form that is not harmful to the person, either to their digestive tract or their system overall. Your food is just that: food, to be taken in to satisfy you both nutritionally and to provide you with satiety.
Supplements are great, and I’m a big believer in using them…especially the ones made by good firms that are not just out to squeeze a dollar out of the consumer. Take a look at the word supplement…it is just what it suggests: to supplement (or complement) your diet. Supplements “round out” what is needed according to what you do in your daily activities. The more holistic and natural the supplement, the better it will be for you and the better it will enable you to perform.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” is an old saying that can be applied to almost anything in life. You cannot expect to be lean and fit if you slam down a half a bag of chocolate chip cookies each day, or hit the buffet at 3:00 pm and leave at 5:00 pm. You also cannot take the opposite route and just eat a “power” bar, pop some pills, throw down a shake, and still expect to perform.
Balance in all things in life will enable you to reach your goals. Regarding your supplements, they will make up for the shortcomings of your Happy Factory Farm-Conglomerate-Empire-supplied contents for your refrigerator. Meal planning is essential to your success, and your supplementation should take the form of things not readily available in your daily diet.
Bioavailability is another factor we need to discuss, and this translates into the ability of your body to actually process and benefit from the supplement you take. There are a tremendous amount of herbal supplements in pill form that are only half-hearted in effectiveness because they are degraded by your body’s digestive tract. I did an article on Pine Pollen, explaining that the sublingual method (spray or drops under the tongue) was the most effective way to take it, as it goes into the bloodstream and bypasses the digestive enzymes in your saliva and acids and enzymes in your Happy Stomach.
This is another reason the whole herb or food is often more effective than the extracted supplement: your body digests the food, and the food (its mass) acts as a buffer that keeps your digestive processes from destroying its beneficial qualities. Your Happy Stomach and Intestines then extract what is needed in the most natural way possible…the way it was intended to be processed. In the end, it’s your choice, but you can make better choices for yourself if you know the basics going in. Study and planning will give you the edge. JJ out!
Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.
Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.
Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.
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