Other Healing (Herbal) Modalities
Many health care professionals, including naturopathic physicians, chiropractors, and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda (the ancient system of health care of India), use herbs and herbal formulations. Herbs also play a part in other types of natural health care, including aromatherapy and homeopathy.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using aromatic plants to treat various conditions and maintain overall health. It dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, who used fragrant plant oils in healing baths and therapeutic massage.
Legend has it that modern “aromatherapy” was born in the 1920s, when a French chemist inadvertently discovered the power of plant oils when he burned his hand and plunged it into the nearest cool liquid he could find: a vat of lavender oil. The pain was relieved and the burn healed remarkably well, with no inflammation, blistering, or scarring.
Modern aromatherapy uses essential oils, which are volatile liquids distilled in a way that selects miniscule molecules and leaves behind heavier plant waxes, oils, and other materials. Thus, essential oils are incredibly potent and deliver what the experts consider to be the “essential” parts of the plant: its phytochemicals and its scent.
Today, aromatherapy is practiced by aerial diffusion, direct inhalation, and topical application (via massage). Experts theorize that it works in two ways. The first is through aroma, which moves through the olfactory system to stimulate limbic (emotional) centers of the brain. The other is through a direct pharmacological effect: The oils' beneficial compounds are delivered via the skin or mucous membranes.
Homeopathy is a school of natural medicine developed in eighteenth-century Germany and based on a simple theory, called “the law of similars,” which holds that a substance that produces symptoms in a healthy person will cure a sick person showing the same symptoms (the word homeopathy comes from two Greek words: homoios, meaning “similar,” and pathos, meaning “sickness”). In shorthand: “Like cures like.”
The “like cures like” theory of homeopathy is not as far-out as it might seem. It's actually rooted in ancient Greek tradition, where it was called similia similibus curentur, or the “similia principle.” Centuries before homeopathy was developed, Hippocrates had found that he could treat recurrent vomiting with an emetic herb (one that would ordinarily be used to induce vomiting).
The other basic tenet of homeopathy is the law of potentization, which holds that the lower the dose of a medicine, the greater its potency — and effect. Homeopathic remedies are sold according to their potency: The ingredients are diluted, then shaken over and over again (in a process called succussion) until there are only miniscule amounts of the original compound (or none at all) remaining.
Many homeopathic remedies are derived from plants, and others use minerals and animal parts.
Flower essences, also known as flower remedies, were developed in the early twentieth century by British physician and homeopath Edward Bach (pronounced “Batch”), who felt that many, if not all, of the physical problems people face are tied to our emotional state. According to Bach, you could be healthy only after you cast out the negative emotions — fear, worry, animosity, and indecision — that destroy your body's equilibrium.
The most famous flower essence product is known as “five-flower remedy” and sold under various names (the most popular of which is Bach's Rescue Remedy). It's a premixed combination of the essences of cherry plum, clematis, impatiens, rock rose, and star of Bethlehem, used to relieve the stress caused by travel, injury, or an upcoming event.
Bach came up with thirty-eight flower remedies, all based on the homeopathic principles of similarity and potency. He chose flowers that reflect the condition that needs attention (the aspen tree, which seems to quake before a storm, gives us the remedy for anxiety and apprehension, while impatiens is prescribed for individuals who are hasty and — you guessed it — impatient).