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There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different medicinal plants throughout the world. Some are used to treat various diseases. Others can help heal wounds. These plants contain beneficial properties or chemicals that can be used alone or mixed with other plants to create natural remedies. They can be added to culinary dishes, made into tea or taken in the form of powders, pills, tablets, capsules, or tinctures.
The use of medicinal plants began thousands of years ago. In fact, it is believed that most of these plants were accidentally discovered. Others were traditionally used and their knowledge passed down throughout generations. Still others were simply sought out and used because they possessed certain human-like features, such as with plants believed to have healing value based solely on their physical appearance.
Herbal medicine is still widely practiced in many parts of the world such as China, Egypt, and India. There are numerous practicing herbalists found in the United States as well. In fact, there are typically four major herbal traditions that have been practiced throughout history. These include Chinese, European, Egyptian, Ayurvedic (Indian), and Native American. All of these traditions use different types of plants in various ways for a variety of reasons.
Here in the United States, early settlers would often grow their own herbs — using them for both culinary and medicinal purposes. They also relied on plants that were imported from Europe. Many of the colonists became entranced by the knowledge and overall good health of the Native Americans. As a result, they too became eager to learn their secrets regarding different medicinal plants and how to use them.
Medicinal properties in plants vary, depending on how specific plants are used as well as the culture in which they are used. For instance, some medicinal plants may be smoked, ingested through food or tea, or simply applied to wounds. Additionally, various parts are used like the leaves, stems, bark, roots, flowers, or fruit. Depending on the part used, these plants can serve different purposes. For example, leaves, which are most often dried and made into tea for treating a myriad of conditions, can also be used externally and applied to wounds, broken bones, etc.
Throughout history, most people turned to the use of plants because they were readily available in the wild. They could be utilized right then and there. This was especially helpful for those living far from town or immediate care. Nowadays, many herbal plants are endangered due to over-harvesting in the wild. For this reason, most practitioners must either grow their own or obtain them from specialized commercial growers.
Healing properties from medicinal plants are also extracted and used in a number of pharmaceutical drugs. While in the past, much of the medicinal value was scoffed upon, based mostly on lore rather than scientific evidence, many doctors today are now open to herbal remedies. For instance, it is not uncommon for remedies of black cohosh to be recommended for relief of menopause symptoms. Likewise, elderberry has been found useful in treating the flu.
There are too many medicinal plants to mention in one article. For example, clove oil helps alleviate toothache pain. Aloe is good for treating minor burns. Remedies containing St. John’s wort have been found suitable for those suffering from depression. The list and uses of different plants for medicine can go on and on.
@KoiwiGal - Unfortunately, most of the medicinal plants of the world are so easy to grow and keep that there's no money in doing extensive research on their healing properties. Pharmaceutical companies are only interested in working on medicines that they can patent and they can't patent the effects of aloe vera on the stomach.
@pleonasm - I've always wondered if there was any truth to that idea that aloe vera can settle the stomach. I've come across it in a few different cultures, but I don't know if there have been any studies. Aloe is great for sunburn though, so I guess it's a good thing to keep it anyway.
I tend to think that if a lot of different cultures have the same idea about a plant, that it probably does have some truth to it. But I also know that in some cases the idea comes from the shape of the plant or some other kind of coincidence rather than from real effects, so I'd rather see some independent research as well.
Aloe is one of my favorite medicinal plants to keep around the house. You do have to make sure that you've got aloe vera though and not one of the other aloes.
When I was a student one of my roommates was from India and her mother had told her that she should eat a little bit of aloe vera every day in order to settle her stomach. This is apparently quite a common use of aloe, and you can get drinks and things made from it (although it tastes quite bitter, so I've never eaten it regularly myself).
My friend had never had to pick her own aloe, as they could just buy leaves at the store at home
, but she was quite proud that she managed to find some aloe plants near the ocean where we lived.
Unfortunately, when she showed me them one day, I had to tell her it wasn't aloe vera she was nibbling on every day. Aloe plants do look somewhat similar, but I know what aloe vera looks like and that wasn't it.
So make sure you've got the right kind of aloe when you go looking for it, or you might not end up with what you were hoping for.