Why An Herbalist Background Doesnt Qualify Someone To Treat Patients

I want to make a brief argument on why knowing that some particular root is good for treating gout or whatever doesn’t really hold value in this day and age.

Suppose that you have a headache. Knowing that modern medicine is in the pocket of Big Pharma and the Lizard People, you decide you go to your friendly neighborhood herbalist.

Let’s assume that the herbalist understands that willow bark can cure headaches.

They set to boil a sample of willow bark. This releases salicylic acid into the water. The customer (you) drinks the brew.

Do they know if that particular sample was high in salicylic acid? Was it low? Was that bark sample contaminated with a harmful fungus? How about any other dangerous microbe? Was there heavy metal contamination in the area where the bark was harvested?

Will a customer be ingesting a dangerous amount of salicylic acid sufficient to cause kidney damage? Will a customer consume enough salicylic acid to have an actual medical impact? Will a customer get sick from the brew due to any of the possible contaminants I listed above?

Alternatively, the customer can go to almost any store and get a purified, dosed, and utterly safe amount of salicylic acid in a Tylenol pill. They know precisely how much to take in a given period. The medication is buffered to reduce side effects. It is a time-release capsule so it is more effective.

For this case and by every metric, medicine beats herbalism. By every metric discussed here, herbalism is more dangerous than medicine. Medicine gives you all the benefits of herbalism with orders of magnitude less risk.

In my field, we’d say that the losing alternative does not have value as an option.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Jessica for correcting an error where I was incorrect on willow bark.

6 Responses

  1. Jonathan Brandt
    Jonathan Brandt at |

    What, exactly, is your field? Seems like you’re a jack of all trades. I cannot even begin to believe you’re a master of any!

  2. sarahhoep
    sarahhoep at |

    Herbalism by no means is a cure-all for serious medical conditions. However, herbalism as “People’s medicine” can often treat simple problems with simple solutions. Many classical herbalists use 1 remedy at a time as a rule. For example, a plantain poultice on a bee sting or burn. Herbal infusions to counteract any number of basic ailments (sleeplessness, constipation, lack of energy) where a pharmaceutical drug to address the same issue comes with many more side effects and a much higher cost.
    Most of the articles you have posted seem to debunk the pseudo-science of “alternative medicines” which I agree with much of the time. But truthfully, modern medicine takes the basis for many of its medicines from their herbal counterparts and enhances/controls them (yes) but also removes much of the essential nutritional components of those herbs and leaves us here with strong unwanted side effects or artificial ingredients that we just don’t need in our bodies. Not to mention the fact that our health care system is so flawed that many people with common irritating conditions can not afford to treat them using the “heroic” modern medicinal remedies.
    This article was highly disappointing and seems as if you are just plain reaching.

  3. Jessica
    Jessica at |

    I think you mean salicylic acid, like aspirin. I’m a pharmacy student.


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