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.