The History of Indian Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine


Posted by Mia Ponzo | Posted in Complementary Alternative Medicine, Information About Herbs, Natural Health | Posted on 17-02-2014

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Indian Ayurvedic Medicine

Herbal medicine, as we said, has been around since the beginning of time, and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine (Ayurveda means the “science of life”) has been around for ages as well, in fact something like 5000 years ago (some estimates go back as far as 10,000 years ago!). The practice was even documented historically from as far back as 2000 years ago in written form, but it has been around for literally thousands of years longer than the written word. In fact, it is said in the ancient writings to come from divine revelation and what the people called “the universal religion”, which is an interesting term. They also say that the energy that is harnessed for healing is “universal energy”. So, in Ayurveda, it is believed that at one time in the far, far past, all human beings were of one religion! They were also firm believers in the astrological significance of things, including how it relates to one’s health. Now, Ayurveda actually encompasses many, many different healing practices, including hands on healing, gem therapy, yoga, color therapy, universal energy, the charkas, herbal medicine and much, much more, but we will concentrate on the herbal aspects for the most part here. While the concentration on natural, non-invasive healing methods is inherent in Ayurveda, there is also a system of Ayurvedic surgery, which has carried from its beginnings in ancient times, right up to the present. Now, whether it’s true or not is unsure, but many of the old epic writings talk clearly about intricate surgeries, even including eyeball and head transplants! And, if you can believe it, all of this was written during and prior to the 6th Century BC! Thus, it is very likely, if not certain, that modern day surgical practices were taken from the ancient protocols of Indian Ayurvedic medicine.  Also, there are writings that go into great detail on topics that are only still just coming to light in modern times, for example, on embryology and the other minute workings of the human body.

Traditional Systems of Medicine

Traditional Systems of Medicine

Back in 1500 BC Ayurvedic medicine was so important and so well known that people would go to India, to one of the two great Ayurvedic schools of that time, to learn about it, people who were literally from all over the world, far and wide. In fact, it is said by some that every single subsequent medical practice in any country either ancient or modern originated from the practice of Ayurvedic. Nowadays Ayurveda is only known in India, and, unlike Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda is not popular world-wide, although there are a very few places where people have opened Ayurvedic healing centers outside of India, although there are some in America and Europe.  It is still very important, particularly in India, and that is probably due to the fact that it works. What was good back in ancient times is still good right up to the present. In fact, we even have at least one very professional, clinical Ayurvedic center here in Kuwait.

Ayurveda is based on several things, and takes into consideration a variety of important observations. Then, once the body, system, or situation is completely understood, can a complete system of healing be prescribed, which might include dietary changes, courses of specialized massage with special herbal oils, and herb blends to be taken internally, and more depending on the diagnosis. In Ayurveda every aspect of the human being is taken into consideration, including the body, the mind, and the soul.

Textbook of Ayurveda

Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume One: Fundamental Principles

The most basic delineation in Ayurvedic medicine is the three basic body types, including Vata – Air (also called prana), Pitta – Fire (also called Agni), and Kapha – water and earth (also called Soma), which are supposed to be completely balanced in order to have good health. So, if they aren’t balanced, for some reason, (which is discovered during the initial and subsequent visits with the Ayurvedic doctor through a variety of tests, including interviewing for symptoms, pulse taking, examining the tongue, and more) steps are taken to get them balanced again right away. In Ayurveda, it is believed that the body becomes balanced and unbalanced through the stomach, and thus, the healing mechanisms are aimed mostly to the digestive system. So, when the Ayurvedic doctor determines the root cause of the disease that the patient is suffering from, the causes can be easily balanced. No two people, even those who suffer from exactly the same disease will have the same treatment. Everything will depend totally on the individual makeup of that particular person.

In Indian Ayurvedic medicine it is said that there are six “tastes”, which are each made up of two elements, and include sweet (earth and water- ex. milk, rice, dates), salty (water and fire- ex. salt, kelp), bitter (air and ether- ex. dandelion root, bitter melon), sour (earth and fire- ex. yogurt, lemon, tamarind), pungent (fire and air- ex. onion, radish, ginger, chili), and astringent (air and earth- ex. apple, pomegranate, plantain). It is also important to consider if the food is heating or cooling, for example, sweet, bitter and astringent are cooling, and sour, salty and pungent are heating. In Ayurveda both raw and cooked foods are utilized, depending on what the problem is and what is required to cure it. It also depends on the type of food itself.

Textbook of Ayurveda 2

Textbook of Ayurveda, Volume Two: A Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment

Over the centuries since writing was invented, there have been literally thousands of texts written on Ayurvedic healing and the use of herbs and other healing substances. As of the turn of the turn of the century (1900 AD) over 1800 healing substances had been identified and written about. This tradition carries on today, and the same substances that were used from ancient times are still being used right now, with very, very little change. That is because they didn’t need to change anything. Those ancient writers and practitioners, who claimed to have gotten their information through divine inspiration, were right on the mark from the beginning, as was witnessed by the interest in scholars from the many different countries that flocked to India back in ancient times, to learn all about this medical wisdom. Now, as before, Ayurveda is picking up popularity worldwide, which seems to be a good, beneficial thing. So, if you are suffering from a medical problem, that no allopathic doctor knows how to treat, take it to the Ayurvedic doctors. It is very likely that they will be able to help you!

Chinese Herbal Medicine


Posted by Mia Ponzo | Posted in Complementary Alternative Medicine, Information About Herbs, Natural Health | Posted on 17-02-2014

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Chinese Herbs

With the natural remedies craze that is happening all over the world now, Traditional Chinese Medicine has taken a proud seat, front and center, in the quest for useful alternative methods of treating one’s medical ailments. Westerners and Easterners alike are being treated by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners of Chinese and even western origins. That is because of the fact that it works. Something that has been used by literally millions of people, for literally thousands of years is something you can trust with a fair amount of confidence.

            Chinese herbal medicine is the third oldest known in the world and the first recorded use of herbs and natural medicaments, in the form of a discussion between the Yellow Emperor and his doctor, which is said to have been written by the doctor and scribes of the Yellow Emperor around 2700 BC. (Although this varies depending on who is reporting the history, and most historians set the date much later). But, it is estimated that herbals were being used in China from more than 5000 years ago, and possibly more!  After that first writing on Chinese herbals, another famous Chinese herbalist wrote, arguably, one of the most important treatises on herbs in the history of Chinese medicine. And it was all based on the author’s own observations and experiments. His name was Shen Nong, and his writings are some of the most important of all times, among a host of other important Chinese practitioners. Bearing in mind that much of the ancient Chinese history of TCM is based on myth and conjecture, the best we can do is take the valuable information from the actual writings, particularly the “Materia Medica” of the numerous ancient writers on the subject and benefit from their vast experience and expertise, leaving the actual “history” of who and when to the historians (who, by the way, don’t agree on it either).  

Chinese Herbal Medicine Formulas and Strategies

Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas & Strategies (2nd Ed.)

Chinese medicine is based on a total analysis of the body, including the taking of the pulses, checking the tongue, and the overall appearance of the body, and according to what the patient presents. This is very important in TCM, since every factor in the body and in the external environment affects the health of a person, and as such, must be taken into consideration. With Traditional Chinese Medicine, the idea is to carefully get the body to go back to homeostasis (balance) in a gentle way. The ideal method is to get this to happen without any side effects and, with TCM this is accomplished. The goal in Chinese medicine is to keep a person healthy, and to prevent illness from happening, so the Chinese normally see their doctors regularly for treatments when they are not ill, and would get upset with their doctor if they did fall ill!

There are several branches of Chinese medicine that are all considered completely valid. They include acupuncture (which is an energy revitalizing treatment using very thin needles at a variety of important energy points, depending on what the problem is) (along with acupressure (which is like massage, but very specific and strong, on certain pressure points over the entire body, moxibustion (which is a kind of treatment using a special Chinese herb burned over pressure points), cupping (which is using a vacuum to create suction on pressure points, etc.), herbal medicine (which uses traditional Chinese herbs in a variety of ways, including herbal tinctures, herbal infusions and more), “power and spirit” exercises (including Qi Gong and Tai Chi (which are both a kind of martial arts concentrating on the specific use of energy and how to control it), and nutritional therapy (which is therapy based on the diet of the patient, depending on what the patient needs) (all of which we will discuss further later on). Each of these methods is useful alone, and using several or all of them together is the best of all.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine

There are almost 2000 known Chinese herbs that were extensively written about since ancient times in China, and literally thousands of set prescriptions that have been written about in the ancient Chinese herbal books. Presently, there are almost 6000 herbal substances that are written about in the present day Materia Medica. A couple of the more well known Chinese herbs are ginseng (which is also found in some other places in the world as well, and is good for rejuvenation, increasing energy and immune function, and as a general tonic herb), and Dong Quai (which has been used as a general tonic as well, but has come to be known also for it’s benefit to menopausal and post-menopausal women as well). And there are many more where those came from. The ancient herbal practice, along with the wide variety of other medical practices of the Chinese are still being used almost in their original forms up to the present day as well.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is recognized all over the world now, and is accepted as a bonafide medical practice that is valid and beneficial. Even the AMA (American Medical Association) and the WHO (World Health Organization) have clearly accepted Chinese medicine in many ways, particularly in the case of acupuncture.

Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications

Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications

Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies treat every sort of ailment from the common cold to cancer and are quite successful, providing the practitioner is qualified and experienced.  There are TCM practitioners all over the world now, in practically every country, including Kuwait. In fact, in Kuwait, the Ministry of Health even has a special branch that only uses Traditional Chinese Medicine and brings specialized doctors of TCM directly from China!

Western Herbalism


Posted by Mia Ponzo | Posted in Complementary Alternative Medicine, Information About Herbs, Natural Health | Posted on 15-02-2014

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Western Herbalism

The first leg in our tour of herbal medicine will be Western herbalism (also known as Western phytotherapy). That is the tradition that I practice and is the tradition that is practiced in America, where I’m from. Although it is not the absolute oldest herbal tradition, it has certainly been around since the first people inhabited Western Europe and used the herbs they found growing naturally in those areas. From England and the surrounding areas of Western Europe, western herbalism went to the Americas with the settlers and the use of some of the American naturally growing herbs became a part of the western herbal pharmacopeia. The western herbal tradition goes back as far as the Greeks and the Romans and is still valid up to the present time. Throughout the ages there have been some well-known practitioners of herbal medicine, including those most ancient of practitioners, men such as Galen, Dioscorides, and the most famous Hippocrates, after whom the Hippocratic Oath (that all doctors up to the present day still take) was named.

Later in history there were other important herbalists whose herbal traditions were so accurate that their findings are still used now. In fact, when you compare the older herbalists to the newer ones, you will usually find that the older herbalists had far more knowledge than any of the modern ones. People like Nicholas Culpeper are still well-known even now, and their works are still valid.

In fact, it is interesting to note that many, if not most of the modern day chemically formulated medicines that we use today were originally formulated from natural herbals. Later on, certain constituents of the herb were isolated and often reconstructed with chemical additives in order to produce the medicine that is now used. Aspirin is a good example of this process. The ingredient in aspirin that was originally taken from the white willow tree was salicin, which is turned into something called salicylic acid, or the precursor of acetylsalicylic acid, otherwise known as aspirin. Another extremely important modern medicine, which has been said to be “the most valuable cardiac drug in history”, is Digitalis purpurea (otherwise known as garden foxglove, a beautiful flowering plant), was turned into modern day digitalis. This drug is presently used as a cardiac stimulant. The fact is that there are many more where that came from, and more on the way.

Even in these times of amazing technological growth, new discoveries, and synthetic medicines, often the old standards, and herbal remedies are the fastest working, most effective solutions. In fact, traditional herbal medicine is fast becoming the medicine of choice for many, and with good reason. If used correctly and carefully, herbal medicine should have no side effects at all!

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments

All types of herbal medicine are holistic (meaning for the whole person, physically, spiritually, and emotionally), and Western herbal medicine is no different than the rest in this respect. With western herbal medicine the idea is to gently return the body into homeostasis (natural balance), through as completely natural means as possible. This is accomplished through the medical herbalist’s complete understanding of the patient. The only way this can accurately and successfully be done is by taking an absolutely complete medical history, including environmental, dietary, and familial aspects, and also, taking into consideration the person’s emotional state, life influences, and more. In fact, this is so involved that the initial history taking might take up to two hours, or even more! This is necessary though, because, in order for the practitioner to treat the person properly he (or she) will need to know as much about the patient as possible, in addition to observing the patient and his (or her) reactions to treatment and life in general. At the same time, the person needs to help the practitioner, and over time, the practitioner will be able to see whether or not the person is keeping his end of the bargain by following the advice of the practitioner.

There are around 3000 herbs in the western herbal pharmacopeia, although not all of them are widely used. Some of the most common ones that are used are lavender, which is from England and France, and is so beneficial that it can even kill the worst infection, and prevent the scarring of a serious burn, and Echinacea angustifolia, and Goldenseal herb, which have become two of the most up and coming herbs for increasing the immune system, among other things.

Thus, western herbal medicine, although it has literally been around for thousands of years, is still probably the best choice on your list, in most cases by far. People are constantly amazed at how fast herbal remedies work (although herbal medicine is often rumored to have a slow action). In most cases, they will work so fast that you will forget why you took them. Just be sure to consult a good herbal practitioner (or book, at least) before starting out on your herbal adventure.

And here are a few more really excellent, highly rated books on Western Herbalism from Amazon:

Medical Herbalism

Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine



What is Herbology?


Posted by Mia Ponzo | Posted in Complementary Alternative Medicine, Information About Herbs, Natural Health | Posted on 15-02-2014

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When we talk about alternative medicine we are talking about anything that is out of the realm of conventional. Conventional meaning allopathic, or what you get most of the time when you go to the “regular” doctor at the “regular” hospital. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of different therapies out there in the world. Every country has its own natural or old-fashioned medicine, and almost every culture within every country does as well. The good news is that more and more “conventional” (allopathic) doctors are jumping on the band wagon and going toward a more naturopathic, holistic method of treating people.

For the next several weeks I am going to introduce a variety of alternative medical practices to you. Some of then you will probably have heard of before and some of them you probably won’t have. Whenever you are dealing with your own health, although there might be hundreds of options out there in the big, wide world for you to choose from, you may not feel comfortable with certain ones, and you may, on the other hand, feel more comfortable with others. That is natural. Also, just as you may or may not feel comfortable with a certain therapy, you also may not feel comfortable with the actual practitioner that you are dealing with. So, what I am going to do is give you some choices. Then it is up to you to sift through them and decide what is going to work for you.

The first therapy that I am going to talk about is probably the oldest of all. Herbal medicine, also known as herbology, could accurately be referred to as first medical therapy in all history. Probably even Adam and Eve used herbal remedies, even though there is no recorded history of it! But, that fact is that herbal medicine is practically as old as the hills, and its history has been written down since the beginnings of writing itself. Before that oral tradition was its method of transfer. In fact, archeological evidence has proven that as far back as 60,000 years ago Neanderthal man was actually using some of the same herbs that are used now. Still, to this day, there are native peoples all over the world who are still following their ancient traditional medicinal practices. These practices have been passed down from person to person, entirely through the spoken word, from healer to healer. They are still being used today because they work! If they didn’t, they would have been discarded long ago, in lieu of better alternatives.

The earliest written mention of herbal medicine came from China and was from around 2800 years ago. Even in that ancient time the Chinese had specific protocols for dealing with practically every illness and their cures involved herbal remedies, among other things. The fact is that practically every part of the world had an herbal tradition, even though many of them were never written down since they were being practiced by illiterate peoples. Even so, there is plenty of evidence for the use of herbal medicine all over the world by all types of indigenous natives of all lands. Also, every great empire and every great civilization, particularly the ones since the advent of the written word, have written herbal medical treatises to cover all of their indigenous herbs and their uses, along with any important information about their usage. The ancient Arabs, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese and all of the more modern peoples from the East and West have a distinct herbal tradition based on the herbs that grow in that particular area of the world. So deeply ingrained and endemic are these traditions that even though there is a so-called Arabic herbal tradition, there is a difference between the desert Arab herbal tradition, the fertile crescent (Sham and surrounding areas) Arab traditions, and even the Arab folk of the inhabited areas of the Gulf region (such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other places) had another tradition that was clearly different from the others that was mostly based on the local, widely available herbs of the particular area.

As of late, a variety of governments have been and still are trying to regulate the use of herbal medicine (Kuwait is one of them).  Some countries have succeeded (like Kuwait), and others have heard the cry of protest, and thus, were unable to adopt a strict policy, in spite of their efforts.  This is a shame, in my opinion, because, although you are always going to have unscrupulous people in the world, the vast majority of the people are honest and conscientious about using herbal remedies. It’s only a few charlatans that are out to make a quick buck that make it their business to sell “herbal remedies” that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. So, do we all have to suffer for the ill behavior of a few? Most countries have decided to give people the benefit of the doubt. The UK and USA (among other countries) are still basically unregulated, and it’s only the target use of a few proven dangerous herbs (at the dosages that they were being used with) that has been regulated there. I would sincerely hope that all governments of all countries would take the ancient herbal traditions into consideration before making rash decisions, and only regulate those herbs that have been proven detrimental, along with those herb sellers and practitioners who deserve it (ie. unscrupulous herb sellers and herbal practitioners), while leaving the honest practitioners and those following in the footsteps of their ancient traditions alone.

In the next few weeks we will explore various herbal traditions, in addition to which we will also discuss several other alternative medical practices. We will go on an exciting journey that will take us all over the world, back through time, and then back to Kuwait, and you will discover many new and interesting therapeutic practices. You never know when you might just need to use one or more of them!

Complementary/Alternative Medicine


Posted by Mia Ponzo | Posted in Complementary Alternative Medicine, Natural Health | Posted on 15-02-2014

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Alternative Medicine 2