Natural Remedies: A History of Herbal Medicines

There are two main types of plant remedies – herbal medicines and botanicals.  

A botanical remedy is a product that is made using (often well known) culinary ingredients.  Botanical ingredients will include things like ginger, turmeric, and sage. 

Herbal medicines, on the other hand, are products that have a long-demonstrated history of traditional use as herbal medicines to treat specific ailments. 

So what are herbal remedies exactly? In this blog, we are going to explore the history of herbal medicines and take a look at how Natures Aid developed a full range of herbal supplements.  

The History of Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine can be traced back to many ancient civilisations, with the earliest written records being around 5000 years old! The ancient Medicine Man used to look to the plants themselves for clues about how they may help us. These clues would include things like their shape, where they grew and what other things grew near them. 

For example, if a plant was seen to ‘sweat’ in the heat, they would use it as a remedy for sweats; if a plant never grew near fungi, it would be assumed to hold naturally anti-fungal properties. Some of these ancient remedies have been discredited, but others have stood the test of time and these medicinal plants are still used by many people today, as we seek natural remedies to support our health. 

Traditional herbal remedies have provided a source for many of our most well-known drugs. One great example is White Willow, which was used in ancient times for pain, and is now known to contain salicylic acid – aspirin!  

The Development of Modern Herbal Supplements

Herbal medicines have always been popular, but as the internet became more widely available and the sharing of information became easier, the popularity of certain products started to surge.  

To protect consumers from poor-quality or potentially dangerous products, new legislation was introduced in 2004 called the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD). 

More on this later.

As a result of the strict controls introduced by THMPD, many manufacturers stopped producing herbal remedies. Natures Aid, on the other hand, welcomed this renewed focus on quality and saw this as a brilliant opportunity to continue to produce and sell the highest quality herbal supplements

Natures Aid Herbal Supplements

We swiftly applied for our pharmaceutical manufacturing licence and became GMP certified.  This dedication to quality paved the way for Natures Aid to become the first UK company to launch a Traditional Herbal Remedy under THMPD in 2009, with our popular EchinEeze® Echinacea Tablets. Echinacea was first used by the Native American Indians to support their health in many ways and is one herbal remedy that really has stood the test of time.  EchinEeze® is a traditional herbal remedy that is used to help relieve the symptoms of colds and flu. 

Other Herbal Medicines and Their Uses

Following the successful launch of EchinEeze®, Natures Aid have continued to grow our range of herbal medicines and are now proud to offer one of the largest ranges in the UK. The range includes products produced from several medicinal plants, including: 

St. John’s Wort (Ucalm®)

St. John’s Wort blooms as a beautiful, cheerful, bright yellow flower – which is why traditional herbalists thought it may impact low mood. Its use as traditional herbal medicine is documented as far back as Hippocrates. These days, based solely on its long history of traditional use, St. John’s Wort is used to help to relieve the symptoms of slightly low mood and mild anxiety. It should not be taken with other medications. 

Milk Thistle (Digesteeze®)

Milk Thistle is found primarily in the Mediterranean region and bears the dense, purple prickly flower head people would expect to see on a thistle. It has been used in many herbal preparations for over 2000 years and was popular with the Ancient Greeks and Romans. 

Today, Milk Thistle is used to help relieve the symptoms associated with occasional overindulgence in food and drink, such as indigestion and upset stomach. This is based on traditional use only.

Feverfew (Migraeeze®)

Feverfew is a member of the daisy family and looks like a large version of Chamomile.  Supposedly, it was the Ancient Egyptians who named it Feverfew – which means ‘fever reducer’. It is no longer considered useful for this purpose, however, the name remains.

The long-standing traditional use for Feverfew is in the prevention of migraine headaches. 

Agnus Castus (Premeeze®)

Agnus Castus was originally known as the Chaste Tree, as the crusaders would give it to their wives to take in the hope of keeping her away from other men! Traditionally Agnus Castus has been used in female health for many centuries and was even noted by Hippocrates.

Agnus Castus is a traditional herbal remedy used to help relieve premenstrual symptoms, such as irritability, mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating and menstrual cramps. The use of Agnus Castus to treat premenstrual symptoms is based exclusively on its long-standing use as a traditional herbal remedy.

Valerian (Sleepeezy®)

Valerian is a small white flower, whose root has been used in traditional medicine for many years. It has a distinctive and strong smell to it – which, reportedly, cats can be drawn to. 

The use for this root has been consistent over the years, with history recording it having been used for thousands of years to help those with sleep disturbance.  

Valerian is now used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances due to symptoms of mild anxiety – based on traditional use only.  

Devil’s Claw (Jointeeze®)

Devil’s Claw is so named because its seed pod grows out of the ground in a claw-like shape. These ‘claws’ grab hold of passing animals, allowing the plant to spread its seed. The history of Devil’s Claw in plant medicine is long and varied, however, it was always popular for joint health. 

Devil’s Claw is used now for the relief of backache, rheumatic or muscular pain, and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy.

The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive

The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) was introduced in 2005 and imposes stringent quality controls and checks on THRs, to ensure that all herbal medicines on the market are produced to the best quality standards, manufactured using high-quality ingredients, and provided at the correct, traditionally established doses. Under THMPD, manufacturers of herbal medicines must submit an application to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and also show that their products are made to the approved Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standard. Manufacturers must also use specific, trusted suppliers for their herbs, and stick to the doses which have been used by traditional herbalists for hundreds of years. 

Natures Aid were incredibly proud to be the first UK company to achieve a THR under THMPD legislation in 2009 and have since developed an extensive range of Herbal Remedies that are fully compliant with THMPD controls and approved by the MHRA.

Written by Jenny Logan DNMed. (Jenny is a Nutritional Therapist who has worked with clients in health foods stores and private clinics for over 20 years, and is Product Development & Training Manager for Natures Aid)

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