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By Ellen Shanley and Colleen Thompson are the authors of “Fueling the Teen Machine”

Some teens like using herbal remedies. They think that they are more natural and holistic, meaning that they treat the whole person. Herbs are plants that grow in the earth and are used to flavor food. They have been used historically as medicine. Herbal medicine is actually the oldest system of medicine known to humans. In early Indian cultures, a medicine man put together different mixtures of herbs and gave the mixture either toward off disease or to heal an ailment. Herbs are in the food chain and provide vitamins and minerals naturally. The intent of herbal treatments is to try to make your body more efficient at healing itself naturally.

Type of Alternative Medicine

It’s interesting to see that herbal medicine today is considered to be an alternative medicine. So, what is alternative medicine? It’s a practice of medicine that is not considered part of traditional medicine. It does not follow practices of traditional Western medicine and often uses herbs and specific foods instead of or with medicine. Just because you want to take herbs does not mean you cannot still go to your regular doctor. Many people just want to try to do something they think of as more “natural.” Some people think that they might try herbs before getting a prescription drug from the doctor. A lot of us think that if something is natural, it must be healthier. This is not necessarily true.

Herbal Offerings

Here are some different ways that people take herbs:

  • Tea: either fresh or dried herbs can be used. You need to follow the directions on the package to make it properly.
  • Powders and pills: the powder is pressed into pill form, or it is put into a capsule; a powder may be mixed with honey or into a food such as applesauce. Pills are convenient because the taste of medicinal herbs is usually bitter; you can take them with you and it’s just like taking a vitamin.
  • Tinctures: a tincture is a combination of alcohol and water that extracts the active ingredients of the herb into a liquid form. The use of alcohol helps preserve the herb’s potency. Often the tincture is mixed with tea, or it may be made into a syrup by mixing it with a corn syrup or honey.
  • Liniments and oils: these are for external use only, often for sore muscles, bruises, and skin problems.

Herbal remedies are sometimes not considered to be the best choice by some conventional doctors in the United States. However, in many foreign countries, they are widely accepted and used.

The FDA monitors all new drugs before they are allowed to be sold in the United States. Although many of the herbal remedies are considered safe, they have not gone through this same testing process. Scientists feel that they do not know exactly how these herbal remedies actually work or what kind of dosage (how much of the herb) should be given.

Herbal Power

Did you know that the potency of an herb actual depends on the crop itself? This means that when you buy one brand you may get one amount of the herb; if you buy another brand, you might get a different amount. There is no quality control. It’s like going to the gas station and filling up the tanks, but you’re not sure what gas you’re actually getting or how much you’re getting. Paul Sanders, ND, PhD, a Professor at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine states: “Natural is not synonymous with safe.”

In other words, just because something is called “natural,” it isn’t necessarily good for you. Some herbs have been found to be contaminated or even contain prescription drugs. They may be harmful if taken for extended periods or in large quantities (by Bethune at dhead inc). Herbs work slowly, so you need to be very careful before increasing how much you take. The bottom line is this: don’t take any herbal remedies before consulting your healthcare practitioner as well as your parents or other custodial adult in your life. Make sure that you tell your doctor exactly what you are taking and how much.


Excerpted with permission from “Fueling the Teen Machine,” by Ellen Shanley and Colleen Thompson (Bull Publishing), the ultimate guide to navigating the world of nutrition and health and figuring out how to keep teen bodies healthy, strong, and happy. 

Last reviewed Nov 24., 2014.