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Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy. Sometimes the scope of herbal medicine is extended to include fungi and bee products, as well as minerals, shells and certain animal parts.
Many plants synthesize substances that are useful to the maintenance of health in humans and other animals. These include aromatic substances, most of which are phenols or their oxygen-substituted derivatives such as tannins. Many are secondary metabolites, of which at least 12,000 have been isolated — a number estimated to be less than 10% of the total. In many cases, these substances (particularly the alkaloids) serve as plant defense mechanisms against predation by microorganisms, insects, and herbivores. 
Medicinal Herbs
Yes to Life Natural Health
Services in Naturopathy and Advanced Energy Medicine

Herbal remedies can be very effective at addressing acute or chronic illnesses, and can help the body establish its own state of balance.  The objective of a naturopath is not to recommend an herbal supplement that can be taken "for life" to address symptoms, but rather to be used temporarily to help the body deal with an acute crisis or chronic imbalance and then help the body come back into a normal state of balance.  The idea is not to 'pop leaves' instead of pills, but rather to use the gifts of nature to bring us back into balance.  

Herbs can also be harmful for many reasons:
The wrong herb or herbal combination is used
The incorrect amount is used
Herbs could have harmful impurities (e.g. In one study, 10 to 15 percent of Chinese herbs tested contained lead, mercury or arsenic. The source of these metals is likely the metal-contaminated soils in which the herbs are grown. 
Sometimes manufacturers deliberately add pharmaceutical ingredients to improve the results of herbal supplements.
Herbs could cause harmful interactions with pharmaceutical medicines that a person is taking.
There is no regulatory agency overseeing the quality of the herbal remedies available on the market. (The FDA has approved some herbal manufacturers, but most are not required to be approved;  and there are questions about the FDAs standards).
Hence, one of my jobs at Yes2Life is to do the research on the herbal products I recommend to make sure that they meet standards of purity and quality, that they are produced according to standards that protect our environment, and that there is no established record of their doing harm.  One of the sources I use is the Physician's Desk Reference for Herbal Remedies.
Whenever possible, I also find remedies or nutritional supplements that use ingredients that are organically grown, and grown in areas that are grown far away from sources of pollution and electricity pylons, and that their presence does not compromise the integrity and balance of their environment. 

Many pharmaceutical companies have begun manufacturing herbal remedies using a process of extraction whereby harsh chemicals and solvents are employed to extract the active ingredients of medicinal herbs.  You will recognize these extracts by the usage of the words 'standardized' extract on the labels. This method of manufacturing is often cited as being more scientific and able to produce a superior product with controlled and guaranteed amounts of active ingredients in each product.  Sometimes this is true, but the method of standardization must be analyzed.  Some processes of extraction use harsh chemicals and solvents, traces of these chemicals are difficult to completely remove from the final product.  In addition to this, the process of extracting the so-called 'active ingredients' and isolating them from the rest of the herb has resulted in an increase in side effects, as the herb loses its natural ability to protect against side effects.
In addition, many manufacturers use all parts of the plants to create standardized extracts, whereas herbalists know that only certain parts of some herbs should be used.  In the case of Ginkgo Biloba, for example, it is well known that the seeds of this plant are poisonous and can cause seizures and that only the leaves should be used. Standardized extracts of Ginkgo Biloba have been associated with the risk of seizure in some trials.  The most recent example of the dangers of using this manufacturing process includes the development of liver toxicity from using Kava Kava extract, an herb which has been safely used for hundreds of years!
To the greatest extent possible, at Yes2Life Natural Health we use only herbs from companies that have a reputation for purity and quality.  When organic is not an option (due to the formulations sometimes needed for medicinal or nutritional results), we make sure to use products from companies that have a very good reputation for purity and quality among health professionals.   

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