Plants provide us with so much more than food, shade, and oxygen. For centuries, humans have used plants for medicinal purposes. Coca was used as an anesthesia in the 19th century. Aloe has been used to treat burned skin. Peppermint was found to help with an upset stomach. Willow bark was used as a pain reliever and contributed to the discovery of aspirin. Morphine, one of the most widely used pain killers, was isolated from the opium poppy. With the cost of pharmaceutical medicines on the rise and the discovery of many negative side effects associated with those medicines, it may be worth our while to consider the benefits of using plants to treat human diseases. Even the Mayo Clinic suggests natural remedies for high cholesterol .
Looking back at success stories related to the use of plants in medical history, it only makes sense that we should invest our time and resources on the medicinal value of plants. Using natural remedies from plants seems to be a healthy and economical alternative to expensive and possibly dangerous pharmaceutical drugs. And, just when “going green” is popular in our society, taking a closer look at natural remedies in the plant world appears to be a win-win scenario, or is it?
Unfortunately, things are not always what they appear to be. Another way of stating this is: “the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.” In fact the “grass,” medicinal plants in this case, may be hazardous to your health. There are studies which show that some plant products may contain contaminants. One such government study is mentioned in an article in The New York Times stating “nearly half of all herbal dietary supplements contain lead and other contaminants” . The source of many of the contaminants which are found in plants are the result of humans polluting the environment. Ironically, much of it is from pesticides used on crops. We use pesticides to poison/kill insects that harm our food supply and in the end we poison ourselves.
Obviously, it is in our own best interest to clean up the environment from harmful pollutants. Measures must also be taken to ensure that plants used for medicinal purposes are safe for human consumption. The World Health Organization has addressed this issue and developed guidelines for the agriculture and collection of medicinal plants.
So, while there is so much emphasis on “going green” in today’s world. We might want to reconsider it with regard to the medicines we put into our bodies until we are able to clean up our environment and can ensure that contaminants aren’t in the plants that we use to treat human diseases. Perhaps if we spent half the amount of money and time researching plants and their medicinal uses as we spend on expensive prescription drugs, we would realize how valuable plants are and would take better care of our environment. That truly would be “going green.”