Herbal medicine and the National Institute of Health


Most of you know by now, that I am simultaneously open and closed to the idea of herbal medications.

On the one hand, it is no secret that a substantial number of medications currently used by Western medicine, originated in a plant or fungus somewhere.  On the other hand, the world of herbal medications is drenched in poor science, marketing gimmicks, outrageous claims, and pure falsehoods.

Replace “swords” with “unfounded opinion”, “executive power” with “medical confidence”, and “masses” with “data”.

The NIH has established the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, whose purpose is to evaluate these claims.  I recommend their website for your consideration.

Some of you will note the “Herbs at a Glance” section, which I also recommend.  In point of fact, you can download the entire section as a free ebook in whatever format your e-reader likes.  Which seems like a good deal.


Once you start reading the monographs, you will note they frequently cite 2 separate websites. They are:

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, and

The Natural Medicines Food, Herbs, and Supplements Database.

Both of which required a subscription for full access.  The subscription is about $250/year, give or take. If you really want to know your herbal meds (after you have checked out the free NIH stuff), I think you’ll have to pony up.

The first website offers for free a sample monograph about Ginko, here.  When I say I want to see the science behind any particular herbal medication, this is a fantastic example. All the sources, all the science, all the articles, everything. This is the level of detail you should trust.

Another example of good science is this review of Valerian root, published here, by the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.  Exhaustive (perhaps exhausting) detail, down to microscopic examination of the pollen, and HPLC results.

Here, however, is a link to something I would consider suspect.  With no intended offense to the commenter who posted it (at my request, even), I’m looking for the data.  In that site, you see many claims, but no references.  I can claim whatever I want.  We have had anecdotal reports of success with black pepper, here, on this site, but the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.  This is not to say it doesn’t work–and certainly if you’ve had personal experience of success, good on you–but as far as I can tell the claims have not been subject to rigorous evaluation.

So take your information with a grain of salt.  Look at the examples of “good”, compare and contrast with examples of “suspect”.  Look at what someone is trying to sell you. And as always, apply common sense, reason, a review of the toxicology, and a healthy dose of skepticism.



5 responses to “Herbal medicine and the National Institute of Health

  1. Doc

    I highly recommend Sam Coffman as a source for info about clinical studies and experiential results with herbalism. He does a good job of keeping it practical, grid- down focused, and without getting too far out there.

    Personally the appeal for me to learn and practice herbalism is the decentralization of the knowledge and skills. Imagine if people could grow their medicine and know how to use it properly, to avoid most illness before it gets bad. It wouldn’t replace the need for ER surgery or advanced medicine, but it does a heck of a job with simple stuff, and plenty of stuff that modern pharmaceuticals don’t do as well


      • Sir, just a couple of points for your consideration. In Aromatherapy, a form of herbalism, the oils can be tested using GC/MS which will reveal purity/adulteration as well as specific components of the oil. Standards for acceptable component levels can be obtained in Essential Oil Safety written by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young. i also suggest that if you try essential oils – only buy from a supplier that will provide batch specific GC/MS results for each oil. This is the first time I’s looked at your site and this info may be old news to you. I use essential oils because so many factors impact the quality of herbs, as you are aware.


  2. As on oes out to look at various studies discussing herbal interventions, it helps to look at both the studies and the herbal applications, so that one can see whether the studies were in truth evaluating the herbal uses…

    Case in point: Studies a few years ago “proved” that Ecchinacea failed to cure colds.

    Not a surprising result since herbal use of ecchinacea is to PREVENT colds before they happen….

    Want to decrease the effects of a cold? Zinc gluconate glycine. Was being tested at one of my favorite local institutions of higher healing and they stopped the study at the half way point because the results were so impressive..And Cold-eze ™ was born. (University Hospital of Case University)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.