Why Don't Botanists use Herbal "Medicines"?
"Do you take herbal 'medicines'? Why or why not?"
The responses I got were interesting, if not surprising. The Chief of the Botany Division was a non-user, which might not come as a surprise to many herbal "medicine" enthusiasts, since he is of a generation that has not been enthusiastic consumers of alternative" medicine. However, the responses of some of the younger members of the division were illuminating.
"No way! Do you know the kind of things plants make? Even the plants we work with all the time make compounds that we don't fully understand."
"Even if I wasn't worried about the safety and efficacy of phytochemicals - most of which have never been adequately tested - there's no way to tell how much of the active ingredient I would be getting. The production varies with climate, season, growing conditions, insect damage...just too many things to control for."
"Yeah, 'natural' medicines - like hemlock, aconite and foxglove. No, I prefer to know what I'm getting when I take medicine."
I'm not sure how the "nature makes everything we need for perfect health" lobby would "spin" these comments, but I know how I interpret them.
One botanist who is from a country whose ancient (and not-so-ancient) vitalistic medical practices are currently much in vogue had this to say:
Where I grew up, people used roots and herbs for medicine because they didn't have access to real medicine - Western medicine. The people who had money or influence could go to the big city and see a doctor trained in real medicine, the rest of the people had to get by with "traditional" medical therapies.
They did that not because the traditional remedies worked, but because they had to do something. They couldn't just stand by and watch their loved ones suffer."
Yet, in the Western world, where advanced medical care is freely available (even if it isn't free), a large number of people are ignorant of something people in the "Third World" are acutely aware of - herbal "medicine" is something you use when you don't have access to real medicine.