On the internet I find two dominant claims about phytomedicine. 1) Herbs don't do anything useful, are inert or inactive, and 2) Herbs might cause you grave harm and could interact with your medications and kill you.
The conflict between these two claims is amusing to me. If plant medicine is so worthless, then why isn't it harmless? If herbs don't do anything, then why are we so worried about them? And on the flipside, if a plant can cause drastic changes to your physiology and interact dangerously with your medications, how can it be inert and wimpy?
Plant medicine is more useful than conventional practitioners want to admit. Many would like to convince their patients to avoid plant medicine entirely, because it is unpredictable and unknown to them, and so seen as dangerous instead of helpful. It is my observation that conventional practitioners are extremely concerned about interactions between herbs and medications, while they very rarely check for interactions among the medications that they prescribe. I have studied cases in which my patients or family were prescribed many meds that are processed by the same pathways in the liver. Their physiology must have been significantly altered in ways that have certainly not been studied. Show me a drug study that gives four or more medications and measures their combined effects!! Yet it is no problem finding a baby boomer on that many meds. When people complain that herbal medicine hasn't been studied enough, remember that pharmaceutical medicine is mainly studied by the people who wish to profit from it, and that negative results are routinely swept under the carpet.
One criticism of plant medicine rings very true, and that is the inconsistency of the contents of the supplement. Plants grow differently in different places, are harvested with varying levels of care, different parts of the plants are used, different methods are used in processing them, and different kinds and amounts of fillers are added. There is tremendous variability in the amount and quality of the plant matter in any given capsule. Some contain little, if any, of what they claim to contain. There are higher quality supplements available to licensed Naturopaths, and we trust them more, but I for one intuitively trust plants more than pills.
If you can't be sure of the contents of a capsule you bought on the internet, what can you be sure of? I am sure that plants contain more constituents than we have researched, more than we know about. I am sure that the whole plant often has actions that one of its components does not. All the constituents in a given plant (or combination of plants) may have a synergistic effect that we never completely understand, because of the complexity of plant matter and life itself.
So I operate on a few assumptions, based on experience and centuries-long traditions. In most cases fresh herbs are more potent that dried and processed ones. There are exceptions when processing removes a constituent that is harmful, or when a concentrate or extract really is better. But not always.
I am pretty sure, from a commonsense gardener's point of view, that I trust my dirt more than dirt in China. I happen to live where the soil is good and many plants grow. If I lived in the desert, I'd want to know that my plant medicine came from a clean place. If I'm going to buy herbs, I'd like to know what kind of care was put into its selection and care, where it grew, how it was harvested and processed, stored and delivered. I want a minimum of fillers, and I want to know what fillers they are. I want to know it all.
Most of the herbs on our study list have a very long list of traditional indications, and just a tiny little bit of actual science on a few of their constituents. A few of them have plenty of science, usually the poisonous ones. Dr Google sends warnings about avoiding this plant, because it can kill you. Tell me this: what pharmaceutical medication is not dangerous if overdosed? They all are! Toxic herbs are the most potent medicine available to an herbalist. The trick is in knowing how to dose them appropriately. The use of toxic herbs is not appropriate for lay people to attempt without guidance, and so the warnings are welcome.
Plant medicine is both more powerful than we realize, and more benign than pharmaceutical medications. Its reputation should not be marred by the offenses of a few profit-seeking supplement companies. We are designed to eat plants, touch plants, live in harmony with plants. When you sip your coffee, or put ketchup on your burger, you are partaking of plant medicine. Look out!! It might make you feel better.