With all of the hoopla generated by a booming herbal products industry, it's easy to find ourselves lost in a sea of "scientifically-proven" herb supplements. Certainly, whenever progress is made in the scientific validation of herbs, great new possibilities unfold. But if we wish to use herbs at their full potential, we must be careful not to get caught up in a whirlwind of hype. If we do, we may fail to see the true breadth of an herb's usefulness.
Sometimes the greatest attributes of a popular herb are overshadowed by the latest press. For example, Ginkgo biloba is aggressively marketed as a medicine that can increase blood circulation to the brain and improve mental clarity in persons or animals suffering from various forms of dementia. This is backed up by dozens of scientific studies, and indeed, ginkgo can help the brain. But did you know that the mechanisms by which ginkgo accomplishes these feats make it broadly useful throughout the entire body, not just the brain? In fact, ginkgo was used by the Chinese as a digestive and kidney tonic for thousands of years before it's brain attributes were discovered by modern scientists, and from the perspective of a holistic herbalist, the brain attributes of ginkgo are only a segment of what the herb really has to offer. Ginkgo can help strengthen the structural integrity of blood vessels and improve blood delivery to oxygen-dependent tissues of the extremities, digestive organs, the kidneys, and even the eyes. This means that ginkgo is useful in a wide variety of applications--- from the treatment of arthritis to kidney failure. Ginkgo is also useful as a nutritive adjunct, to assist the body in the transport of blood-carried nutrients, such as those provided by various other herbs, like nettle, dandelion, or burdock. Other herbs that provide this "nutrient transport service" include ginger, cayenne, and peppermint.
One of the pitfalls of evaluating herbs from only what the headlines read is that most scientific studies compare herbs with conventional medicine, meaning that the focus of most studies is centered on what an herb can or cannot do in the treatment of a specific ailment. As a result of this, herbs are treated as "plant drugs" by most of he scientific community, and their broader food values are largely overlooked.
THE HERB-DIET CONNECTION
The herbalist who views health from a whole body perspective sees herbs as something unique to both food and medicine. Herbs are not drugs, but provide the body with special measures of support that bridge the gaps that may exist between what a body receives from diet, and what it needs in terms of added systemic assistance. For example, an animal that does not fully digest and assimilate it's food and cannot put on body weight may benefit from the support of powdered Yucca schidigera root. When added in small amounts to the animal's food, the herb will help improve the absorption of nutrients in the intestine, thus optimizing the nutritional value of the food. Dandelion or burdock root on the other hand, may serve to improve the liver's production of bile, enzymes, and various other biochemicals which are critical to digestion and the transport of nutrients throughout the body, while at the same time adding a rich diversity of vitamins and minerals to the animal's diet. This makes dandelion and burdock especially useful in animals that suffer from chronic constipation, arthritis, skin problems, or other disorders that may be associated with deficient liver function.