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COLUMN – Herbal remedy

Health Today-blockHerbal medicines. They can be found in health stores, supermarkets, gyms, and even the vendors’ tray at the vegetable market.

From all accounts, in Barbados and around the world, this “traditional” form of medication is becoming an increasingly popular choice for many today, as people often make self-medication decisions, based on information from the Internet, health food stores and health magazines.

But what exactly is herbal medicine? Is it safe and how is it used?

Elmonda Chase-Grant, registered medical herbalist.

Elmonda Chase-Grant, registered medical herbalist.

“Herbal medicine is called phytotherapy.  Phyto meaning plant and therapy meaning the healing act. It is a plant-based medicine and it is used to treat both disease and the preservation of health and wellbeing. ….. Plant remedies [are used] to restore, to enhance and to mobilize the body to use its own healing powers, its own resources,” explains Elmonda Chase-Grant.

A registered medical herbalist and a trained pharmacist of over 21 years, Chase-Grant says “herbal medicines are some of the oldest medicines known to man.”  She adds: “If you go back in history, one of the first texts in the Bible that speaks about health and healing after the fall or after sin would have said that the herbs are for the healing of the nations.”

Speaking at a forum recently, Chase-Grant explained that herbs are used to stimulate the body and herbalists try to look for the root cause of that illness, using herbs to help the healing process — a process which has led many to classify it as “alternative medicine.”

“I don’t call it alternative medicine. I call it complementary medicine because it is to serve as a complement to what you are doing both in terms of your health. Even if you are using other forms of medication, it is a complement.”

So is there a difference between herbal medicine and pharmaceutical drugs? The trained herbalist says a definite yes to that question. But she says using herbal home remedies or from over the counter can be a gamble and even a risk. People taking prescription medications, she advises, should talk to their doctors, or a trained herbalist before taking herbs or even certain vitamins.

“I am always advocating for appropriate use of herbal medicine because without the appropriate use, then you have other issues that will come around. Herbal medicine is perfectly safe, once it is used appropriately. So if it is used appropriately, then I don’t have a problem with it,” Chase-Grant says.

Using sage as an example, a common plant in Barbados, the veteran pharmacist explains what could happen if someone who is unqualified gives advice on its use.

“There was an ad in [one of the local newspapers] that somebody placed for a local herb called sage. Sage is one of those plants that will stop you from sweating. That’s why women use sage when they are going through menopause to help with the night sweats. So this herb was there being advertised for fever, can you imagine what happens? You have a fever, you take sage. It is one of those herbs that will dry your sweat. You are going to burn up.”


Chase-Grant explains that used the right way and with the advice of trained personnel, anyone can be nursed back to good health using herbal therapy.

Meet Mrs. Gaddrie Frere. Seven years ago, she was pre-diabetic with an 8.8 blood sugar level. The number was so concerning that she took the bold step to try the herbal remedy towards better health. She was introduced to Chase-Grant, BSc; MClinSC (Diabetes); NIMH.

Mrs Gaddrie Frere, user of herbal medicine.

Mrs Gaddrie Frere, user of herbal medicine.

“I suffered with high blood pressure. So I would go to my doctor on a three-month basis and he usually takes the pressure and blood sugar at the same time. So that day in particular, I did the blood test and I think it was 8.8. So he questioned me as to what I had eaten the morning before I came to him and he told me then that my blood sugar had gone up too high but they don’t give medication until it gets to 11. So I got in touch with a herbalist and she sought me out and today, I am on no blood sugar medication,” a beaming Mrs. Frere said.

That was since 2008.

“Since I was on the herbal medicine, the blood sugar came down from the 8.8 and since then it has been okay. Whenever I go to my regular doctor, he is impressed.”

However, Chase-Grant is quick to point out that any medication must be used appropriately and lifestyle changes are important.

“So the trained medical herbalist uses the plant remedies to restore, to enhance and to mobilize the body to use its own healing powers, its own resources. You can have herbal medicines being used for skin problems as in acne, eczema, you can have it for digestive problems, peptic ulcer, indigestion, constipation and you can use it for diabetes and related problems, arthritis and related disorders and high blood pressure. You can use herbal medicines in the forms of teas, dried herbs, creams, tablets, powders [and] in various forms.”

But the United Kingdom-trained herbalist advises that before any of this is used for treatment, be sure to check with a certified specialist in order to preserve health.           

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