Do Herbs Work?

norter andspices

The question is always – Do herbs work? Yes they do. Not all herbs work for all people – much like prescription drugs. You know not everyone reacts the same way to medication and that will also be true for supplements and/or herbs.

How do herbs work? They work the same as prescription medications. There are several chemical components found in all plants and it is these compounds that react with our bodies in much the same way as prescription medications. Remember drugs started out as herbs/plants. Aspirin came from the bark of the willow tree.

Native Americans used it for pain and showed the colonists how to use it(1).   Today willow bark is still being studied for pain (2).

Did you know that the new bright green tips of fir trees contain vitamin “C” and electrolytes (3)? When I was on a trip to Alaska a guide gave me some green tips to taste and they were citrus in flavor.

One big difference between drugs and herbs is that herbs contain a small, approximately 5% level of active ingredients in 1 gram of herb (4).  That is why most herbs are less toxic than prescription drugs which usually contain a much higher amount of the active component.

Herbs in general are safe but there are toxic herbs, which is why it is advisable to consult with an herbalist before taking herbs to self-medicate.  Most herbs are not toxic, although there can be general side effects to people who might be sensitive to a specific plant species.


  1. Vogel, V. American Indian Medicine Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
  2. Black A, et. al. Economics of using willow bark extract in outpatient treatment of low back pain [abstract]. 8th Annual Symposium on Complementary Health Care, 6th-8th December 2001.; Cameron, M., Evidence of effectiveness of herbal medicinal products in the treatment of arthritis. Part I: Osteoarthritis. Phytother.Res 2009;23(11):1497-1515.
  3. “Tree Book – Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)”. British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
  4. Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon, Pacific Symposium News (2001).