“I don’t take chemicals,
I prefer natural herbal remedies!”
How often have we heard such statements? They are usually pronounced with an air of smug superiority and condescending pity towards those poor consumers who swallow paracetamol, ibuprofen, or other chemicals when having a headache or other health problem.
But the air of superiority seems misplaced because these ‘herbivores’ actually consume many more chemicals than the ‘chemivores’. What those who swear by ‘non-chemical’ medicines ignore is the fact that herbal remedies are packed with many different chemicals.
Below I have listed the main active chemical compound of some very well-known herbal remedies:
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis L.): flavonoids, triterpene alcohols, triterpene saponins, carotenoids, polysaccharides, essential oil
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.): essential oil, sesquiterpenes, dicycloethern
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea): polysaccharides, caffeic acid derivatives, alkamides, polyacetylenes, essential oil.
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus Labill.): cineole, euglobales, macrocarpales
- Garlic (Allium sativum L.): alliin [(+)- S-allyl-L-cystein sulfoxide], allicin (allyl 2- thiosulphate propane)
- Hops (Humulus lupulus L.): phloroglucinol derivates, essential oil
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Mill.): linalyl acetate and linalool, tannins
- Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra L.): triterpenoid, flavonoids, isoflavones, polysaccharides
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita L.): menthol, menthone, menthyl acetate, tannins, flavonoids
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis L.): essential oil, sesquiterpene acids, iridoids, lignans, caffeic acid derivatives, alkaloids
Whenever I explain this to a ‘herbivore’ (here defined as a person who prefers herbal to conventional medicine), she is initially taken aback but, as soon as she has recovered from the shock, she regains their superior attitude and says: “Ah yes, but these are natural chemicals; they cannot do any harm, you know.”
“No, I don’t know!” I then reply, “There are two errors in what you just said: firstly, many chemicals that plants produce are highly poisonous – in fact, some of the most potent toxins we know come from plants – and secondly there is no difference between a chemical XY produced by a plant and the same chemical produced in a factory.”
At this stage, we usually change the subject or part our ways.