Herbs are known for their health properties for over thousands of years. Just like China and India, the Philippines has its own traditional health practices relying on herbs in the ‘albularyo’, the ‘hilot’ and the ‘tawas’.
The Philippines has a wide variety of herbs; it has more than 1,500 species with about 500 of them indigenous to the Philippines. In fact, the country is so rich in natural resources that it has been recently named by the World Biodiversity Council as the 3rd most biodiverse country in the world, next to Brazil and Indonesia.
Unfortunately, the Philippines yet hasn’t explored much of the health and economic potentials of its herbs. Research is costly, requiring Php 20 million to study just a single plant. This makes Philippine herbs an untapped treasure waiting to be developed.
Importance and benefits
According to Integrative Medicine practitioner Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, who is also a professor in the University of the Philippines- College of Medicine (UP-CM) and the author of the book ‘The Best 100 Philippine Medicinal Plants,’ he learned more about the health benefits of herbs when he once ran out of medicine during a medical mission in a rural area.
“Going in rural areas like mountains, your medicines won’t last long. So what should I do if I don’t have medicines left? When I ask the rural people, they say that all these years, they lived without doctors. They only rely on traditional healers. So I decided to work and learn with the albularyos there. It was a life changing experience,” Dr. Galvez-Tan said.
He started using and prescribing herbs in his clinic. After taking post graduate studies in Europe and the United States, Dr. Galvez-Tan also studied acupuncture, massage, yoga and meditation. His practice now is more of a combination of conventional medicine (European and Northern American), Filipino medicine (hilot and albularyo), Ayurvedic medicine (yoga and meditation) and Chinese medicine.
“Herbs help a lot in integrative medicine as we use a holistic approach in treating our patients. Herbs contribute to my patients’ overall wellness, so I prescribe them some herbs together with the medicines they need to take,” said Dr. Galvez-Tan.
Aside from its health benefits, herbs are also used in food production, personal care products and fragrance-making. “If we get to study all our 1,500 herbs, think of all the economic benefits the country can get. One plant can generate up to PhP300 million if we are able to maximize its uses. It can give jobs to more farmers and business, thus boosting the Philippine economy,” Dr. Galvez-Tan said.
Recently launching his book, Dr. Galvez-Tan said that it took him and his co-author Dr. Isidro C. Sia about five years to identify, study and write about 100 Philippine herbs he considers as the best. He first came with a book for the public five years ago, the “Medicinal Fruits and Vegetables,” as herbs are more difficult to identify.
“Compared to herbs, we are more familiar with fruits and vegetables. So I came up with a book listing the health benefits we get from them. But now, I wanted to reach the doctors. To do so, I must provide them technical and scientific information about herbs. Hopefully, more doctors will open themselves to herbs and do research,” Dr. Galvez-Tan said.
He said an herb highlighted in his book is Lagundi, which is the number 1 clinically-proven successful for asthma and coughs and as an anti-viral supplement. “If you’re starting to feel symptoms of influenza, take Lagundi and it won’t proceed. It’s effective and safe for day-to-day use, I take it too myself. Even my patients say that it is really good,” he said, also mentioning equally-efficient herbs like Sambong (melts kidney stones), Ampalaya (controls blood sugar) and Luyang Dilaw (lowers cholesterol).
Buying (reading) his book does not only provide information about 100 Philippine herbs but also helps rehabilitate dilapidated barangay health centers providing primary healthcare in fourth and fifth-class municipalities in the country, especially those affected by the Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). One book also brings another book for a library or school in the rural areas of the Philippines.
His book will be available soon in the US Market and On-Line.