Botanical Medicine

By: Whidbey Naturopathic  09-12-2011
Keywords: Medicine

Botanical medicine, plant medicine, or herbal medicine, is the use of whole plants and plant extracts for their medicinal effects. There are several schools of herbalism deriving from various cultures around the world with a wide array of very rich and deep millennia old traditions.

Information from these different traditions can now be shared quite easily through the internet. This is leading to a hybridization of herbal medicine. Our knowledge of botanical medicine is currently expanding at an exponential rate because of this relatively new ability to access plants and knowledge from around the world. There is also an increasing respect for indigenous herbal medicine as research has shown that many of the plants used contain substances that are as effective as pharmaceuticals. As a result, plants that have not traditionally been used in Western herbalism are now being highlighted, researched and marketed by ethnobotanists and nutriceutical companies.

In indigenous cultures, herbalism remains one of the mainstays of medical care. Unfortunately, however, as many countries become more westernized and increasingly utilize pharmaceuticals, there is a high risk that this ancient lore could be lost forever.

Another potential danger to botanical medicine is to the plants themselves. As botanical medicine gains popularity in the West, overharvesting, farming in non-indigenous climate zones, hybridization, soil and ozone depletion all threaten the quality and very existence of certain medicinal plants. It is vital that we remain conscious of delicate ecologies and the balance between humans and plants.

In general, the advantage of using herbs as medicine is that when used skillfully, they can be very effective and cause less side effects than pharmaceuticals. However, just because something is natural does not necessarily mean it is safe. Many herbs have harmful side effects and must be used cautiously. There is a wealth of information easily available about herbs and their side effects, but you should always consult and herbalist, naturopathic physician, or herbal reference before taking herbal products you are unfamiliar with.

Schools of Herbalism

Western Herbalism derives much of its knowledge from European and American traditions. Many of the modern pharmacognosy and herbal studies come from this tradition.

Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have thousands of years of very refined, time tested formulas that can be very effective. These schools of herbalism are also very useful because they take into account the energetic qualities of the plants — is the plant warming or cooling, grounding or dispersing, drying or moistening. When the knowledge of these herbal energetics is combined with the knowledge of the energetics of a patient’s condition, the practitioner can be very effective at “balancing” the condition of the patient.

Indigenous includes various Mayan, Native American, and African systems of herbal knowledge.

Ways to Use Herbs as Medicine

For internal usage, herbs can be taken in several forms.

  • Capsules: Crude herb in powdered form and encapsulated.
  • Tinctures: Alcohol or glycerin extracts of herbs.
  • Solid Extracts: The herb is decocted into an infusion and the liquid is boiled off until the herbal extract has a thick, syrupy consistency.
  • Liquid infusion: Herbal tea.
  • Tablets: The herb is powdered and sealed into a tablet with binders like magnesium stearate.
  • Standardized extract: The whole herb is used but there is a guaranteed quantity of the component that is thought to be the active constituent of the herb.
  • Enhanced Delivery through food: Herbs can be mixed with substances like milk or ghee (clarified butter) to have certain enhanced therapeutic effects or to have more effective delivery to specific tissues.

Externally herbs are primarily used in three forms.

  • Poultice: The wetted and macerated crude herb is applied directly to a part of the body.
  • In creams, lotions, or ointments.
  • As a succus or liquid extract.

Keywords: Medicine

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