Evidence from archaeological studies shows that botanical medicine has been used by humans since the Paleolithic era, which was 60,000 years ago! Herbal medicine has been used in many societies and cultures throughout time and the traditional knowledge is still used today with scientific studies providing more and more evidence regarding how these plants work. Many well-known pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, and herbs can be very effective in treating many common conditions.
What is Botanical Medicine?
Botanical medicine, also known as herbal medicine, uses medicinal plants and extracts to treat conditions and promote the body’s ability to heal. Traditional herbalism has been practiced throughout human history. Modern herbalism uses evidence-based science along with this traditional knowledge to provide safe and effective treatments that work with your body in a holistic way, treating the root cause of illness to help you heal.
The plant kingdom is an incredibly diverse kingdom, and the medicines that come from plants are just as diverse. Many plants contain substances that act on receptors in our brains and bodies, and many pharmaceutical drugs were originally derived from plant constituents Examples include:
- Morphine – a painkiller alkaloid from the opium poppy (Papaverus somniferum), the first commercial natural product marketed for therapeutic use in 1826
- Atropine – an alkaloid from a deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and other nightshades that is listed in the WHO’s model list of essential medicines. It is used to dilate pupils, and in many hospital situations to increase heart rate, and to counter the effects of organophosphate poisoning
- Digoxin – a cardiac glycoside from foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) used to treat heart failure
- Acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) – a semi-synthetic anti-inflammatory compound based on extracts from the willow tree, Salix alba
- Paclitaxel – a drug used to treat cancer based on extracts from the Yew tree, Taxus brevifolia
- Artemotil – based on a compound found in Chinese wormwood, Artemisia annua, a new drug used in treatment-resistant malaria
These are just a few examples of many, many drugs that have a basis in plants. While isolating these compounds and using them as drugs can be very effective for certain kinds of therapies, using whole herb extracts can be both a gentler and more powerful way of treating many conditions.
Medicinal plants contain a number of active compounds that act in synergy with each other. Sometimes this means the whole plant extract is much more effective than individual chemicals within the plant. Other times the additional compounds function to smooth out the effect of the main chemical, which can translate to fewer side effects than if you were to use pharmaceutical drugs.
How are Herbal Medicines Administered?
Herbal medicines can be taken in a number of uncomplicated and easy ways. The right way for you will depend on which herbs are being used, what they’re being used for, and what application best fits into your lifestyle.
Tinctures are extracts of medicinal plants in alcohol or glycerin. They usually contain a custom blend of 3-5 different plants and are great when a high concentration of herbs are required.
Standardized extracts are simple herbs in a pill form. These herbs are usually highly concentrated and contain doses of herbal constituents that are known to work,. These pills can either contain a single herb or a blend of herbs, and are formulated to provide the most effective dosing of the active plant chemicals..
Teas are a gentle and effective way to administer herbal medicines. They’re not usually as strong as tinctures or extracts, so drug interactions are minimal. Medicinal teas contain a custom blend of herbs, and some patients love taking the time to prepare their own medicine and create their own ritual. Teas are very comforting, making them especially good for anxiety or stress-related conditions.
Herbs can be applied topically in the form of lotions, ointments, and poultices. These often smell great, and allow us to use herbs that are dangerous if taken internally, but are excellent when used externally. Topical applications are a great way to help heal cuts, bruises, and infections because they help get a strong dose of botanical medicine right to where it’s needed.
Can Botanical Medicine Help Me?
Botanical medicines are powerful, natural substances that can be used as part of a treatment plan for many conditions. With their experience and extensive clinical training, naturopathic doctors are experts in knowing how to use herbal medicines safely while maximizing their effectiveness. Choosing the right plants for an individual case is an art, and we love being able to directly use the healing power of nature by using plants as part of your treatment plan.
Because herbs have mechanisms of actions that are very similar to prescription drugs, they can also be very helpful in reducing doses of medications, and reducing side effects when coming off of medications. If you’re planning on reducing or quitting a drug, ask us how herbal medicine can help.
Discover the powerful and natural herbal medicine for your treatment plan! Book now an appointment to see us!