Herbal Medicine, also referred to as phytomedicine or botanical medicine - involves utilizing plant flowers, berries, leaves, bark, roots, or seeds for medicinal purposes.
Herbalism developed long before conventional medicine and was almost replaced by pharmaceuticals in the 'developed' world, but is once again becoming more prevalent as its true value in the treatment and prevention of disease is demonstrated anew.
Plants had been used as medicine long before historical records, passed down verbally from healer to healer. More 'recently', ancient Egyptian and Chinese writings describe many plants as having specific medicinal uses. African and Native American indegenous cultures have also used herbs for their healing properties in their rituals, and traditional medical systems such as Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda used herbal therapy as well.
What's most interesting, however, is that these healing traditions were found to be using identical or similar plants in very different parts of the world for the same purposes.
When chemical analysis was discovered in the early 19th century, scientists began to extract the active ingredients from plants and attempt to modify them. This ultimately led to synthetic versions of natural plant compounds, and over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favor of what we now call drugs.
But is a synthetic creation that a pharmaceutical company can patent necessarily better than what nature already provides?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated recently that worldwide, 80% of people have once again returned to herbal medicine for portions of their primary health care. Germany is leading the way - 70% or so of German doctors prescribe nearly seven hundred plant-based medicines! Here in the United States and the world over, the extraordinary cost of pharmaceutical medications has led to a newfound interest in organic & natural remedies, and thus an increase in herbal medicine.
How do herbs work?
Whole herbs contain many ingredients, and they work together to produce a beneficial effect, making it difficult for reductionist scientists who wish to pinpoint which exact component is doing the healing. In reality, many factors determine how effective an herb can be. For example, the type of environment in which a plant grew (soil quality, climate, even bugs) will affect it, as will when and how it was harvested and processed.
Naturopathic physicians believe that the body is continually striving for balance - and that natural therapies support this process. We are trained in 4-year, postgraduate institutions that combine courses in conventional medical science (such as pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and surgery) with clinical training in herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling.