Botanical medicine, while based on traditional medicines and alternative healing methods, is making a resurgence in modern medicine as a method of treating or preventing diseases.

Often used interchangeably with herbal medicine, botanical medicine is a more inclusive term, including parts of plants that aren’t herbs, such as bark, seeds, stems, and roots.

Due to the wide variety of natural ingredients and healing methods inherent in botanical medicine, there are many ways plants can be utilized to achieve different desired outcomes, such as:

– Biomedicine: By using herbs and plant substances as an alternative to Western medicines, large doses of certain plant-based ingredients can be used alone or in combination with others to achieve specific results, such as anti-inflammatory solutions, painkillers, or antibacterial effects.

– Traditional Herbalism: Medicinal plants applied in smaller doses can help assist in reducing stress and helping restore weakened immune, gastrointestinal or other organ systems.

– Energy & Vitality: Natural ingredients can be utilized to stimulate the body’s innate ability to heal and bring itself into balance. This addresses the endocrine and nervous systems simultanously.

 What can botanical medicine do for me?

If you suffere from chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or digestive problems or other concerns botanical medicines can be used with or without medications to aid you in your swift recovery by helping to kill gut infections found with advanced diagnostic testing, aid in balancing your over or under active immune system in autoimmune diseases, your underactive endocrine system increasing your energy, directing more oxygen to your brain for sharper focus, less brain fog, and more perfusion of the body tissues systemically, and removing wastes and toxins from the body. 

It is used in conjunction with other natural medicines.

The following offers a comprehensive understanding of herbal medicine’s role in healthcare.

Healthcare Systems

Allopathy: Also known as “conventional medicine” in Western societies. Allopathy focuses on treating the symptoms of diseases primarily through prescription medications and when these methods fail, surgery, or a combination of medications and surgery is often employed in more serious diseases. This approach utilizes a process of reductionism (focusing on the symptoms exhibited in one location or organ system of the organism rather than focusing on the complete organism as a whole.) Allopathic medicine is the dominant medicine in the United States and other Western countries today. It is best used for physical traumas, infectious diseases, and conditions needing surgical intervention when all other treatments fail.

Ayurvedic Medicine:  It is a 5,000-year-old system of medicine that means the “science of life” in Sanskrit, which originated in the Vedic culture of ancient India. It combines natural therapies with a highly personalized, holistic approach to the treatment of disease. This includes herbal medicines, nutrition, and lifestyle, exercises based on your constitution. It is the natural system of medicine in India.

Naturopathy: Naturopathy originated in Germany and Austria, and the United States in the early 20th century. It is a holistic medical system that treats chronic health conditions by utilizing what is believed to be the body’s innate ability to heal, the vix medicatrix naturae. Naturopathic physicians aid healing processes by incorporating a variety of natural methods, including botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, orthomolecular medicine, nutritional medicine, spinal manipulation, all based on the patient’s individual needs.

Why Are Botanical Medicines Sometimes Referred to As Dietary Supplements?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies how certain substances are regulated and sold. The majority of botanical medicines are classified under the term with the exception of a few botanical medicines, which are classified as pharmaceutical drugs. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other natural ingredients are sold in the form of tablets, gel caps, liquids, capsules, and powders, but are regulated as food and not drugs. It is recommended that you look for natural products and herbal medicines with third party testing meeting the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards. 

Advantages of Botanical Medicine

– Reduced risk of serious side effects: Due to their natural origin, herbal and botanical medicines are often much better tolerated by patients, resulting in fewer unintended side effects and consequences compared to pharmaceuticals and may be safer to longer-term use.

– Effective in combating chronic conditions: For conditions that do not respond well to long-term traditional treatments, botanical medicines can be a very effective alternative. In instances of chronic arthritis, alternative treatments have been shown to display very few side effects with minimal dietary changes.

– Lower costs: Herbal and botanical remedies often cost much less than prescription medications. Due to the cost of research, testing, and marketing, prescription medications carry a much heftier price tag compared to natural ingredients.

– Wider availability: Because so many natural ingredients are available world-wide without the need for prescriptions, it’s much easier for patients to get access to the medicines they need – especially if they prefer to grow them on their own.

Botanical Medicine Approaches

Aromatherapy: This approach uses essential oils extracted from medicinal plants to treat various health conditions. The oils are generally diluted, then used topically, internally, or to stimulate olfactory senses – and induce greater memory. In France, currently physicians are using essential oils internally and externally with impressive results.

Flower Essences: In the 1930s, Dr. Edward Bach developed an approach to healing using “flower essences.” Flower essences are made by infusing flowers or other plant parts in spring water, and adding alcohol as a preservative (typically Brandy). The essences are used internally or topically to balance emotional states, and heal traumas and move patients through psycho-emotional states they are currently stuck in. The underlying philosophy focuses on stabilizing emotions in order to dissipate illness and stimulate internal healing processes.

Herbal Medicine: An approach to healing which uses plant or plant-derived preparations to treat, prevent, or cure various health conditions and ailments. This approach is incorporated into various medical systems – Naturopathy, Ayurvedic Medicine, Chinese Medicine, and others that have been in use for thousands of years around the world. Although herbal medicine does not have a specific point of conception, according to the World Health Organization, presently it is estimated 80% of the world’s population rely on medicinal plant preparations for their primary healthcare needs. Despite the extensive use, which can be attributed to the use of plants in traditional medical systems, our knowledge of the plants and their values remain largely unexplored.

General Herbal Terms

Binomial: The two-part scientific Latin name used to identify plants botanically. The first name is the genus and is a general name that may be shared by a number of related plants. The second is the species name, which refers to the name that is specific to that individual plant (i.e., Mahonia auquifolium, Mahonia nervosa).

Crude drug: Natural products, which are not pure compounds (i.e., plants or parts of plants, extracts, or exudes).

Drug: a pure substance or combination of pure substances. It is isolated from natural sources, or can be semi-sythenthic, or is purely chemical in origin, such as in the case of pharmaceutical medications. It is intended to mitigate, treat, cure or prevent a disease in humans (and other animals).

Herb (or Botanical): The word herb has several different meanings depending on the perspective:

  • In commercial terms – herb generally refers to plants used for culinary purposes. Additionally the terminology differentiates Temperate Zone plants from tropical and sub-tropical plants (i.e., spices).
  • In horticultural terms – herb refers to “herbaceous,” which describes the appearance of the plant (i.e., a non-woody, vascular plant).
  • In taxonomic terms – herb generally refers to the aboveground parts or the aerial parts (i.e., the flower, leaf, and stem).
  • In terms of herbal medicine – herb refers to plants used in various forms or preparations, valued for their therapeutic benefits, and sold as dietary supplements in the U.S. marketplace.

Pharmacognosy: The study of natural products (i.e., plant, animal, organism, or mineral in nature) used as drugs or for the preparation of drugs. Derived from the Greek pharmakon meaning drug and gnosis meaning knowledge.

Phytochemicals: Chemical compounds or chemical constituents formed in the plant’s normal metabolic processes. The chemicals are often referred to as “secondary metabolites” of which there are several classes including alkaloids, anthraquinones, coumarins, fats, flavonoids, glycosides, gums, iridoids, mucilages, phenols, phytoestrogens, tannins, terpenes, and terpenoids, to mention a few. Extracts contain many chemical constituents, while chemicals that have been isolated from the plant are considered pharmaceutical drugs (i.e., digoxin having been isolated from the foxglove or Digitalis lanata plant).

Phytomedicinals: Medicinal substances that originate from plants. This may include certain phytochemicals as well as whole plants or herbal preparations.

Botanical Preparations

Decoction: A tea made from boiling plant material, typically for at least 20 minutes with the lid on, usually the bark, rhizomes, roots or other woody parts, in water. It may be used therapeutically. This is how you make a tea from the woody parts of the herbs.

Infusion: A tea made by pouring water over plant material (usually dried flowers, fruit, leaves, and other parts, though fresh plant material may also be used), and allowed to steep. The water is usually boiling, however, cold infusions are also an option and indicated to get out more minerals from herbs such as, nettles cold infusion overnight. Infusions may be used therapeutically, as a hot tea is an excellent way to administer herbs.

Tincture: An extract of a plant made by soaking herbs in a dark place with a desired amount of either glycerine, alcohol, or vinegar anywhere from 2-6 weeks in a glass jar. The liquid is strained from the plant material and then may be used therapeutically. Dr. Madeira uses tinctures often with patients and sees the best results with tinctures and teas clinically.

Liniment: Extract of a plant added to either alcohol or vinegar and applied topically to employ the therapeutic benefits. Chinese medicine uses liniments often for muscle aches and pains.

Poultice: A therapeutic topical application of a soft moist mass of plant material (such as bruised fresh herbs), usually wrapped in a fine woven cloth. This can be used in superficial wound treatments, such as a yarrow poultice.

Essential Oils: Aromatic volatile oils extracted from the leaves, stems, flowers, and other parts of plants. Therapeutic use generally includes dilution of the highly concentrated oil. Making essential oils and using them internally and externally is an art and science. It’s best done by experts and often requires a carrier oil, such as olive oil, sesame oil, or coconut oil to prevent the essential oils from burning the skin.

Herbal Infused Oils: A process of extraction in which the volatile oils of a plant substance are obtained by soaking the plant in a carrier oil for approximately two weeks and then straining the oil. The resulting oil is used therapeutically and may contain the plant’s aromatic characteristic. This can be a great way to make massage oil, or topical herbal infused oils for treating muscle pains and aches, as an example.

Percolation: A process to extract the soluble constituents of a plant with the assistance of gravity. Percolation is often used in making coffee today in people’s kitchens. However it has been used in herbal medicine making for a long time. The material is moistened and evenly packed into a tall, slightly conical vessel; the liquid (menstruum) is then poured onto the material and allowed to steep for a several days. A small opening is then made in the bottom, which allows the extract to slowly flow out of the vessel. The remaining plant material (the marc) may be discarded. Many tinctures and liquid extracts are prepared using the percolation method.