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Herbal Medicine

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Botanical Medicine — also known as herbal medicine, herbology or phytotherapy — is a traditional medicinal practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts to address symptoms and heal disease. People in all continents have long used hundreds, if not thousands, of indigenous plants for treatment of various ailments dating back to prehistoric times. These plants are still widely used in ethnomedicine around the world. Medicinal plants can be used by anyone, for example as part of a salad, an herbal tea, tincture, cream, or supplement. Many herbalists, both professional and amateur, often grow or wildcraft their own herbs. Many common weeds have medicinal properties (e.g. dandelion).

Plants have a vast ability to synthesize a broad variety of aromatic substances, most of which are phenols or their oxygen-substituted derivatives such as tannins. Many of the herbs and spices used by humans to season food yield useful medicinal compounds. All plants produce chemical compounds as part of their normal metabolic activities. These can be split into primary metabolites, such as sugars and fats, found in all plants; and secondary metabolites found in a smaller range of plants, some only in a particular genus or species. Various parts of the plant may be used such as the root, stem, leaves, and flowers depending on the chemical compound desired.

The use of and search for drugs and dietary supplements derived from plants have accelerated in recent years. Pharmacologists, microbiologists, botanists, and natural-products chemists are combing the Earth for phytochemicals and leads that could be developed for treatment of various diseases. In fact, many modern drugs have been derived from plants. Many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to Western physicians have a long history of use as herbal remedies, including opium, aspirin, digitalis, and quinine. In 2004 the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) began funding clinical trials into the effectiveness of herbal medicine.

Author: Christopher Holder, ND Candidate '07



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