Herbal medicine, also referred as botanical medicine or phytomedicine, uses various remedies derived from plants and plant extracts to treat health disorders and maintain good health. Another term for this type of treatment is herbalism or phytotherapy. The scope of using herbal medicine extends to include plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for its medicinal purposes.
Herbal medicine has a long tradition of use outside of conventional medicine. It is becoming more mainstream as improvements in analysis and quality control along with advances in clinical research show the value of herbal medicine in the treatment and prevention of diseases. Using plants as medicine can provide advantages for treating many health conditions. The therapeutic activity of a plant is due to its complex chemical nature with different parts of the plant providing certain therapeutic effects.
Every culture has its own style of traditional medicine. All these have the use of medicinal plants in common. Different cultures may also use the same plants but differ in how it is used, or the part they use and the philosophy of their treatment approaches.
Plants had been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal uses for plants. Indigenous cultures (Aboriginal, African and Native American) used herbs in their healing rituals, while others developed traditional medical systems (such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used. In the early 19th century, when chemical analysis first became available, scientists began to extract and modify the active ingredients from plants. Later, chemists began making their own version of plant compounds, and over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favour of drugs.
Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In Germany, about 600 – 700 plant-based medicines are available and are prescribed by some 70% of German physicians. In the last 20 years in the United States, public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in herbal medicine use.
Chinese herbal medicine is part of a larger healing system called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is one of the great herbal systems of the world, with an unbroken tradition going back to the 3rd century BC. Yet throughout its history it has continually developed in response to changing clinical conditions, and has been sustained by research into every aspect of its use. This process continues today with the development of modern medical diagnostic techniques and knowledge. Because of its systematic approach and clinical effectiveness it has for centuries had a very great influence on the theory and practice of medicine in the East, and more recently has grown rapidly in popularity in the West. It still forms a major part of the healthcare provision in China, and is provided in state hospitals alongside western medicine.
The theory behind traditional Chinese medicine is that the body is a dynamic energy system. The aim of Chinese traditional medicine is to maintain and/or restore harmony in the body and the balance of the two types of energy, Yin and Yang, using herbal medicine, traditional acupuncture, cupping, gua sha, tui na, massage, dietary therapy and exercises in breathing and movement and the practice of Qigong and Tai Chi. Some or several of these may be employed in the course of treatment.
Chinese herbal medicines may be prescribed in the form of powder, ointment, tincture, pills or tablets, freeze dried herbs (to make into a tea drink) depending on the type of herb and its intended use. Different herbs have different properties and can balance particular parts of the body. Prescribing a particular herb or concoction of herbs means the practitioner’s diagnosis has to take into account the state of the patient’s Yin and Yang, and the elements that are governing the affected organs.