Naturopaths use traditional herbal medicine to treat certain conditions. Herbs are grown, harvested and then usually dried with the medicinal properties being extracted using alcohol. Herbal preparations can be alcohol free if this better suits the needs of patients.
Humans have been using plants as medicine from the far past and across all cultures. The oldest written evidence of medicinal plants’ usage for preparation of drugs has been found on a Sumerian clay slab from Nagpur, approximately 5000 years old. It comprised 12 recipes for medicinal preparation referring to over 250 various plants, including poppy, henbane, and mandrake.
The Chinese book on roots and grasses “Pen T’Sao,” written by Emperor Shen Nung circa 2500 BC, contains 365 medicinal plants (dried parts of medicinal plants), many of which are used today such as: Rhei rhisoma, camphor, Theae folium, Podophyllum, the great yellow gentian, ginseng, jimson weed, cinnamon bark, and ephedra.
The Indian holy books Vedas mention treatment with plants, which are abundant in that country. Ayurveda, is based on ancient writings that rely on a “natural” and holistic approach to physical and mental health. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems and remains one of India’s traditional health care systems.
The Ebers Papyrus, written circa 1550 BC, represents a collection of 800 proscriptions referring to 700 plant species used for therapy such as pomegranate, castor oil plant, aloe, senna, garlic, onion, fig, willow, coriander, juniper, common centaury, etc.
Medicinal plants use a variety of parts of a plant – barks, seeds, fruit leaves, flowers, stem – depending on where the medicinal qualities lie and what the desired effect is.
Contemporary science acknowledges the active action of medicinal plants and has included in modern pharmacotherapy a range of drugs of plant origin. There is an abundance of very good quality research on medicinal herbs, their active constituents and their mechanism of action. While Naturopaths and Herbalists look to the past for traditional herbal prescription, choices on what herb to use for each patient is often based on evidence passed practice and modern clinical research.
Unlike pharmachological drugs – herbs work synergistically (two herbs together will enhance the effect of the other) and generally result in positive side effects. A herbal anti-inflammatory such as turmeric will have a positive impact on liver and gut health.
In many developing countries herbal medicine is the primary form of health care.