“All that man needs for health and healing has been provided by God in nature,
the challenge of science is to find it.”
Philippus Theophrastrus Bombast (1493-1541)
Plants have been used to alleviate every possible medical condition long before recorded history.
The addition of spices in foods has been one of the oldest and best ways to use their disease-fighting power on a daily basis. With improvements in analysis, quality control and clinical research the true value of herbal supplements is now evident. In fact several pharmaceutical drugs used in modern medicine are made of plant-derived compounds.
Phytotherapy is the use of plants, plant parts (seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, flowers), or plant extracts to improve health. Herbal products are available in the form of tinctures, capsules, tablets or teas.
The Word Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 65 to 80 % of the world’s population (over four billion people) rely on alternative medicine as their primary form of health care compared to only 10 to 30 percent of people who use conventional medicine. Furthermore, according to WHO:
- In Africa 80% of the population depends on herbal medicines where in many places they are more widely available and more affordable than pharmaceutical drugs
- In India, Ayurvedic medicine which is regularly used by about 65% or the population utilizes over 1200 different herbs
- Over 50% of Canadians and 75% of the French people have tried complementary remedies including botanicals
- In Japan, 85% of doctors prescribe pharmaceutical drugs as well as traditional herbal medicine (Called Kampo) which is covered by healthcare
The growing popularity of phytotherapy, which is considered by many to be safer and with fewer side effects, has made it one of the fastest growing sectors of the health industry in many countries around the world.
Botanicals: Pros and cons of the different preparations
- Whole plant: minimal processing, it contains all the ingredients but compound levels may vary
- Teas & Infusions: easy alcohol-free preparation, but some compounds may not be extracted in water and the concentration of certain compounds may not be strong enough
- Decoction: easy alcohol-free preparation, stronger than infusions, concentration of compounds may not be strong enough and taste can be unpleasant
- Dried plant: easy to use, delivers the whole plant but concentration of compounds may not be strong enough and taste can be unpleasant
- Liquid extract or tincture: product is potent and has a long shelf-life but it contains alcohol
- Solid extract: concentrated form of the compound, alcohol-free, but it has a shorter shelf-life and not all compounds will be dissolved
- Standardized extract: delivers a specific amount of compounds, dose and quality are known
- Intravenous infusion: fast acting but higher risk of adverse effects and not readily available
“A man may esteem himself happy when that which is his food is also his medicine”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)