What is Plant Medicine?

Herbal medicine is the use of plants to treat disease and maintain or enhance general health and wellbeing. Plant medicines generally take the approach of returning the body to a state of natural balance so that it can heal itself.

The practice of using medicinal plants dates back thousands of years, and the uses of various plants have ancient origins in particular cultures. In fact, the use of plant medicines is widespread to this day: 75-90% percent of rural people worldwide rely on traditional herbal medicine as their primary health care.

Herbal medicines may contain entire plants made from plant parts, such as leaves, roots or flowers; or fungi (mushrooms). Therapeutic products made from plants may be called herbal medicines, botanical products, herbal supplements, or phytomedicines.

Plant medicines come in many forms: dried, chopped, powdered, capsule, or liquid. They can be used in various ways, including:

  • Brewed as tea
  • Swallowed as capsules, powders, or tinctures
  • Inhaled as smoke, steam, or vapor
  • Applied to the skin as gels, lotions, or creams
  • Added to bath water

Medicinal plants and fungi have powerful active ingredients and should be taken with care and guidance at the same level of caution as pharmaceutical medications. Different plant medicines act on different systems of the body, and can also interact with pharmaceutical medications.

In fact, many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are based on man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. For instance, the heart medicine digitalis was derived from the foxglove plant.

Some pharmaceutical medications are based on a single active ingredient derived from a plant source. According to herbal medicine practitioners, the effect of the whole plant (an “Entourage Effect”) acts in a complex synergy greater than the sum of its parts.

Practitioners of herbal medicine believe that an active ingredient can lose its impact or become less safe if used in isolation from the rest of the plant or as a synthetic creation of the molecule.

For example, salicylic acid is found in the plant meadowsweet and is used to make aspirin. Aspirin can cause the lining of the stomach to bleed, but meadowsweet naturally contains other compounds that prevent irritation from salicylic acid.


This post is for informational purposes only and does not consitute medical or legal advice. It is best to consult a licensed health practitioner about any symptoms or conditions you have and to discuss the use of herbal supplements.