Everyday Plant Medicine #1- What is plant medicine?
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Aside from nutrition, plant medicine is my other professional love interest.
Sometimes called herbal medicine, botanical medicine, phytomedicine or phytotherapy… it’s all the same thing.
Plant medicine is the art & science of using plants to prevent and treat illness.
In this introductory article, I'm going to give you 6 Key Points about plant medicine.
1. Plant medicine is using a plant as a medicine.
Seems simple, no? Depending on the plant, you may use the leaves, flowers, bark or stem, the root or rhizome. Knowing which part of the plant to use is an important key to using plant medicine safely and effectively.
You can take plant medicine by drinking it in a tea, taking a tincture, using them topically, or just by eating the plant! More modern ways of taking plant medicines include tablets and capsules.
2. Plant medicine is the norm.
Plant medicine is the oldest form of medicine and has been used by all people, across all races, religions, and cultures, around the world.
And it is STILL the most widely used system of medicine today.
The World Health Organization estimates that the majority of the world’s population (like, 80%!) rely on plant medicine as their primary form of healthcare.
In countries where Western medicine is not easily accessible or affordable, plant medicine is generally easy to access, affordable, and accepted.
People can use medicine that grows in their backyard and prepare it as easily as making a cup of tea. Plant medicine is democratic. It is the peoples' medicine.
3. Plant medicines are sophisticated and complex.
Plant medicines are chemically complex and may contain thousands of different “phytochemicals” (literally – “plant chemicals”).
This is in stark contrast to pharmaceuticals which are based on single molecules.
Aside from the usual nutrients that plants contain such as fats, carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, vitamins and minerals – plant medicines also contain chemicals which we call secondary metabolites.
These are the *magic potion* chemicals which we are harnessing when we use a plant medicinally.
The plant produces these chemicals for a variety of reasons – to ward off bugs and animals who want to eat it; to fight pathogens or fungus; for signalling and growth regulation; or to keep itself safe from the environment eg: the cold or UV rays.
You may have heard some of the names of these chemicals before – things like flavonoids, tannins, bitters, or phytoestrogens.
4. Many pharmaceutical medicines are based on plant medicines.
A huge amount of Western medicines were originally derived from plants. Salicylic acid - the chemical in Aspirin- is one of the most commonly known ones.
Salicylic acid is a compound found commonly in plants such as White Willow and Meadowsweet. In fact, the name Aspirin comes from the old Latin name for Meadowsweet- Spirea ulmaria.
We are constantly searching the plant kingdom for useful medicinal compounds and new discoveries are being made every day.
5. Research is awesome, but don't discount experience.
Amazing advancements in research have allowed us to identify many of the phytochemicals in plant medicines.
However, it’s important to remember that scientific research is only recent in comparison to the thousands of years that humans have been using plants as medicine.
I love research, but I think we have to give the human race some credit- if people died or got sick from eating something, then we usually stopped doing that pretty quickly.
I say this because there is a lot of misinformation on the internet and in books- and so much fear!
We don’t need to be afraid of the plants that we have eaten and used for thousands of generations.
(I will go into Safety of plant medicines in an upcoming blog - it is an important topic. But in the meantime, think about a carrot. Do you need to know exactly what chemicals are in a carrot to know that it is safe and edible? No. Why? Because, experience.)
6. Plant medicine is not just about using plants instead of using a drug.
There is also an important philosophical underpinning with plant medicine.
To first, do no harm.
To focus on prevention
To treat the whole person and not just the disease.
To get to the root cause of the issue and not just mask the symptoms (though treating symptoms is important too).
To teach people how to support their own health.
So if you are interested in continuing to learn how to support your own health, and the health of your friends, and family, sign up for my newsletter to be first in line to hear about new workshops, seminars, courses and programs that I'm doing in your neighbourhood or in your virtual neighbourhood!
If you liked this article, then please share it with all your pals.
And tell me about your experiences with plant medicine in the comments below!