Herbal medicine, also known as botanical medicine or phytomedicine, is the oldest and still most widely used system of medicine in the world today. It is used in all societies and is common to all cultures. Traditional use of herbal medicine is increasingly being validated by clinical trials and other types of scientific investigation which seeks to understand the active chemistry of the plant and its mechanism of action.
Efficacy studies and meta-analyses with high-level evidence are increasing in number. The Cochrane Collaboration for example, includes many positive reports on herbal medicine including the use of Ginko bilioba for dementia and impaired cognitive function, Hypericum perforatum for depression, Echinacea spp. for colds and Aesculus hippocastanum for chronic venous insufficiency, to name a few.
Many modern pharmaceuticals have been modeled on, or derived from chemicals found in plants, however due to the isolation of individual constituents they lack the safety profile of herbal extracts.
Herbs are used both in the treatment and in the prevention of illness as well as a means of maintaining health and vitality.
Many herbs are 'tonics'. Tonics have properties which support and strengthen either specific organs, systems or the whole body.
Examples of herbal tonics include:
- Immune System: Echinacea spp.
- Cardiovascular System: Crataegus spp.
- Nervous System: Hypericum perforatum, Withania somnifera
- Liver: Silybum marianum, Taraxucum officinale
Herbs have a variety of actions on the body depending on the specific properties of each herb, for example herbs may:
- Calm overactive areas such as the nervous system
- Assist the body to detoxify
- Increase or balance the body's immune system
- Enhance circulation of blood and lymph
- Aid digestion and absorption of nutrients
- Reduce inflammation
- Help regulate hormone production
Herbal prescriptions are individually formulated to address the specific needs of each patient.