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Benefits of Botanical Medicine

Put simply, botanical medicine is using active compounds isolated in plants for their medicinal or therapeutic properties to maintain or improve health. They are also known as herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicine. Humans have been successfully using plant medicine for thousands of years across many cultures. 

Indigenous cultures (such as African and Native American) use herbs in their healing rituals. In Mesopotamia, there are tablets dating 5000 back listing hundreds of medicinal plants like myrrh, caraway and thyme. Other cultures developed traditional medical systems like Ayurveda (India) and Traditional Chinese Medicine in which herbal therapy is used to treat both acute and chronic ailments.

Plant medicine is the foundation of pharmaceuticals. For example, Codeine which is used as an antitussive (cough suppressant) and analgesic (pain reliever) was derived from the poppy plant or Papaver somniferum in latin. Morphine, used to relieve pain, also comes from the poppy plant. In fact, a full 40 percent of the drugs behind the pharmacist's counter in the Western world are derived from plants that people have used for centuries, including the top 20 best-selling prescription drugs in the United States today.

The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines to treat conditions, such as allergies, asthma, eczema, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, menopausal symptoms, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer, among others. For example, one study found that 90% of people with arthritic conditions use alternative therapies, such as herbal medicine. As the popularity of botanical medicine grows, studies on the efficacy and safety continue to occur. Effective results with low risk is why the public continues to pursue the use natural treatments. Non-pharmalogical treatment for conditions such as hypertension, ulcerative colitis, and pre-menstrual syndrome have been studied and proven effective.

Many of the botanicals you know and may even be growing in your home garden. Mint is often used for an upset stomach, chamomile is used for sleep irregularities and digestive upset, and garlic for high cholesterol. Elderberry and echinacea are both used at the first sign of a viral infection and is known to shorten its coarse and reduce symptoms.

Botanical treatment can be used in a variety of forms; orally as a pill, tea or tincture. They can also be used topically in an oil, spray or plaster. They can be used for an acute respiratory infection, yeast infection and pain such as a muscle pull or ankle strain. They can also be used for chronic conditions such as dermatitis, gut health and anxiety. A coarse of treatment can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 12 months depending on the complexity and nature of the condition. 

It is very important to have an educated health care provider, specifically trained in herbal medicine, to prescribe not only the correct botanicals for you but to recommend a high quality product. Remember, not all are created equally.

Last, the impact that botanical medicine can have on the quality of one’s life can be profound. For some, they are used for a short time when having a health crisis while for others they are used to support different life stages to be lived as healthfully as possible.

Dalite Sancic, DAOM, L.Ac., MS is a doctor of eastern medicine at Rutland Integrative Health. She is a trained herbalist in practice for 20 years.

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