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The history of Phytotherapy


Phytotherapy is defined at the treatment and prevention of disease by using medicines derived by plant sources. It is distinctly different from medical herbalism, as it is rooted in more of a science-based approach largely focusing on proven scientific trials to guide treatment and botanical selection. Although this method uses empirical evidence, it has its foundation rooted in traditional herbal therapies. 

Whether it is classified as traditional medicine or not, phytotherapy often explores the traditional uses for medicine, to determine if a physiological and clinical effect can be demonstrated in research trials. 

Phytotherapeutic preparations are then derived from plants, and are available in therapeutic doses. The term phytotherapeutics refers to the active components extracted from medicinal plant materials. These phytopharmacology components are then responsible for treating and curing common ailments.

The doses found in these preparations are often higher than what would normally be consumed in their crude plant form. Some examples of herbs used in phytotherapy are as follows:

1. Echinacea angustifolia: This is used in phytopharmacology to treat common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.
2. Hypericum perforatum: This is commonly known as St John’s Wort, and is used to treat mild to moderate forms of depression. In clinical trials it has shown to be as effective as pharmaceutical options, and with less side effects.

In regards to herbal healing, plants have been employed in medicinal therapies for many centuries dating back to some of the oldest civilizations known to us today. Some even believe there is more than just than just physical healing that occurs. Some cultures have even believed that plants hold energetic healing properties as well.

In many cultures certain plants are sacred and hold great importance. Egyptian medicine documents dated 1600 BC have been discovered proving this ancient use of plant healing therapy. And later, in 1200 BC, it was documented that Achillea millefolium was used in the Trojan War to heal the wounds of soldiers. There are many other examples in ancient Greece, the middle ages, and beyond attributing to the intricate and dynamic healing properties of plants. 

The specific concept of phytotherapy was more of a recent classification, and started to grown in popularity thanks to a French physician Henri Leclerc. He was the first to publish texts on Phytotherapy specifically. In then began to reach the English language as it was introduced by a herbalist and practitioner of homeopathy, called Eric Frederick William Powell. Later, in the 1960’s, a German herbalist named Rudolf Fritz Weiss, began publishing his works on Phytotherapies as a form of herbal medicine.

Although some plants based therapies, such as phytotherapy, fall under the realm of evidence based medicine, there is still confusion around the acceptance into Western medicine practices. Although there are many research articles proving the efficacy of various herbal preparations, the phytopharmacology is still viewed in many ways as alternative therapies, and are classified as supplements rather than medicines.

Topics: Phytotherapy

Doctor Allison Galan

Written by Doctor Allison Galan

Dr. Allison Galan is a licensed ND practicing in Calgary. She has a passion for empowering her patients to be their own catalyst for change, while supporting them in their health and wellness goals. She believes wholeheartedly in the mind-body connection, which is an integral component of her practice. Allison graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and also holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. She is a member in good standing in the CNDA and the CAND.