Medicinal Plants

Delaterre here, Flora Delaterre, plant detective.

At the end of my radio show, I remind people that medicinal plants are everywhere. It’s true: they’re in deserts, jungles, forests, and plains, on mountaintops, in the sea, and living on other plants, in your backyard, in your kitchen. Some medicinal plants are prized and rare; we refer to others as weeds. You can find them at your local herbalist’s and also in the drugstore, in over-the-counter and prescription drugs. These are just the phytomedicinals we know about. Hundreds, maybe thousands of other plant compounds may be waiting to be discovered.

People have used medicine from plants since the dawn of our species. After all, stop and think about it–what else was there? Over time we learned which plants worked for which problems, then we passed this knowledge down through the ages and around the globe. Even here in the industrialized west, it’s only been 50 to 70 years since we began using modern pharmaceuticals. Before that, all people relied heavily on plants for medicine.

To this day, in medical systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (of which acupuncture is one branch) or Ayurveda in India, medicine from plants is still essential. Most people in the world, especially in rural and poorer parts of the world, still use plant medicine. That’s partly because of cultural beliefs and traditions, and partly because western-style health care and drugs may be out of reach financially or geographically. Meanwhile, in the west, people are becoming more and more interested in phytomedicinals again, for a variety of reasons:

  • Increased medical options. It’s hard to find drugs–“natural” or not–that work for your unique, individual body. Phytomedicinals expand one’s drug options.
  • Fewer side effects. Studies show that some herbal medicines are as effective as over-the-counter or prescribed drugs for the same health conditions, only they work more gently, without some of the side effects of “single-bullet” drugs–that is, the single-active-ingredient approach that dominates western medicine and pharmaceuticals.
  • Centuries of human use. People have been using these plants for centuries. They may not always be FDA-approved, but in most cases, a vast body of accumulated knowledge and experience about them is available.
  • Cost. In addition to being as effective as manufactured pharmaceuticals, some phytomedicinals are cheaper.
  • Dislike of western or allopathic medicine. Some people distrust western health practices. They feel western medicine fails to take the “whole person” into account. For them, medicine from plants fits better within a “holistic” approach.
  • Recommendations or personal experience. Our parents, grandparents, or friends may have used certain plants in their own health care, and they swear by them.

The Need for Information

The use of medicine from plants may be on the rise, but people don’t always use phytomedicinals correctly. Some think “natural” means “always good,” or “safe,” or “better.” But plant chemicals are chemicals just like any other. Correct and incorrect usage is one thing I talk about on my radio show.

You want to be sure that any substance you put in your body is safe; that its chances of working are optimal; and that it doesn’t interfere with any other drugs you’re taking or condition you have. As with any drug, it’s best to consult with a trained health care practitioner before taking it. Use my website and radio show as one place to educate yourself. Also, many of the sites I link to are fonts of information.