Botanical Medicine

Also known as herbal medicine or herbalism, botanical medicine involves the use of plants to treat disease and promote health. Animals and plants have evolved alongside each other for millennia, so it makes sense that our bodies respond readily to plant medicines. Like many of the naturopathic modalities, herbal medicine is a very old form of medicine used by cultures all around the world. Humans learned which herbs to use medicinally from trial and error, from observing animals, and from meditations and inspiration! Herbal lore has been passed down through the generations, although the transmission of this information has been impeded by events such as the witch trials that swept through Europe in the 15th to 18th centuries and the decimation of the indigenous populations in North and South America.

How do herbal medicines compare with pharmaceutical medications?

Many of the pharmaceutical medications that are used today are derived from plants. Aspirin, for example, is acetylsalicylic acid, which is derived from the bark of the willow tree or from the herb meadowsweet and was discovered in the early 19th century. Today, aspirin is synthesized for commercial purposes so the direct botanical constituents are not used.

Botanical medicines differ from pharmaceutical medicines in that they are typically a much lower, less concentrated dose of the “active constituent”. Botanical medicines can not replace many pharmaceutical medicines, such as cardiovascular drugs, but they can be used in cases where a more gentle approach is warranted. Botanical medicine may takes longer to work with the body towards healing due to its subtle nature, but the benefits can be significant.

How are botanical medicines prepared?

Various parts of the plant may have medicinal benefits, including the root, rhizome (root), leaf, seeds, bark, and cambium. Depending on the plant and on the patient, herbal medicines may take the form of teas, infusions, decoctions, tinctures, vinegars, glycerites, capsules, and more. Topical preparations include poultices, compresses, liniments, salves, and creams. Dr. Jensen has created many formulas in conjunction with a specialized compounding pharmacist.

Many of the herbal preparations prescribed at Desert Naturopathic Health are administered in capsule, tincture or topical form.

Are herbs safe?

This depends on the plant. When used in the proper doses and combinations, and by understanding the patient and any other interactions, herbs are effective and safe, producing few, if any, side effects. However, certain plant medicines are more powerful and need to be used with caution as they can be toxic in large amounts. The safety of botanical medicines is known through traditional wisdom as well as scientific research. Always consult a trained herbalist or naturopathic doctor before using herbs.

What about herb-drug interactions?

Interactions between herbs and drugs can present a problem. This underscores the importance of working with a naturopathic doctor or other healthcare practitioner who is specifically trained in botanical medicine. Naturopathic doctors are particularly well-equipped to handle such questions because of their extensive training in both herbal medicine and pharmacology.

In many cases it is possible to take certain herbs with certain medications, but it is always best to check with your naturopathic doctor before commencing any new herbal or drug treatment. Also, let your doctor know if any adverse reactions or interactions occur.