Medicinal plants have chemical properties that make them useful for treating diseases and conditions. These plants, often referred to as herbs, are stored for use by herbalists and alternative health practitioners. The part of the plant used in the remedy can include the roots, the leaves, the stem, the flowers and the fruit.
Medicinal plants have been used in cultures throughout history as people have observed the variety of properties available, both through trial-and-error and through the observation of animals consuming these plants. Evidence has been found through archeological digs that even some of the most ancient cultures used medicinal plants. In 2735 B.C., Chinese emperor Shen Nong created a treatise on herbs that continues to be used by some herbalists. In Babylon in 1800 B.C., mint was used to remedy digestive disorders. Many texts from ancient cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India prescribed the use of medicinal plants. Egyptian hieroglyphics showed medicinal plants being used, such as senna pods and caraway. Many of the modern day medicines take the chemicals found in the medicinal plants and synthesize them artificially in a lab. Throughout the 2000's, the use of alternative medicine became popular, with many medicinal plants being promoted through alternative health experts. Pharmacies also started carrying supplemental medicinal herbs, usually in pill form.
According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of people throughout the world use medicinal herbs as of 2010. These herbal medicines are used almost exclusively among indigenous people as a form of traditional medicine. Many of those who do not use medicinal herbs often take chemically manufactured drugs that are partially derived from medicinal plants.
Manufactured vs. Medicinal Plants
There is controversy over whether medicinal plants or chemically manufactured plants should be used to treat illnesses and maladies. Many physicians see medicinal plants as a supplemental form of medicine and recommend that patients still use chemically manufactured medicines. Physicians point out that many medicinal plants are not effective enough and that some patients have developed worsened symptoms or even died when using medicinal herbs instead of more established treatments. Many alternative health experts argue that chemically manufactured drugs are often full of harmful side effects and contraindications.
Medicinal herbs are delivered in a variety of forms. Tinctures are medicinal plants that are mixed with alcohol. Extracts are substances removed from the plant by water. Capsules contain ground or powdered forms of the herb. Some medicinal herbs are simply consumed and some medicinal herbs are rubbed into the skin or applied to the skin topically.
The benefits of medicinal herbs vary depending on the type of herb. Grecian Foxglove is used to treat congestive heart failure. St. John's Wort is used to treat severe pain. Peppermint has been used to treat digestive problems. While these plants have many benefits, they can also contain chemicals that can have harmful side effects.