Basics of Herbal Medicine

Phytotherapy or phytotherapy refers to the doctrine of the use of medicinal plants as medicines for the prevention and treatment of diseases. It is one of the oldest known therapies that can be found across cultures on all continents. The term phytotherapy was coined in the 20th century by the physician Rudolf Fritz Weiss, who introduced him to the German-speaking world.

The various components of herbal medicine

The basis of herbal medicine is the doctrine of medicinal plants (medicinal plant science or Phytopharmacognosie), the knowledge of ingredients and effect of the various plants used for healing. Pharmacology describes the theory of the interaction between matter and living things. Pharmaceuticals is the study of the drugs and toxicology is the study of the toxins. They are all part of herbal medicine.

In herbal medicine whole plants or plant parts such as roots, bark, seeds or leaves are used, which are prepared as an infusion, tea, juice, essential oil, ointment or tincture. An isolation of individual plant active ingredients is not carried out differently than conventional medicine preparations. In addition to homeopathy and anthroposophic medicine, herbal medicine is one of three therapies recognized outside of conventional medicine. Herbal remedies may be prescribed without specific proof of efficacy.


The vegetable dye chlorophyll

The green coloration of many plants is due to this dye. It is very similar to the human red blood pigment hemoglobin in chemical composition. Chlorophyll is found in plants and algae and is essential for photosynthesis. In photosynthesis, the cells of green plants convert the energy of light into a form of chemical energy that can be used by all living things: into the carbohydrate, glucose. No other creatures except plants, algae and some microorganisms are capable of this particular synthesis.

Researchers also found that chlorophyll reduces unpleasant body odor (eg after eating garlic or dieting).

Bitter substances for healing

The effect of medicinal plants is based on various active components. Some known active ingredients of commonly used medicinal plants are bitter and mucilage. If the healing effect of a plant is based on its bitter-tasting ingredients, it is called bitter drug. Pharmaceutical is called a drug when it comes to active ingredients of plant, animal or chemical origin. There are three groups of plants that have a beneficial effect due to their bitter substances:

  1. pure bitter substance drugs
  2. Plants that contain bitter substances in combination with essential oils
  3. Plants that contain sharp-tasting active ingredients in addition to bitter substances

Pure bitter substances irritate the taste buds of the tongue in the rear tongue area and cause the increased formation and release of digestive juices, especially in the stomach. For this reason, bitter substances serve to stimulate the appetite and to support the digestive functions. Known representatives of this herb group are Centaury and Yellow Gentian. Their effect is mainly due to the bitter substances amarogentin and gentiopikrin. The centaury contains the bitter substances in stems and flowers, in the gentian root is considered the supplier of coveted substances. In addition, these medicinal plants are used as toning (stimulating) remedies for convalescence and nervous exhaustion.


Effect and representative

Bitter substances in the company of essential oils have an effect on gastric juice secretion and toning, whereby the essential oils help to support. These drugs promote intestinal, biliary and hepatic function. In addition, they benefit from the antibacterial properties of the essential oils. It is usually welcomed also the slightly diuretic effect of these plants. Known representatives of this group of plants are mugwort, wormwood (bitter essence Absinthin), angelica, Benediktinerkraut and Pomeranze (bitter orange). In combination with pungent tasting substances bitter substances support the circulation. These medicinal plants include pepper, ginger and galangal.

A traditional use of bitter plant preparations is the bitter salad in the evening of endive or chicory, which is said to promote sleep. Both plants contain bitter lactans. Another effect of the bitter substances used in the diet is the cholagogue effect of dandelion and artichoke. The bitterness of artichoke (cynarin) also helps lower cholesterol levels. It inhibits fat loss during digestion and the release of fat accompanying substances such as cholesterol. Together with the cholesterol that the liver uses to produce bile acids, this helps to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood.


Helping slime

In mucilage, in medicine, substances are understood that contain carbohydrates and that swell up considerably when water is added. They then form a gelatinous mass. In many plants, the mucilages support the action of the respective main ingredients. Unlike marshmallow, mallow, ribwort (along with tannins), mullein (along with saponins), coltsfoot (along with tannins), linseed and Icelandic moss (along with bitter substances). Here, mucilage is considered the predominant active principle. Mucous materials are a thin, protective film on the irritated mucous membranes and keep more irritation away. This property is used in flaxseed for the relief of gastritis.

The body does not take up mucus in the blood through the wall of the intestine, so it only develops its effect locally on the mucous membrane. But since flaxseed binds a lot of fluid (therefore always drink a lot when taking flax seed), it also has a mild laxative effect. For this reason, it is often eaten pure or as an addition to yoghurt, sour milk or muesli. Well-known is the cough-reducing effect of ribwort, Icelandic moss and coltsfoot. Here, too, the mucus protects the mucous membrane of the pharynx or epiglottis. So they work when the cause of coughing is there. An interesting effect of the mucilage is that they reduce the taste sensations, especially for acid sensation. Low-fiber fruits like raspberries, despite their lower sugar content, are sweeter than the low-acidic redcurrants.