Herbal medicine, also known as phytotherapy, is the use of plant remedies to prevent and treat ill health. It is the oldest and still the most widely used system of medicine in the world today. It is used in all societies and is common to all cultures.
Herbal medicine is increasingly being validated by scientific investigation which seeks to understand the active chemistry of the plant. Many modern pharmaceuticals have been modelled on, or derived from chemicals found in plants. An example is the heart medication digoxin derived from foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).
There are many different types of herbal medicine which have sprung from different cultures around the world. All these have the use of medicinal plants in common, but they vary in the plants they use, the way they prepare and use medicines from these plants, and the philosophy of their treatment approaches. Thus some cultures may use different parts of the same plant (e.g. berries, roots, leaves, bark etc), or use the same part but differ in different ways.
Western herbal medicine is based on a combination of traditional knowledge, clinical experience, an understanding of medical sciences and the scientific evidence base for herbal medicine.
Chinese herbal medicine is one of the great herbal systems of the world, with an unbroken tradition going back to the 3rd century BC. Throughout its history it has continually developed in response to changing clinical conditions, and has been sustained by research into every aspect of its use. This process continues today with the development of modern medical diagnostic techniques and knowledge.
Because of its systematic approach and clinical effectiveness it has for centuries had a very great influence on the theory and practice of medicine in the East, and more recently has grown rapidly in popularity in the West. It still forms a major part of healthcare provision in China, and is provided in state hospitals alongside western medicine.
Chinese medicine includes all oriental traditions emerging from Southeast Asia that have their origins in China. It is a complete medical system that is capable of treating a very wide range of conditions. In addition to herbal medicine, it includes acupuncture, dietary therapy, and exercises in breathing and movement (tai chi and qi gong). Some or several of these may be employed in the course of treatment, depending on the patient’s requirements.