Phytotherapy means promoting health using plant constituents. The more popular term is herbal medicine. This therapy primarily focuses on the energetic body, but also on the physical body. This method is not to be confused with homeopathy and the Bach flower essence therapy, in which no active molecules can be found. The official European definition for Phytomedicine is: medicine containing as active ingredients solely plant constituents, parts of herbal material or combinations of these, in raw or processed state.”
The medicinal value of plants was already known before the area of the old Greek philosophers. The regular medicine science also accepts this. In fact, well-known medicine such as digoxin are based on extracts from plants. Also in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the Indian Ayurveda and the western Anthroposophy, herbal medicine are seen as an important ingredient for promoting health. Oftentimes this involves recipes using ingredients from a combination of plants, sometimes over forty. The particular forms of phytomedicine can vary greatly: there are juices, powders, tinctures, syrups, macerates, oils, tea, even compresses and patches.
Research on how to improve phytotherapy is complex because of the many variables/factors on the quality and efficacy of (combinations of) herbs. This includes, for example, the conditions for growth (how arable is the land; what’s the climate); the harvesting moment (St. John’s wort, for example, is often harvested just before it starts to blossom); the genetic differences between herbs belonging to the same herbal family; the retaining of active ingredients during processing, storage and transport.
Furthermore, for several herbal medicine families there is still insufficient clarity about their status as either dietary supplement or medicine. In addition, this status can vary by country. Many types of phytomedicine that have gained the status as ‘medicine’ in particular countries, are only allowed to be sold as ‘dietary supplement’ in The Netherlands. As a consequence, the seller is not allowed to claim any medical benefit for customers using it. Generally speaking, the acceptance as a medicine is advanced the furthest in Germany and the United Kingdom.