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What is Phytotherapy?

Phytotherapy or medical herbalism, as this is called in Europe, is the most scientifically-validated medicine in the category of natural medicine. It has origins in the European and Greco-Roman traditions, tracing back to prominent physicians, such as Dioscorides, Hippocrates, Galen and St Hildegard of Bingen.


Herbal medicine is the oldest and still the most widely used system of medicine in the world today. It is medicine made exclusively from plants. Many modern pharmaceuticals have been modelled on, or derived from chemicals found in plants. For example, the development of Metformin, the most widely prescribed drug for the treatment of diabetes, can be traced back to the use of the herb goat’s rue, which is used even today by herbalists for treating the same condition. 

Today, phytotherapy is recognised as modern and science based herbal medicine. It is practiced by medical doctors, naturopaths, and medical herbalists in Germany and many parts of Europe, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Read on to find out more about it.

Is there good scientific evidence to support it? 

The foundation of modern medication, chemistry, perfumes, and botany lies in plant medicine. In fact, many synthetic drugs are either derived from plants or are similar to, chemicals found in nature. In addition, a report based on extensive research (funded by Victoria’s Department of Human Services) and reviews by La Trobe University in Australia stated the following: 

‘A review of 77 systematic reviews published between 2001 and 2003 suggested that there is now evidence of the benefits of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine for almost every body system and all major illnesses. It can be concluded that the ‘tools of the trade’ of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine can be effective and that the practice of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine is therefore potentially effective’

How does phytotherapy work?  

In phytotherapy, plant medicines are selected based on a professional consultation with the patient. Functional tests, medical tests and differential diagnosis may be used if further assessment is necessary. They are selected to stimulate or strengthen the body’s normal functions, and so assist the body to heal itself.

The medical herbalist approaches each client as a unique individual in making a holistic diagnosis. Any herbal medicine prescribed may be a combination of plants chosen for the specific needs of the patient. Herbs may be prescribed in the form of tea, tinctures, capsules, tablet, and a lotion/cream for topical use.

How long does treatment take? 

This will depend completely on the individual and their condition. Patient’s compliance is also very important. 

Some improvement in symptoms should be noted within hours to a day for acute conditions such as a cold or flu, or within 4 to 6 weeks for chronic conditions. Chronic problems are particularly well suited to treatment with herbal medicine. Some chronic conditions such as autoimmune, certain skin diseases may need longer duration of treatment.   

Is it safe?  

Phytotherapy is very safe and effective when prescribed by a fully qualified medical herbalist. Self-care with herbs, due to their complexity, should be complemented with professional consultations. Work with a healing, patient-centred, and qualified medical herbalist in your journey to use herbs safely for total wellness. Do not rely on the advice of sales professionals, the internet, over-the-counter sales employees, or sales promotion and advertisements for information about herbs. If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, please consult your medical herbalist. Healing is a partnership.  

Can herbs be taken alongside my doctor’s prescription? 

Medical herbalists are trained to work with doctor’s prescriptions, so your herbal protocol will be chosen to avoid interaction with any current medication. Follow-up appointments at regular intervals will be made to monitor your progress and adjust the protocol accordingly. 

Is phytotherapy suitable for children? 

Phytotherapy is found to be very suitable, safe, and effective for babies and children’s ailments and general health. Herbs can alleviate symptoms and facilitate developmental changes such as the maturation of the immune system. Thus they can benefit the long-term health of a child. It is also a gentle form of medicine that supports their developing body systems. 

What can I expect when consulting with a medical herbalist?

A full and comprehensive consultation including: 

  • a detailed case and medical history, including diet, lifestyle and emotional states; 
  • individually prescribed and dispensed herbal medicine with clear dosage instructions; 
  • dietary, stress management and lifestyle advice or coaching;
  • laboratory tests, simple physical examination may be done or further medical tests may be advised via your medical doctor or independent laboratory; 
  • confidentiality;
  • professionalism.

Your medical herbalist is one who:

  • should be highly trained in the philosophies, principles and practice of Western herbal medicine and medical science
  • should have a specialist university education from an accredited institution and association;
  • combines conventional medical knowledge with scientific and traditional understanding of plant medicine;
  • takes a holistic view towards health and diseases;
  • will assess you as a person and not a disease;
  • prescribes effective doses of herbal remedies that are of pharmaceutical grade/doses that are safe for human use in the prevention and treatment of diseases or the promotion of wellness;
  • seeks to treat the underlying cause of disease;
  • works towards stimulating or strengthening the body’s normal functions, and so helps the body heal itself;  
  • works at all times, toward creating a trusting and healing relationship with the patient;
  • inspires positive and lasting changes;  
  • provides nutrition, lifestyle, stress management and psycho-spiritual advise;
  • maintains high standard of professional practice;
  • is an authoritative source of information about natural health.

If you are thinking of giving phytotherapy a try, do go to a reputable and accredited medical herbalist.