Herbal medicine, more scientifically known as phytotherapy or phytopharmacology, is a branch of medicine dealing with the therapeutic use of herbs, their mixtures and medicinal products made of raw materials of plant origin.

Herbal medicine is also the study of the mechanisms of action of substances of plant origin, the metabolism of their active compounds, determining the indications for their use, dosage and safety of their use.

The use of various medications is probably as old as human history. And even longer.

It has been noticed that some of the food consumed by animals is not part of their daily diet, and in fact it can be described as self-medication of animals with gifts of nature.

As the owners of pets have probably noticed, cats and dogs often eat grass, which of course is not their favourite food, but helps them cleanse the digestive tract of unnecessary, undigested remnants.

It has also been observed that elephants suffering from ailments move away from their herds and set off on long journeys to places where there are certain plants that they normally never eat. It is believed that their consumption may help elephants get rid of ailments.

Of course, the healing effects of herbs were already used by the first people and passed on from generation to generation.

Already in antiquity, for example in Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and Tibet, there were works describing the properties of plants and their use in medicine.

Over time, professional groups have developed that specialized in treatment.

In Europe, they were herbalists, and in isolated communities, they were shamans, whose medical knowledge can be astonishing to this day.

Pharmaceutical companies send scientific expeditions to exotic countries in order to gather knowledge and search for new plants with healing properties.

With time, medical knowledge gathered over the centuries began to be written down and formalized, and a group of such people began to slowly transform into doctors and pharmacists in the present sense of these words.

The beginnings of pharmacy are in fact herbal medicine and the use of other natural remedies.

Currently, we are also very eager to use plant preparations. There is probably no one who has never drunk mint tea, chamomile infusion or St. John’s wort.

Only later were synthetic drugs, also often derived from compounds of natural origin, joined.

An example is salicylic acid isolated from willow bark and then synthesized in 1859 by the German chemist Kolbe, and its derivative, acetylsalicylic acid, was synthesized in a form suitable for pharmaceutical use in 1897 by Felix Hoffman.

It is probably the most popular drug with versatile use, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and even as a cardiological drug with anticoagulant effect used after heart attacks.

Other examples of herbal medicines include:

? Colchicine – a cytostatics from fall winter worms

? Paclitaxel is a cytostatic derived from yew

? Cardiac glycosides from digitalis

As you can see, it is difficult to imagine modern pharmacy without plant-based drugs, which are used not only in minor ailments but also in serious diseases.

AUTHOR: Dr n. farm. Andrzej Tarasiuk