Botanical medicine is the use of plants in treating medical conditions and helping patients maintain health. It may also be called phytotherapy or herbalism. However, botanical medicine is typically a few steps up from herbalism, and it requires extensive training and knowledge of complex plant constituents. The physician who uses botanical medicine may use tablets containing one or more powdered herbs, tinctures (herbs dissolved in alcohol), creams, lotions, ointments or inhalants.
Each area of the world has its own indigenous plants. Although some plants grow anywhere in the world, others are found only in certain areas. Plant relatives made be found in different countries or hemispheres of the world; in some cases, they have the same effects; in others, they have different effects. Western botanical medicine focuses on the plants of North America and their medicinal uses, particularly the uses of the native cultures in the areas where they are found.
Botanical medicines are used in the same ways conventional medicines are used. In fact, many current synthetic remedies, like aspirin and digitalis (a heart medicine) began as botanical medications. In addition to their use in treating disease, botanical medicines may be used to promote health. Some botanical medicines strengthen the immune system or support a particular organ like the liver or thyroid gland. They may be used alone or in combination and may also be combined with conventional medicines in some cases.
Properly used, botanical medicines are equally as safe as conventional medicines. Some do have side effects, which the physician will consider when prescribing botanical medicine. Naturopaths use botanical medications that are grown, harvested and manufactured in controlled circumstances, so they have the correct potency and don't contain contaminants. Botanical medications are not supplements like the ones in health food stores, although naturopathic physicians may use or recommend supplements.
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