Also known as herbalism, phytotherapy is the practice of treating disease and health challenges with plant medicine. When someone uses the term of phytotherapy, they are often talking about Western herbal medicine, which has a lengthy history dating back to Roman times. Western herbal medicine often uses herbs native to Europe and North America, though there is some overlap with TCM herbs. The medicine can take many different forms depending on the individual: blends of herbs can be made up as a tea to help you sleep better, a tincture for digestive issues, capsules to treat arthritis, an ointment for a sprained ankle, or ear drops for infection.
Training in phytotherapy is often rigorous and involves not only a detailed study of particular plants, but also many science courses such as anatomy, pathophysiology, biochemistry, and phytochemistry. A phytotherapist usually begins with an in-depth intake that surveys a broad range of topics that sees the patient as a whole, rather than as just a list of symptom. After gathering the detailed history, the phytotherapist will put together a specific treatment plan for the individual that addresses both the short-term symptoms and long-term goals of the patient.
There are so many benefits to herbal medicine. Phytotherapists generally prefer to work with whole plants rather than single constituents because of a belief that the whole plant has evolved to be perfectly suited to work with human physiology in a gentle, yet effective way. Many people already know to reach for some mint or ginger for an upset stomach, or that garlic is good for the heart, but herbal medicine can reach far beyond. It is well-suited to treat the kinds of chronic issues that standard Western medicine lacks good tools for. Herbs excel at working with the body to improve our gut flora and are great for digestive issues like IBS or SIBO; they can be valuable in treating chronic lung issues, asthma, and allergies; there are herbs to balance hormones, to improve heart health, and to address autoimmune issues. Herbal medicine can not only target specific symptoms, it can also work at a tonifying level to improve whole body function and help us as we age.
Whatever the health concern you have, there is a plant out there that’s ready and willing to help you, and a phytotherapist can assist you to find the right combination for your specific situation.