There can be confusion about how plant and pharmaceutical medicines work; particularly about how plant medicine works on a variety of conditions when pharmaceuticals appear to work on individual symptoms.

Traditionally, plant medicine incorporates the whole plant, and this brings a full spectrum of active constituents that work on different parts of the body's physiological functions. Plants are complex and sophisticated organisms that need to defend, nourish and reproduce, just like humans. Plants and humans have co-evolved for millennia, adapting to one another's needs.

Pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the lab, are single molecules that address a single aspect of a disease - very much in line with the "lock and key" theory of disease treatment. Many pharmaceutical drugs are plant-derived chemicals. Pharmaceutical medication is very focused; one drug for one symptom, for example, pain relief, numbing a certain area or blocking a pathway. However, negative side effects are often associated with these medications.

A good example of this is aspirin, which was derived from the plant Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), which belongs to the genus Spiraea that inspired its name. As a single synthetic chemical, the acetylsalicylic acid in aspirin helps to relieve pain, but it can also suppress the normal function of blood platelets and cause stomach ulcers. As a whole plant, Meadowsweet contains other phytochemicals that negate the side effects of its chemical counterpart, while still providing pain relief.

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Although modern medicines can provide quick symptom relief and are great as emergency medicines, because they are often symptom-based they repress or relieve the symptom rather than treating the underlying cause. By contrast, professionally formulated plant medicine focuses on treating the problem and not just the symptoms.

Of course, we want to address symptoms, too, and help people feel better quickly, but we also want to address the underlying cause or drivers of a condition so that long-term health can be achieved.

For example, in plant medicine if a patient presents high blood pressure due to stress, the aim is to address the stress, as well as the hypertension. With plant medicine, the aim is that when the medication is finished, patients are better off than when they started.

Human bodies are exceedingly complex and sophisticated. Because of the long co-evolution, they respond well to plant medicines, which have a robust body of evidence that they help to re-balance and repair while being very safe.