This was one of Sandra Clair's best columns of 2018

Plant medicine has been used for millennia both as a preventative measure and as a curative treatment to ailments and illnesses.

According to the book "Medicinal Plants, Human Health and Biodiversity: A Broad Review", the long-term use of plants by humans as a source of nutrition and medicine has confirmed that their bioactive compounds exert low human toxicity probably due to their extensive co-evolution.

While contemporary Western medicine predominantly makes use of chemically derived drugs, it is historically rooted in plant medicine.

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As noted in the text "Hepatotoxicity of botanicals. Alternative and Complementary Therapies", many of its original synthetic drugs are derivatives from medicinal plants such as opium and codein from Papaver somniferum, digoxin from Digitalis lanata or aspirin from Philipendula ulmaria.

Medicinal plants have been empirically proven to regulate biological processes. The mechanisms that drive their wide-ranging effects across the human genome are increasingly explained via contemporary scientific methodologies.

However, many questions about their complex actions and how they regulate multiple human receptors and pathways concurrently remain open.

Plant medicine is safest when plants are used in their original form. This is why many medical herbalists will recommend traditional preparations such as medicinal teas, oral liquids or remedial cream, rather than a pressed tablet.

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Taking plant medicines in their traditional form rather than taking highly concentrated or isolated extracts lowers your risk of exposure to unwanted substances or unnatural concentrations of individual compounds which could cause side-effects.

The other benefit of using remedies that are compounded with the whole plant is that they provide a full spectrum of active constituents that work synergistically on different parts of the body's physiological functions. This addresses underlying imbalances that cause disease.

Plants are incredibly complex and sophisticated organisms that need to defend, nourish and reproduce, just like humans.

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It is their defence mechanisms that provide the therapeutically attractive compounds for humans. Plant medicines will only work if they have been expertly compounded – from harvesting the plant at the right time at their peak potency, to careful processing them to preserve their active constituents and then to the correct formulation.

Plant medicines are well researched and have years of evidence to support their efficacy. The majority has little to no clinically relevant side effects or interaction with most synthetic drugs due to their purity and natural compounds.

This means that when prepared by experts and taken as instructed, they are suitable for both children and adults to use and can be taken to complement other medications. Some medicinal plants, such as St. Mary's Thistle, are beneficial to take together with synthetic drugs as they protect the liver. Each plant remedy has its unique benefits. If you are unsure which remedy is best suited to integrate into your daily routine, consult with your leading healthcare professional, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are on certain medications.

While modern medicines have an important place in the healthcare system, especially as emergency medicines, and can provide quick symptom relief they often target just a single symptom of a wider problem without removing the root cause. Expertly used traditional plant medicine, together with healthy lifestyle choices, treats the underlying problem that is manifesting in the various presenting symptoms.

Ensure any plant medicine products you use are from a reputable company and contain only what it says on the label and nothing else. Remedies made with certified organic plants are free of herbicides and pesticides.

Integrating plant medicine into a daily routine of self-care improves not only immediate health but also sets you up for ongoing good health. If you need advice on what plant medicine is best suited for you to help with symptoms you are experiencing, speak with a qualified consultant at your local pharmacy or health store or with a registered medical herbalist.

Check out nzamh.org.nz for a practitioner near you.