Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Botanical Medicine

What is botanical medicine? Simply put, they are plants (or substances that come from plants) that are used to treat or prevent disease. Plants have been used in this way in all cultures from pre-history on.

Are botanical medicines the same as herbal remedies?

Many people use the term herbal remedies, which is fine. We call them botanicals because, technically, the term botanical medicine is more inclusive and includes plant parts that are not strictly herbs, such as bark, seeds, roots, and stems.

Why are botanical medicines sometimes called dietary supplements?

Dietary supplement is a government category that determines how substances are sold and regulated. Some fast facts:

  • In the United States, the vast majority of botanical medicines are classified as dietary supplements. (A few botanicals, such as digitalis leaf, are classified as pharmaceutical drugs.)
  • Dietary supplements also include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other ingredients.
  • Dietary supplements are found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, gelcaps, liquids, powders, or even a bar. They are regulated under the larger umbrella of food, not drugs.
  • The law regulating dietary supplements is different from that regulating pharmaceuticals. One difference is that manufacturers of dietary supplements cannot claim that they treat or prevent disease, only that their products affect structure and function. (See Are Botanical Medicines Safe? for more details.)

Why should I learn about botanical medicines?botanical flowers

Have you ever wondered if a botanical really works? Or if there were any risks in taking it? Or even if the brand you are taking is good? These are all great questions that deserve answers.

Research shows that many botanical medicines offer health benefits, often without some of the risks or side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. However:

  • Botanicals are not always without risk, so you should be aware of possible adverse reactions.
  • Botanicals are not always cheap, so you want to make sure you are getting the right, quality product.

In short, learning about botanical medicines can help you get the most benefit while reducing the risks.

Who is using botanical medicines?

You are not alone in your interests in botanical medicines. In the U.S., botanical medicines are one of the most popular and rapidly growing of all complementary therapies. In 2010, the global retail sale of botanical dietary supplements amounted to more than $25 billion, according to Nutraceuticals World. With this buying power, the more the American public knows about botanicals, the more it can influence good government regulations and reward manufacturers who produce quality products.

Expert Contributor: 
Dennis McKenna, PhD

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