What is Phytotherapy?

Phytotherapy is a science-based medical practice which applies Western herbal medicines, derived from plants for the treatment and prevention of disease. The Profession of Phytotherapy (like Homeopathy) is a registered medical profession under the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa and is classified as a form of Complementary Medicine.

Phytotherapy should be distinguished from herbalism which is a form of Traditional Medicine. Although herbalism also uses medicinal substances derived from plants its approach is based mainly on folklore and traditional use.

What does a phytotherapist do?

Registered phytotherapists are primary contact practitioners and clinically trained diagnosticians this means they are fully equipped to diagnose and treat both acute (short-term) illnesses such as infections as well as long-standing (chronic) illnesses in patients of all ages including children.

With training across all body systems phytotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat most conditions one would usually see a general medical practitioner for, the difference being in the prescription i.e. use of Western herbal medicines. Typically their approach is holistic meaning it aims to address the underlying cause of disease rather than just controlling the symptoms. In addition to prescribing herbal medicines, dietary and lifestyle interventions are typically prescribed for patients as required.

What medicines do phytotherapists use?

Phytotherapeutic medicines are derived and extracted from medicinal plants and typically include the full spectrum of active compounds as found in the original plant, rather than using them in isolation. This is because medicinal plants produce their effects through a synergistic action of hundreds of active compounds. Scientific studies have also determined which part of the plants contain the most active ingredients thus certain medicines are specifically derived from certain parts of the plant. 

Common examples of phytotherapeutic medicines include well-known medicines such as Echinacea (root and aerial parts), St John’s Wort(flowers), Calendula(flowers), Hawthorn(berry), Milk thistle(seed), Saw Palmetto(fruit)etc. The majority of Western Herbal medicines have undergone extensive pre-clinical and clinical trials to determine their efficacy and safety.

How do phytotherapeutic medicines work?

Medicinal plants typically contain hundreds of measurable, pharmacologically active phytochemical compounds which synergistically work in achieving a measurable, physiological effect in the body.