In the same way that people use plants for food to nourish the body, so too can plants be used to heal the body.
Plants produce various substances which promote health. Some examples are: bitters (benefit the liver and digestive system), saponins (help shift mucus and may also have hormonal activity), flavonoids, (anti-inflammatory and benefit the circulation), tannins (astringe the tissues aiding healing),
mucilage’s (benefit the mucus membranes, respiration and digestion), minerals, vitamins etc. Each plant contains unique combinations of constituents giving it its particular therapeutic properties.
Many pharmaceutical drugs used in everyday practice are based on plants. The pharmaceutical industry extracts and synthesizes single active constituents from plants which can then be manufactured on a large scale. Examples of such drugs are aspirin (based on willow bark) and cardiac
glycosides digoxin and digitoxin (heart drugs based on foxglove).
Herbal medicines, on the other hand, are obtained from a part of the whole plant (e.g. leaves, roots, berries etc.) and contain hundreds of plant constituents.
Herbalists believe that use of part of the whole herb has a more balanced and safer effect. This belief comes from expertise in herbal medicine handed down to us by previous generations. One example in support of the use of the whole herb is that of the diuretic. Orthodox diuretics (drugs that increase the flow of urine) can seriously reduce potassium levels in the body which have to be restored using potassium supplements. Herbalists use dandelion leaves as a powerful diuretic. Dandelion leaves contain potassium which naturally replaces that which is lost thereby maintaining balance in the
body and avoiding a negative side-effect.