Herbal medicine


Herbal medicine, also known as “Phytomedicine”, is a science that uses medicinal plants for healing purposes. Medicinal plants are plants that contain biochemical compounds that have medicinal values

Plants contain 2 kinds of active compounds: Primary metabolites (Composed of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins), and Secondary metabolites (Active compounds produced by different plants). Common, active, secondary phyto-metabolites that have medicinal values include:

1. Alkaloids: a group of compounds with “Alkaline” properties. These compounds act mainly on the Nervous and the Cardiac systems (e.g., Morphine, Caffeine, Atropine, Codeine …  

2. Glycosides: a large group of compounds composed of sugar with non-sugar (Aglycone) part. Glycosides are the most potent “Drug” part of the plant, and many glycosides are found such as: Cardiac glycosides (e.g., digoxin), Mustard glycoside (contain sulfur & work as antiseptic agent), Phenolic-glycosides (e.g., salicylic acid), Flavinoid-glycosides, and Saponins (Are phyto-Estrogens)

3. Bitter compounds: a group of compounds with “Bitter taste” properties that irritate the taste buds. In general, they activate the GI juices (e.g., bile secretion)

4. Tannins: a group of compounds that “Coagulates” proteins, heavy metals, and alkaloids ONLY when they are fresh enough to dissolve in water. They are used in treating respiratory diseases, diarrhea, and wound healing (e.g., rose)

5. Essential oils: are the “Volatile” oily components of plant cells; exposure to air or light oxidizes these oils. The oils have very powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties

6. Fatty oils: are the “Triglycerides” oily components of plant cells (e.g., Corn oil, olive oil, castor oil, almond oil … etc. Most of these oils are poly-unsaturated fats)

7. Mucilage & Pectins: are mixed “Polyssacharides” components of plant cells; in cold water, they form a “Gel”. Mucilage forms a protective coat in the respiratory and the digestive tract when they are ingested

8. Terpenes: Is “Hydrocarbon” components derived from essential oils of plant cells

9. Vitamins: are the “Co-enzymes & co-factors” components of plant cells

Herbs have many forms of preparation. The most common forms of herbal preparatuion include:

1. Infusion: is made by pouring boiling water (e.g., 500 ml) over the crude or powdered herb (e.g., 30-60 g). This method is best for: Leaves, flowers, and stems

2. Decoction: this method is best for: roots & hard parts of the plant (e.g., bark). The decoction is made by crushing the roots or the bark and grinded into small pieces. Then put the herb into water (e.g., 500 ml) and boil it; when you reach the boiling degree, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Then strain the herbs with a sieve into a glass container. Finally, filter the sieved decoction with a filtering paper for the pure liquid form. Then you can either drink it or apply it to the skin

3. Tincture: are concentrated solutions of herbal extracts made by immersing the herbs in alcohol base. The extracted phyto-compounds can be stored for years in this form

4. Capsules: typically use dried, powdered form of the herb


Selected references

1. Farley M, Bollinger T. A guide to understanding herbal medicines and surviving the coming pharmaceutical monopoly. 2011; Infinity 510 Squared Partners; 1st edition


2. Gladstar R.  Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide. 2012; Storey Publishing, LLC; Nineth edition; 1st edition


3. Herbal Medicines; 2013; Pharmaceutical Press; 4th edition