"Harnessing the healing power of plants"
Western Herbal Medicine originally evolved mainly using plants indigenous to Europe to treat disease. However, since the 18th century, it has been heavily influenced by North American traditions such as the Eclectic movement and Physiomedicalism. Hence today, the Western Herbal Materia Medica contains many North American plants such as the popular Echinacea purpurea.
Increasingly, modern Medical Herbalists are also using plants from other parts of the world such as China, India and South America. Whilst these herbs are a valuable and welcome additon to the materia medica, it is considered wise to reserve their use to cases where they are really needed or there is no western alternative. This is because there is a growing problem with the over-harvesting of herbs (such as the popular 'Goldenseal') from the wild ('wildcrafting') causing some plants to become endangered and scarce. Additionally, there are also concerns over the ecological impact of flying trendy herbs over from every corner of the world when there are perfectly effective alternatives that can be sourced much closer to home.
"The sum is greater than it's parts"
Pharmaceutical companies continue to search the plant kingdom in places such as rainforests to find new cures and drugs. They are interested in identifying and artificially synthesising particular 'active' chemicals from the plants. In contrast, herbalists will use whole extracts from the active parts of plants such as the leaves, roots, fruits, seeds and bark. Herbalists believe that the use of such whole extracts containing several different chemical constituents (possibly hundreds or thousands) is more effective and has fewer potential side-effects than using concentrated single active chemicals or extracts standardised to contain high concentrations of particular phytochemicals. The numerous chemicals in a herbal extract are said to work together 'synergistically' so that the effect of the whole herb is greater than that expected from the sum of it's components. Also, several herbs are usually used together - working synergistically to optimise the therapeutic effect of the medicine.