Why Plant Medicine?
Whole, natural plant medicine offers benefits similar to whole, natural foods. While drugs in the form of isolated chemical constituents can serve an important function for many individuals, plant medicines generally include additional vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other beneficial constituents. Since humans have used whole plant parts for food and medicine for the vast majority of our time on earth, it could be argued that our bodies are best-adapted to them.
Plants often possess combinations of constituents that enhance absorption, or reduce side effects. For example, calcium and magnesium are often found together in plants; magnesium improves absorption of calcium in the body. A common herbal example is methyl salicylate-containing plants, like white willow bark, black birch, and meadowsweet. This compound was isolated and altered to produce aspirin. In addition to inhibiting COX-2 enzymes in the body, which are responsible for pain sensation and inflammation, today's over-the-counter aspirin also inhibits COX-1 enzymes, responsible for gastric protection and platelet aggregation. This may result in side effects like damage of the gastrointestinal lining. Many individuals report fewer side effects using plants like white willow bark and meadowsweet for pain relief. This may be because plant-based salicin has less interaction with COX-1 enzymes. The additional constituents found in white willow bark, such as its anti-inflammatory flavonoids or tannins, likely play a role in balancing side effects.
Using plant medicine is empowering. While the average person cannot (and should not!) create their own pharmaceutical in their kitchen, the average person is capable of growing peppermint and chamomile in a container, and making a simple tea. Like growing and wild-harvesting our own foods, harvesting our own medicine offers the benefits of physical exercise, mental and emotional satisfaction, connection, environmental sustainability, and supporting our local economy.
Further Reading on White Willow Bark:
University of Maryland Medical Center. "White Willow Bark." http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/willow-bark. Viewed May 26, 2015.