Spokane Naturopathic Medicine | Doctor Lindsay Donahue
February 19th, 2018
It’s time to reach your health potential.

Botanical Medicine

If our foods are chemically complex, then should not our medicines be.

– Kerry Bone & Simon Mills


Botanical medicines, often called herbal medicine or plant medicine is the use of various healing plants which are known to help the body heal. Each healing botanical contains various plant compounds, otherwise known as phytochemicals, which work together in synergy to help mount a (often) gentle healing response in the body.


Botanical medicines can be taken in various forms depending upon the health issue, as: teas, tinctures, capsules, sprays, ointments, liniments, suppositories, or even added to foods. Due to the gentle action of herbs which work with the body to stimulate healing responses, botanical medicines may need to be taken more frequently.

Your treatment plans may include botanicals, depending upon: your health concerns, current medications, allergies, and your wellness goals.

Historical Use

Botanical medicine (Herbal medicine) has been used since ancient times throughout the world (Graeco-Roman and Islamic medicine, Chinese herbal medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Native American Herbal Medicine, 19th century North American Herbal medicine, Middle European Herbal Medicine, Traditional African Medicine). The innate belief that plants contain healing power is a universal belief that unites every human culture. Much to today’s herbal knowledge has been passed down over the centuries and is considered traditional medicine. Many of the early pharmaceuticals have had a botanical origin.

A well known example is Aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid which is metabolized to salicylic acid, a potent anti-inflammatory. Salicin, found in willow bark, has been used historically and played a large role in the development of aspirin. Salicin is also metabolized to salicylic acid.

Another fairly well known example is coumarin, which is commonly found in many botanicals. Red Clover contains coumarin and coumarin-like compounds, as does khella, carrots, celery, and parsnip. Coumarins were first synthesized in 1868 and are now used as a precursor in many synthetic anticoagulant pharmaceuticals.


The use of botanical medicines is considered quite safe, but with any activity in life, it does have risk to its use. Unfortunately, there is no absolute safety, but considering the common usage of botanical medicines worldwide there is surprisingly little clinical evidence of adverse or harmful occurrences.

Some medicinal plants can interact with the body in ways that are not always convenient. There are botanicals that can interact poorly with other medications (Herb-drug interactions are real) and with various medical conditions of the body (i.e. pregnancy, lactation, liver insufficiency, cardiac issues, kidney issues, etc.).

As with food, there is always risk of allergic reaction or hypersensitivity. Certain plants can contain photosensitive elements (often causing dermatitis) or even “toxic” elements- often considered heroic remedies for provoking vomiting, catharsis or eliminating worms/parasites (which some toxicity is necessary).

The issue of quality is important, which is why I can be very specific with a recommended botanical companies quality and source. Medicinal herbs are sourced from nature and can vary in quality and medicinal value depending upon nutrients available in the soil, weather considerations, time of harvest, and steps taken during processing, as well as the method of processing. Other considerations to quality involve a battery of tests to ensure quality and purity (British Herbal Pharmacopoeia), thin layer chromatography to quantify the desirable constituents are available in the plant material, and ensuring there is not microbial contamination, heavy metal, pharmaceutical, or toxic contamination.

Botanicals are rarely used during pregnancy and lactation, and when used they are used only when necessary and they are used very carefully. There are some herbs that are considered safe for use during pregnancy, but many botanicals should not be used and some can be detrimental.