Herbal Method in Treatment: Phytotherapy

Phytotherapy, which means treatment using the power of plants, is often confused with herbal products seen on television. Prof. Dr. Afife Mat, Head of Pharmacognosy Department of Istanbul University Faculty of Pharmacy, gave information about phytotherapy and warned about misconceptions. 

Phytotherapy, which is one of the study topics of pharmacognosy, refers to treatment with plants. Although it has been traditionally done with plant parts for centuries, it has been transformed into “contemporary phytotherapy” in the light of science practices of today.

“Therapeutic use of plants is as old as human history”

Prof Dr Mat, indicating that the use of plants for treatment purposes is as old as human history continued, “People have benefited from various sources of nature for thousands of years. The various effects, benefits or harms of plants have been discovered since the first humans’ observations and experiences. As people have begun to use plants as food, in time they have recognized toxic plants, discovered their effects and began to use them for treatments of diseases.”

Prof Dr Mat, who stated that in 1951-1960 Ralph S Solecki's research in the Shanidar cave located 40 km south of Hakkâri uncovered the grave of the first Neanderthal man belonging to the 50,000 years ago and it is the earliest evidence of the use of plants by humans, said “Pollen analysis of flower bunches and plant parts found next to the human skeleton in this grave revealed that this plant material belongs to the plants still used for medical purposes in this region.”

“False promotions in media is dangerous for public health”

Prof Dr Mat, who stated that there are stereotypes about herbal medicines continued, “A number of false beliefs made by public about herbal remedies such as ‘if it is natural then it must be harmless’, ‘it is made from organic components so it cannot be damaging’ or ‘it does not contain any chemical compound’ have fuelled mistakes. Exaggerated and false promotions in media pose a serious threat to public health.”

According to the Notice No. 5777 on Transfer, Spice Makers and Similar Shops published by the Ministry of Health in 1985 “It is forbidden for the herbalists to recommend the plant, herbal mixture, herbal products and preparations for diseases”. Prof. Dr Mat noted that the herbalists without any training still prepare and sell mixtures for various diseases and pharmacists, although trained in this subject, without a doctor's prescription are forbidden to prepare and sell herbal concoctions.

Prof Dr Mat said, “Diagnosis and treatment of diseases is the duty of the physician, but the person responsible for the drug used for the treatment is the pharmacist. Therefore, the only person who has the knowledge to advise and guide the physician and the public about herbal medicines and phytotherapy is the pharmacist.”

“If used properly, plants are therapeutic”

Prof Dr Mat states that medicinal plants contain various chemical compounds with different pharmacological action, “To be effective in treatment, first of all, the correct plant species must be collected. For example, chamomile sold in herbalists is not always necessarily the medical kind. There are different species of plants called chamomile among public but the only medical kind is the Matricaria recutita.

On the other hand, factors such as time of harvesting of plants, drying methods and storage conditions affect the quality and activity of the plant as well. First of all medical plants must be sold under hygienic conditions. Prof Dr Mat said, “In addition, the plants used traditionally for thousands of years are effective only if the right plant is used for the right person and in the right dosage.”

Story by Esra MUTLU
Translated by Ece GÖÇ
IU Press and Public Relations

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