Monthly Archives: March 2013


A clear distinction exists between gentle or mite phytopharmaceuticals on the one hand, and powerful or forte phytopharmaceuticals on the other. Between them lies a wide transitional field, i.e. the many medicinal plants with actions somewhere between ‘gentle’ and ‘powerful’- Liquiritia, Arnica and Khella, to mention just a few. These might also be referred to as ‘intermediate’ phytopharmaceuticals. The situation is the same for phytotherapeutic agents as it is for chemotherapeutic ones. With these we have a similarly wide spectrum from gentle and largely non-toxic drugs such as calcium carbonate, or even aspirin, to the modern cytostatics with their very powerful actions. Here too the majority of drugs are in the middle. Like everywhere else, life swings between two poles. It is wrong, or at least one-sided, to think only of gentle phytopharmaceuticals when speaking of phytopharmaceuticals, and to belittle them, if not in words, then at least in one’s thoughts. It is nevertheless true, with most gentle phytopharmaceuticals, that there is no standardized active principle that solely or largely determines the drug action. The gentle pharmaceuticals in particular demonstrate that with plant remedies one very often has a comprehensive complex of active principles, with individual components interacting with others, so that only the complex as a whole will produce the therapeutic action. One might speak of a bio-pharmaceutical. The diagram overleaf will help to illustrate this.
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Where Did the Term Phytotherapy Originate?

The term was introduced by the French physician Henri Leclerc (1870-1955). He had published numerous essays on the use of medicinal plants, most of them in La Presse Medicale, a leading French medical journal. These essays were outstanding for their style, and superb examples of the art of presenting a subject. He summed up his life-time experience in Pr&s de Phytothkrapie, a concise work that has since become a classic. Leclerc’s life and work were described in lively terms in an obituary which appeared in La Presse Medicale on 14 May 1955. Herbal medicine has come a long way since the days of the ancient ‘herbalism’. The study of the use of medicinal plants is now a scientific subject, a field of medicine in the same way as chemotherapy, hydrotherapy, electrotherapy and others. Knowledge of medicinal plants and their uses has been recorded from antiquity – by Imhotep, the priest-physician of ancient Egypt who devised the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, by Galen, personal physician to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and later by Paracelsus, the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, and the authors of the great herbals of medieval times, right to the present day. The rise of chemistry, the development of numerous synthetic chemical drugs, and the possibilities opened up by experimental pharmacology have caused herbal knowledge to be neglected. A new climate was created by methods evolved on the basis of modem physiology, concerned predominantly with effects that were measurable under experimental conditions. In this framework it was difficult to know what to do with the medicinal plants. Chemical compounds could always be exactly analyzed giving results in parts by weight of so and so many milligrams, etc. In phytotherapy this method on the whole applies only to medicinal plants with powerful actions – great difficulties arise in other aspects of the work, particularly with many of the plants with gentle actions.