Herbal Medicine

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 80% of the world’s population use traditional medicine for their primary health care needs. Most of this therapy involves the use of plant extracts or the active components from plants. Plants have been used for their healing purposes throughout human history and forms the origin of modern medicine. Herbal medicine emphasises the effects of herbs on the whole body and individual body systems (McEwen 2015).

Herbal medicines

Herbal medicines include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations and finished herbal products, that contain as active ingredients parts of plants, or other plant materials, or combinations (WHO 2000).


Herbs are crude plant material such as leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, stems, wood, bark, roots, rhizomes or other plant parts, which may be entire, fragmented or powdered (WHO 2000).

Herbal preparations

Herbal preparations are the basis for finished herbal products and may include comminuted (particles or fragments) or powdered herbal materials, or extracts, tinctures and fatty oils of herbal materials (WHO 2000).

Finished herbal products

Finished herbal products are herbal preparations made from one or more herbs (WHO 2000).

Traditional use of herbal medicines

Traditional use of herbal medicines refers to the long historical use of these medicines (WHO 2000).

Traditional medicine

Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness (WHO 2000).


Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, which means “the scripture for longevity”. Ayurveda represents an ancient system of traditional medicine prevalent in India and in several other south Asian countries. It is based on a holistic view of treatment which is believed to cure human diseases through establishment of equilibrium in the different elements of human life, the body, the mind, the intellect and the soul. Ayurveda dates back to the period of the Indus Valley civilization (about 3000 B.C) (Ven Murthy et al. 2010).



Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an important medicinal plant of the Indian subcontinent. It is widely used, singly or in combination, with other herbs for numerous ailments in Indian Systems of Medicine (Dar et al. 2015). Some herbalists refer to Ashwagandha as Indian ginseng, since it is used in India, in a way similar to how ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a large variety of human diseases (Ven Murthy et al. 2010). Withania somnifera contains a spectrum of diverse phytochemicals enabling it to have a broad range of biological implications. In preclinical studies, it has shown anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and glucose regulating properties. Additionally, Ashwagandha has demonstrated the ability to reduce reactive oxygen species, modulate mitochondrial function, regulate apoptosis, and reduce inflammation and enhance endothelial function (Dar et al. 2015). Ashwagandha is also considered an Adaptogen. An adaptogen normalises physiological functions, caused by chronic stress, through correction of imbalances in the neuroendocrine and immune systems (Ven Murthy et al. 2010).



Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) grows in the plains of Southeast Asia, tropical Asia, sub-tropical United States, tropical Africa, and Australia. The main actions of Brahmi include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, cardiotonic, bronchodilator, and peptic ulcer protection. Some of the various indications for use of Brahmi described in Ayurvedic medicine are for memory improvement, insomnia, and anxiety (Chaudhari et al 2017).



Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used in Europe since prehistoric times. It is well documented in written form starting with the ancient Greeks. Glycyrrhizin is the major active constituent obtained from licorice roots, one of the most widely used in herbal preparations for the treatment of liver and digestive complaints. The plant is used as anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, laxative, anti-depressive, anti-ulcer and glucose metabolism (Dastagir and Rizvi 2016). Licorice has been traditionally used for several ailments such as coughs or ulcer that could be associated with inflammation. Various licorice species have also been shown to differentially modulate detoxification pathways (Dietz et al. 2016).


Chaudhari KS, Tiwari NR, Tiwari RR, Sharma RS. Neurocognitive Effect of Nootropic Drug Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) in Alzheimer’s Disease. Ann Neurosci. 2017 May;24(2):111-122.

Dar NJ, Hamid A, Ahmad M, Pharmacologic overview of Withania somnifera, the Indian Ginseng. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2015 Dec;72(23):4445-60.

Dastagir G, Rizvi MA. Review – Glycyrrhiza glabra L. (Liquorice). Pak J Pharm Sci. 2016 Sep;29(5):1727-1733.

Dietz BM, Hajirahimkhan A, Dunlap TL, Bolton JL. Botanicals and Their Bioactive Phytochemicals for Women’s Health. Pharmacol Rev. 2016 Oct;68(4):1026-1073.

McEwen BJ 2015, The Influence of Herbal Medicine on Platelet Function and Coagulation: A Narrative Review, Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis, 41(3); 300-314.

Ven Murthy MR, Ranjekar PK, Ramassamy C, Deshpande M. Scientific basis for the use of Indian ayurvedic medicinal plants in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders: ashwagandha. Cent Nerv Syst Agents Med Chem. 2010 Sep 1;10(3):238-46.

World Health Organization (WHO) 2000, General Guidelines for Methodologies on Research and Evaluation of Traditional Medicine. WHO/EDM/TRM/2000.1

This information is presented for informational purposes only. It does not replace or substitute medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose or treat, and should not be used to do so. Always consult a health care professional. See Terms and Conditions for more information.