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Uses of Medicinal Plants

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

Humanity has had a symbiotic relationship with plants and herbs since the beginning of time. Healing with medicinal plants is as old as humanity itself.

Since ancient times, herbal medicine has been used by many different cultures throughout the world to treat dis-ease and to assist bodily functions. An “herb” is any plant or plant part used for its medicinal therapeutic value. Herbal medicine, also called herbology, herbalism, botanical medicine, or phytomedicine, refers to utilizing a plant's seeds, roots, leaves, flowers, berries, or bark for medicinal healing purposes.

A medicinal plant has similar chemical properties as conventional pharmaceutical drugs that humans have used throughout history to assist or lessen symptoms from an illness. We have evolved for thousands of years using plants; our bodies are better suited to digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing these plant-based foods and medicines.

There are many ways to use herbal medicines. Here is an overview of the most effective and safe ways to use medicinal plants.

Internal Uses of Herbs

Herbs - Dried or fresh herbs. Used in cooking as spices, teas, and herbal medicines.

Examples of Cooking Herbs: Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), and Black Pepper (Piper nigrum). Dried herbs used as spices in cooking are known to increase digestive health.

Capsules - Dried herbs. Used when a stronger internal remedy is needed.

Examples of Herbal Capsules: Olive Leaf (Olea europaea) - Excellent immune support. Olive leaves contain high amounts of oleuropein, a polyphenol with unique health-improving attributes. These extracts have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to improve age-related diseases.

Ashwagandha Root (Withania somnifera) - is an adaptogenic herb popular in Ayurvedic medicine that has shown incredible results for reducing anxiety and stress, improving brain function, and hormonal support.

Tinctures are herbs that have been extracted in alcohol, vegetable glycerin, or apple cider vinegar base. Tinctures, also known as herbal extracts, are produced from both aromatic and non-aromatic plants.

Examples of Tinctures:

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) - Used as 1st stage immune support. Reduces many symptoms of colds, flu, and infections.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – Used to enhance cardiovascular function, memory problems, and improvement of eye health.

Tinctures are usually taken by the dropper full or in water. A dropper is the amount of liquid that fills the glass tube of the dropper when the bulb on the dropper top is squeezed and released. A dropper equals approximately 30 drops.

Flower Essences - Water-based infusion of fresh flowers. Used to balance emotions and calm mental states. Flower essences can be taken for short-term benefits: to increase clarity, calmness, and confidence. Or, they can also be taken long-term, over a regular, consistent basis to accelerate personal growth and enhance awareness.

Hydrosols - Steam distilled, water-based. Excellent for skin care, spritzers, and moderate internal use. Making your own hydrosols from your garden plants is so wonderful! View these articles for more information on hydrosols.

External Uses of Herbs

Essential Oils - Aromatic plants extracted from steam distilled, cold pressing, CO2, and solvent extraction (absolutes). These extracted oils are highly concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from aromatic plants. This is a unique and relatively newer form of plant medicine than the extensive history of herbology. Aromatics that were utilized during ancient times were crude solvent extractions using fats and pressed oils. They were not very concentrated and contained very different chemistry than the essential oils of today. Qualitative research and the long-term effects of distilled essential oils have only been documented for less than 100 years.

They do have a tremendous effect on many body systems, including the limbic system, a unique benefit of this herbal modality.

The best uses and applications of essential oils are external. Essential oils can be used in various applications: cleaning supplies, diffusing, aroma inhalers, mixed with carrier oils into room spritzers, body and facial oils, perfumes, cologne, baths, and shower applications.

Infused Carrier Oils - Oil infusion is another method of extraction used for plants that cannot be steam distilled or extracted through pressing, like seeds and nuts. Macerated extractions are processed differently than other nut and vegetable oils listed here. This process is utilized when the plant matter is non-aromatic or too expensive for the amount of oil produced from distillation.

Examples of Infused Oils: Arnica (Arnica montana) – Arnica oil is useful as a compress when used as soon as possible on injuries with unbroken skin. The main conditions that arnica oil is used for are pain, fractures, bruises, strained muscles, tendons, contusions, and swellings. Arnica oil should only be used externally.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) - Calendula has amazing anti-inflammatory properties making it useful in preparations for wounds, bruises, ulcers, bedsores, and skin rashes. It is also excellent for skincare, particularly eczema.

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one example of a very versatile herb that can be used in tea, capsules, tincture, flower essence, hydrosol, essential oil, and even in an infused oil!

Enjoy discovering the many benefits and uses of herbal medicinals!


Dechen, Shanti, Clinical Aromatherapy Level 1 Text, Crestone, CO 2021, p.6, 10, 60, 61, 68.

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