History of phytotherapy and phytopharmacy

The term “phytotherapy” comes from the French physician Henri Leclerc (1870-1955). Henri Leclerc published numerous articles on the use of medicinal herbs, most of them in the leading French medical journal La Presse Medicale. These articles stood out for their artistic and professional style and became an excellent example of the art of introducing a scientific field. Leclerc summarized his life experiences in his book “Pr&s de Phytotherapie”, which has become a classic work on this scientific field. Leclerc’s life and work were acknowledged in an obituary published in La Presse Medicale on 14 May 1955.

If we want to establish the correct position of herbal medicine in modern medicine, it is necessary to know the difference between phytotherapy and phytopharmacy. If the product is the plant itself, it is natural to refer to such a product as a herbal medicine or phytopharmaceutical. Physicians, on the other hand, are concerned with therapy. If they are taking a phytopharmaceutical, they can be said to be using phytotherapy. If we use the term ‘phytopharmaceutical’ or ‘phytotherapeutic’, it is the same term, just with a different point of view.

Phytotherapy, is a scientific discipline that studies and uses herbal medicines for the treatment of various diseases. Therefore, it studies all medically useful herbs and plants, from plants with powerful effects, such as aloe vera or reishi, to plants with gentle effects, such as chamomile or peppermint.

Gentle and powerful phytopharmaceutical

Thus, there are significant differences between gentle and powerful phytopharmaceuticals. In between, however, lies a wide transitional area of many medicinal herbs whose effects are somewhere between ‘gentle’ and ‘powerful’, such as herbs of the genera Liquritia, Arnica and Khella. These herbs are sometimes referred to as ‘medium’ phytopharmaceuticals.

This situation is the same as for chemotherapeutic agents, among which there are substances with a mild effect, such as calcium carbonate or even aspirin, to substances with a very powerful effect, such as modern cytostatics. Here, too, most substances have an effect somewhere between subtle and powerful.

For most of the phytopharmaceuticals with a powerful effect, the functionality is now clearly scientifically confirmed and there is no doubt about it. In contrast, for the mild phytopharmaceuticals, their action has not yet been standardised. In these phytopharmaceuticals, several active substances act simultaneously and their effects interact and interact in the human body. Phytopharmaceuticals must be studied as whole natural products composed of many components and substances that act together. This effect is known professionally as ‘synergy’. In this sense, we can speak of bio-pharmaceutical action.

Phytotherapy must be fully in line with modern biochemistry, molecular biology, pharmacology and clinical practice. If this approach is applied in research and, at the same time, in teaching, further significant advances in modern medicine will be made, bringing medicine closer to people once again.