Phytotherapy: what it is and what it is used for

Fitoterapia: cos'è e a cosa serve

What is Phytotherapy?

Phytotherapy is understood as the branch of pharmacotherapy which deals with preventing and treating various disorders and diseases through the use of medical plants and preparations obtained from them.

Phytotherapy Shutterstock

The term derives from the Greek φυτον (plant) and θεραπευω (curo), therefore "to cure with plants".

Phytotherapy does not use the active principle single - as occurs in "classical" or "synthetic" pharmacological therapy - but plants and products obtained from them that contain multiple substances. To do this, phytotherapy uses specific treatments and suitable extraction technologies and creates products in well-defined pharmaceutical forms, purified and standardized in the chemical constituents responsible for the pharmacological activity attributed to the same plant or its preparations.

What Phytotherapy is NOT

Phytotherapy is not a:

  • Herbal medicine;
  • Natural medicine;
  • Non-conventional medicine;
  • Traditional medicine (understood as a type of medicine belonging to the tradition of certain populations or ethnic groups);
  • Folk medicine.

Phytotherapy is different from herbal medicine, naturopathy and homeopathy and aromatherapy ; It does NOT follow philosophies, religious or cultural beliefs and does not use diagnostic methodologies or therapeutic bases other than those of scientific medicine.

What is it for

What does Phytotherapy cure?

The purpose of phytotherapy is to to prevent And deal with diseases and symptoms of different types through the use of medical plants and of preparations obtained from them .

There are various disorders and pathologies that can be treated/alleviated, among the best known are for example:

What are medicinal plants?

A " medicinal plant " is defined as any plant containing - within one or more of its organs - substances that can be used to therapeutic purposes or who constitute gods precursors for the synthesis of useful drugs .

Among the medicinal plants that can be used in phytotherapy, we mention some:

Note : the fact that a plant can be defined as "medicinal" does not necessarily mean that phytotherapeutic products containing that plant or products derived from it exist on the market in our country.

What are phytotherapeutics?

In common language, the term "phytotherapeutic" is often used to generically indicate any plant product - based on medicinal plants, mushrooms, lichens or yeasts, parts of them or theirs. extracts - used for health purposes.

Phytotherapy 2 Shutterstock

In reality, this definition is not exactly correct, at least according to the regulations in force in this regard.

According to current legislation, in fact, phytotherapy is a medicine in all respects and, in particular, a medicinal product of plant origin . Any medicine that contains active substances is considered phytotherapeutic exclusively one or more herbal substances, or one or more herbal preparations, or again, one or more herbal substances in association with one or more herbal preparations.

Definitions: substances vs herbal preparations

They define themselves plant substances or herbal drugs :

  • All plants, parts of plants, the algae , fungi and lichens, whole, chopped or cut, usually in untreated form dried or, sometimes, even in the fresh state;
  • Some types of exudates not subjected to specific treatments.

They define themselves vegetable preparations or preparations based on herbal drugs :

  • All preparations obtained by subjecting plant substances or drugs to treatments such as extraction, la distillation , pressing, fractionation, purification, concentration or fermentation;
  • Shredded or pulverized plant substances;
  • The tinctures , extracts, essential oils, juices obtained by pressing and processed exudates.

Italian legislation, therefore, distinguishes phytotherapeutics - or rather, phytotherapeutic medicinal products - from herbal products, from simple herbs, from food supplements (parapharmaceuticals) and medical devices. The legislation that regulates all aspects concerning these other types of products, in fact, is different from that of the drugs to which phytotherapeutic products must comply.

Given their classification, phytotherapeutic medicinal products must meet the characteristics of quality , safety and effectiveness required by the pharmaceutical legislation which regulates all aspects, similarly to what happens for so-called "synthetic" drugs; furthermore, to be sold, it is essential that they have received official approval (therefore the marketing authorization) by the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA).

Did you know that…

Phytotherapeutic products can be divided into:

  • Medicines of plant origin or phytotherapeutic products "properly" : must be authorized following the same procedures as other medicines. They can be subject to medical prescription, therefore necessarily sold in pharmacies, or they can be classified as SOP or as OTC and also sold in parapharmacies or other businesses authorized to sell similar products.
  • Traditional medicinal products of plant origin or traditional phytotherapeutics : they can obtain approval for marketing through a simplified registration procedure defined by current legislation, but must still respect the criteria of quality, safety and effectiveness. These are products that must meet certain characteristics, including that of traditional use for a period compliant with the provisions of the Legislative Decree which regulates the aspects. They can only be classified as SOP or OTC, therefore, they can also be sold outside pharmacies, as long as in shops authorized to sell similar products. On theirs information leaflet the phrase " the product is a medicinal product of herbal origin for traditional use to be used for specific indications based exclusively on long-standing use " is reported.

What are phytotherapeutic products?

The phytotherapeutic medicines marketed in our country are different, among these we remember some:

  • Phytotherapeutic products based on extracts of saw palmetto ( Serenoa repens ) and/or nettle ( Urtica dioica ), used in the treatment of functional disorders of benign prostatic hypertrophy;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on blueberry extracts ( Vaccinium myrtillus ), phytotherapeutic products based on centella extracts ( Centella Asiatica ), phytotherapeutic products based on horse chestnut seed extract ( Aesculus hippocastanum ), all useful for their vasoprotective action;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on arnica extracts ( Arnica montana ) for the pain treatment muscular and articulate;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on St. John's Wort extracts ( Hypericum perforatum ) for the treatment of depressive states mild or moderate;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on rhodiola extracts ( Rhodiola rosea ), useful for finding temporary relief from symptoms associated with stress conditions;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on hop extracts ( Humulus lupulus ) or passionflower based ( Passiflora incarnata ), also useful in the presence of mild symptoms associated with mental stress;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on valerian ( Valeriana officinalis ) and/or lemon balm ( Melissa officinalis ) extracts, used for their mildly sedatives ;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on extracts of fumaria ( Fumaria officinalis ), ononis ( Ononis spinosa ), and piss ( Piscidia erythrina ), useful for their antispasmodic properties exercise especially at the hepato-biliary and urinary levels;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on ivy extracts ( Hedera helix ) used as expectorants;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on pelargonium extracts ( Pelargonium sidoides ), useful in case of colds;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on ispagula seeds ( Plantago ovata ) or senna fruits ( Cassia senna ), used in cases of constipation problems occasional;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on plant extracts such as rhubarb ( Rheum palmatum ), boldo ( Peumus boldus ), cascara ( Rhamnus purshiana ), gentian ( Gentiana lutea ), useful for promoting digestion and appetite and to combat occasional constipation;
  • Herbal medicines based on essential oil of mint ( Mentha x piperita ) and cumin essential oil ( Carum carvi ), useful in case of minor gastrointestinal disorders;
  • Phytotherapeutic products based on black cohosh ( Cimicifuga racemosa ), useful against menopause disorders .

To find out the specific therapeutic indications of a given phytotherapeutic medicinal product, refer to what is stated on its information leaflet .

Some of these herbal medicines are dispensable only upon specific presentation prescription ; others, however, can be freely purchased without as they are classified as non-prescription drugs ( SOP ) or how over-the-counter medications ( OTC ).

Important note

Herbal medicines Not they are pesticides . In fact, the latter term refers to the substances used in the prevention and treatment of plant diseases.