Botanical medicine or herbal therapy is a type of complementary/alternative therapy that uses plants or herbs to treat various disorders. Individuals worldwide use both herbal therapy and nutritional supplements extensively. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of the world's population relies on herbs for a substantial part of their health care. Herbs have been used by virtually every culture in the world throughout history, from the beginning of time until now. For example, Hippocrates prescribed St. Johns Wort, currently a popular herbal remedy for depression. Native Americans used plants such as coneflower, ginseng, and ginger for therapeutic purposes. Herbal therapy is part of a group of nontraditional therapies commonly known as complementary/alternative medicine (CAM). Unfortunately, CAM therapies are not widely taught in medical schools. A 1998 survey revealed that 75 of 117 US medical schools offered elective courses in CAM or included CAM topics in required courses. Complementary therapies are therapies such as relaxation techniques, massage, dietary supplements, healing touch, and herbal therapy that can be used to "complement" traditional health care. Alternative therapies, on the other hand, are therapies used in place of or instead of conventional or Western medicine. The term complementary/alternative therapy often is used as an umbrella term for many therapies from all over the world.
Although herbs have been used for thousands of years, most of what we know has been from observation. Most herbs have not been scientifically studied for safety and efficacy (effectiveness). Much of what we know about herbal therapy has come from Europe, particularly Germany. During the last several decades, European scientists have studied botanical plants in ways that seek to identify how they work at the cellular level, what chemicals are most effective, and adverse effects related to their use. Germany has compiled information on 300 herbs and made recommendations for their use.
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