Phytotheraphy: plants from the past promising cures of the future – Chawm Ganguly

chawm g (25)aPhytotherapy, the ancient art of using plants with proven medicinal qualities to heal ailments and more importantly, to restore balance is fast regaining the place it had sadly lost over time. Any journey to the root of medical practice, be it in the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, China, Egypt or India, is not complete without the customary reference to this branch of knowledge, though sadly, our interaction with it in these so-called modern times is negligible. Just imaging, even in those early days of what we call civilisation, Mesopotamians used the services of an Asu – a specialist in herbal remedies, in close conjunction with those of the Ashipu, the principal medical practitioner.

That plants hold truly amazing healing properties and that these properties can not only be harnessed, but also utilised to treat a variety of diseases afflicting us humans is a concept that is as old as time. And what is more, despite the relative obscurity surrounding it, it is also a fact that some of the most exciting research is being done around how plants can act to naturally balance hormones in the human body leading to the “balance” that almost all the ancient treatise speak about. As we go about re-learning more about the underlying mechanisms of phytotherapy, it will not be an exaggeration to say that modern science has been able to increase the effectiveness of this timeless branch, while maintaining the gentle “side effect” profile herbal remedies are acknowledged for.

The study of the healing properties of plants and their use for medicinal purposes was the nucleus from which has stemmed what we now loosely call pharmaceuticals. As a matter of fact, traditional medicine purists point out the fact that most of the prescription medicines that we now use have their roots in the plant world, the only difference being that some of these are “fortified” with chemical compounds so as to either magnify its desired actions or patent the medication as a unique product or both. As it has often been pointed out, this system of patenting medicine is nothing more than a concerted effort to commoditize ubiquities for private gain. As plants that are available in nature are the storehouses that deliver the healing touch, not only is phytotherapy universally accessible, but in most cases, also more gentle and kind to our metabolic systems that the pharmaceutical concoctions that we normally imbibe.

The great thing about phytotherapy is that it does not restrict itself to only treating medical exigencies but is as much involved in the prevention part, which is naturally (no pun intended) much more in line with the functional aspects of healing. This is in complete divergence with modern medicine’s obsession with addressing symptoms as they arise, instead of seeking to redress the underlying problems and attacking the root cause casing the imbalance. Phytotherapy, to buttress the point, uses cell signaling to affect our bodies early on in the processes of disease and imbalance, which is ultimately far less disruptive to the system than most commonly used practices. For this reason the results often last longer.

Phytocrines – bioactive molecules in plants that share features with human hormones and “connect” with our endocrine system are just about beginning to open up their wonder world to science. Scientists are finding it amazing that plants can interact so intimately with the hormones that are made in our bodies and the way the endocrine system is used to reach out to the organs, spreading wellness and arresting the spread of diseases by unleashing the adaptogenic effect.

However, basic awareness about this branch of medicine is still at an abysmal low which leads to its being bundled with a wide variety of quackery with most people choosing to consciously avoid trusting medications that they believe is “untested” or at variance to modern science. While their efficacies have been very well documented in certain treatments, the average man on the street is yet to warm up to the full potential and much needs to be done to spread the good word. How much of that is possible, in the face of stiff resistance from a well entrenched pharmaceutical industry with billions of Dollars worth vested interests, is another matter though.