What is Phytotherapy and Its History: What is it? What is it for?

Definition: herbal medicine uses medicinal plants to treat and prevent diseases.

Phytotherapy is a medical practice. Therefore, it is distinguished from other more traditional approaches, such as herbalism, based on empirical estimation of medicinal herbs and is often linked to traditional knowledge. The interpretation and acceptance of practical tests for phytotherapeutics vary.

In some countries, phytotherapeutic products are considered medicines, while in other countries, phytotherapy is seen as a form of traditional medicine.

There is a series of phytotherapeutic medicinal preparations in use. Examples include practices derived from the leaves of Ginkgo Biloba, which are used to treat a variety of mild cognitive disorders and other disorders of the central nervous system; The roots of Echinacea Angustifolia (and other species of Echinacea) are used in the treatment and prevention of the common cold, the origins of the African devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), is used to treat chronic low back pain.

History of Phytotherapy

The concept of phytotherapy originated with the French physician Henri Leclerc, who first used the term in 1913 and published several editions of the Précis de Phytothérapie (“Phytotherapy Manual”), the first in 1922. Phytotherapy was published with its standard definition in 1934, after being introduced by Eric Frederick William Powell, a practitioner of herbalism and homeopathy.

In 1960 the German herbalist and doctor Rudolf Fritz Weiss published Lehrbuch der Phytotherapie (1960, medicinal herbs), which became the definitive German textbook.

The work was initially published in a different format in 1944 under Die Pflanzenheilkunde in der Praxis Ärztlichen (“Plant Basis: Healing Science in Medical Practice”). Both Leclerc and Weiss’s approaches shared a strong focus on what later came to be described as evidence-based medicine.


Another significant milestone in the history of phytotherapy was the appearance in 1987 of the journal; Phytotherapy Research, edited by the British Fred Evans. In 1997 the book “Rational Phytotherapy” was published under the direction of the American Tyler Varro.

The work was an English translation of the German book Phytotherapie: Ratgeber für die Praxis Ärztliche, written by Volker Schulz and Rudolf Hänsel (3rd ed., 1996).

On the other hand, the terminology of the various forms of treatment associated with herbal substances remains unclear. While many consider herbal medicines with a well-defined use profile (based on scientific and medical evidence) as phytotherapeutic products, others think such products to be food supplements.

The latter implies that medicines based on herbal substances are unproven therapies, and in some countries, they are treated that way.

For example, in the United States, all herbal products are classified as dietary supplements. To complicate matters, herbal medicine is sometimes referred to as phytotherapy, and both herbal medicine and herbal medicine are sometimes described as herbal medicine.

In the same way, the preparations used in phytotherapy and herbal medicine can be referred to as herbal medicines or as phytopharmaceuticals.