Phytotherapy – the power of medicinal plants in everyday use

Natural medicine or conventional medicine? Many people prefer to use herbal rather than synthetically produced medicines for minor everyday ailments. The ancient Egyptians and the Greeks were well aware of the power of plants for healing and for relieving symptoms. Modern herbal medicine (phytotherapy) combines centuries-old knowledge with the latest research findings. Nature provides a huge range of medicinal plants for alleviating symptoms. Test your knowledge of medicinal plants by taking the quiz and learn some interesting facts about medicinal plants in the article. There's a herb for (almost) everything.

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Soothing and healing with nature: phytotherapy

For many people, healing with plants is an alternative or a good complement to synthetically produced medicines. Medicinal herbalism has a long tradition and goes back to the prehistory of mankind. According to Britain's renowned centre for botanical research at Kew Gardens, there are currently more than 28'000 plant species with medicinal benefits worldwide. In European herbal medicine, about 500 plants are currently used in the production of medicines. Depending on the plant in question, the flowers, leaves, fruits, seeds and even roots and barks are made into teas and other medicines. However, it should not be forgotten that herbal medicines can also have side effects and may lead to complications when taken along with other medicines.

There are two types of phytotherapy: traditional and rational. Traditional phytotherapy is a folk medicine practice and is mainly based on traditional knowledge. This type of knowledge remains important in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in Ayurvedic and folk medicine. Rational phytotherapy uses the knowledge passed down from traditional phytotherapy plus scientific methods to process the plants.

Herbal medicines are not the same as homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic remedies are extremely dilute and only contain traces of the active ingredients. In rational herbal medicine, on the other hand, active concentrates are extracted from the plant materials.

Medicinal herbs are processed in a variety of ways and can therefore be taken or applied in the form of:

  • teas (infusions, cold extracts)
  • tinctures, liquid extracts
  • tablets, pills, capsules
  • creams, ointments, gels
  • bath additives

Herbal medicines can be used to complement or support conventional treatments, as an alternative to artificially produced medicines, or as the best medicines in given cases. Even though herbal medicines contain plant-based ingredients, they can still produce unwanted side effects. It is advisable to consult a doctor in the event of adverse symptoms.

Soothing and healing with your own herb garden

  • Caraway, fennel and aniseed come from the same plant family, have antibacterial and antispasmodic properties and also relieve nausea. It's best to take a combination of the three plants in the form of tea. Organic blends are recommended here.
  • Artichokes not only have beautiful flowers, they also help the liver and stomach. They increase bile production, reduce lipid levels and have antioxidant properties. Ready-to-use artichoke preparations are usually made from the leaves of the artichoke and contain bitter compounds. These are used to treat digestive complaints such as bloating, belching and flatulence. Those who want something to eat even though they feel nauseous can eat freshly boiled or steamed artichokes.
  • Essential peppermint oil is well known. The fresh scent of peppermint oil alone can stimulate the appetite if you are feeling unwell. Extracts made from the leaves contain anti-flatulent and digestion-promoting compounds and soothe the gastrointestinal tract. Peppermint can be taken as a tea, a tea combination, a tincture in the form of drops, or as capsules
  • What helps with flatulence and bloating? In this video, Dr Silke Schmitt Ogier, Medical Director of santé24, provides information on plants which relieve flatulence and bloating.

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Do you have trouble getting to sleep?

Sleep disorders are one of the most troublesome common complaints. Without sleep we lack energy, and it becomes more difficult to get through the day. Herbal remedies are often preferred to synthetically produced medicines. They can help you get to sleep and stay asleep, enabling you to wake up refreshed and ready for the day. However, medical and psychological reasons for your sleep disorder should be ruled out before you embark on treatment.

  • The best-known herbal medicines for sleep disorders include lavender, valerian, hops, passion flower, lemon balm and orange blossom. These are applied singly or in combination.
  • Lavender exudes a scent of tranquillity and also looks beautiful. Its leaves are used in Mediterranean cuisine, while the essential oils of its fragrant flowers have long been a mainstay of both the perfume industry and medicine. Lavender oil can be used to treat inner restlessness, sleeping problems and gastrointestinal complaints. Farfalla recommends putting 1 or 2 drops of lavender oil on a handkerchief and taking it to bed with you to help you fall asleep and sleep through the night. A diffuser can be used to spread a calming lavender scent in a room. However, there are risks associated with essential oils. It is extremely important that these oils are used correctly*.
  • The female flowers of the hop plant have a positive influence on sleep. Hop cones are effective against nervousness and restlessness, sleep disorders and anxiety. For mild sleep disorders, we recommend drinking two or three cups of hop tea during the day, depending on the intensity of the symptoms. A cup of tea should be drunk half an hour before going to bed. A hop pillow may also help you to get to sleep. To make one, take 500 grams of dried hop cones and put them in a pillow made of breathable fibres.
  • Lemon balm has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years. It has a positive effect on sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems and cold sores. An infusion can be made using hot water and dried lemon balm leaves. Leave to infuse for five to ten minutes. The tea can be prepared and drunk several times a day. A lemon balm oil bath before going to bed also has a relaxing and calming effect. Simply add 20 to 30 drops of the oil to your bath water*.

The herbal medicines mentioned here do not develop their full effect until they have been taken regularly for a few days.

Manage cold symptoms with herbs

  • Sage is often used for inflammation of the mouth and throat because it has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Sage can be used locally in the form of lozenges, teas, sprays and solutions. Sage and sage extract should not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding*.
  • Echinacea is one of the most important medicinal plants for preventing colds. The fresh herb is often used to make medicines. It strengthens the immune system and can be used both to prevent illness and as a therapy for acute colds. As a rule, the extracts are taken in the form of tablets or drops.

Plants can also trigger allergic symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms persist for a significant period of time or get worse or if new symptoms appear.

*Using herbal medicines:

  • Essential oils should not be brought into contact with the eyes or mucous membranes.
  • Essential oils should only be applied to the skin in a diluted form.
  • Essential oils should only be used in consultation with a doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, suffer from skin conditions, respiratory diseases or epilepsy or have allergies.
  • Essential oils should only be used very sparingly on children. Do not use essential oils on children under 2 years of age.
  • Do not use oils if you have known allergies to particular ingredients.
SWICA – because health is everything

SWICA believes in combining conventional medicine and complementary medicine. Anything that benefits your health is a good thing. That's why SWICA supports complementary therapy methods and puts them on an equal footing with conventional medicine. You can find out more here.

SWICA supports its customers by providing a generous contribution towards medicinal plant courses for home use under the COMPLETA PRAEVENTA and OPTIMA supplementary insurance plans. Discover even more offers relating to health literacy.

The santé24 telemedicine service offers personal phytotherapy advice free of charge to all SWICA customers. The pharmacists at santé24 will give you expert advice on the effects and applications of medicinal plants and will answer any other questions you may have about medicines and dietary supplements. Find out more.

By the way, supplementary insurance always provides valuable benefits in addition to those of your basic cover. You can purchase a plan from SWICA at any time, regardless of which insurer currently provides your basic cover.


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