What is Phytotherapy?

Phytotherapy or herbalism is the oldest medical practice in the world. Our ancestors used herbs to treat their illnesses and even today many cultures still rely on herbs for their medicine. South Africa has a strong culture of using herbs to treat illness and modern South African herbalism makes use of indigenous as well as European herbs.

In South Africa, Phytotherapy is a registered profession. To qualify as a Phytotherapist requires five year’s study at the university of the Western Cape. So far this is the only university in South Africa which offers a recognised course in Phytotherapy. Once qualified, the person can register with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. 

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What can you expect when you visit a Phytotherapist?


  • The first visit may take an hour due to the holistic nature of the profession.
  • A complete history is taken
    The practitioner will try to establish the cause of the problem
  • A medical examination is conducted
  • If necessary blood tests, scans, or other tests may be requested
  • Diet and lifestyle will be discussed
  • Herbal medicine will be formulated and dispensed
  • Treatment will be explained 


What is Herbal Medicine and how does it work?


Herbal medicine is medicine that is derived from whole plants or parts of plants. This may be dried herbs or herbs that have been tinctured (steeped in alcohol for several weeks to draw out the chemical constituents), or herbs that have been powdered to make capsules or tablets. Herbs can also be infused into oils and distilled to extract the essential oils. All these forms are used in a Phytotherapy practice. Phytotherapists spend a large part of their training learning how to prepare herbs as medicine. Most Phytotherapists use dried herbs and herbal tinctures or tablets. Medicines are formulated and prepared by the Phytotherapist. The Phytotherapist may also make a syrup, cream, lotion or ointment for a wide variety of internal or topical applications. 

Herbal medicine compared to conventional drugs.


The pharmaceutical industry uses many plants in the manufacture of medicine, but in most cases they isolate one active ingredient, which concentrates one main active chemical constituent. This invariably leads to a chemical drug which once isolated is much stronger than in the plant form, causing side effects. Also the chemical constituents of plants are in a balanced form and work synergistically. Once this synergy is removed by isolating the chemical components, it becomes a drug. One of the first constituents to be isolated for use as a drug was the salicylate called Aspirin. This constituent was isolated from Salix alba (Willow bark) and Spirea ulmarea syn. Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet). Once the salicylic acid (Aspirin) has been isolated it irritates the gastric mucosa and can cause gastric bleeding.

Phytotherapy can provide many health benefits:

  • It strengthens the immune system

  • Can help you become healthier and less prone to illness

  • Slows down the progress of certain chronic diseases

  • Helps you stay fit and well for longer


Herbal medicine has many advantages:

  •  It facilitates body functions by nurturing and balancing the various organs

  • It doesn’t block functions to “normalise” physiological states

  • It is not alien to the body and side effects are very rare

  • It is nutritious as well as healing

  • The chemical constituents of herbal medicine are “recognised” by the body as most of them are abundant in nature and foods

  • Certain herbs have strong effects on certain systems, either calming or stimulating

  • It can be used together with allopathic medicines, which may be necessary in some conditions

  • It is non-polluting once excreted and will not harm the environment

  • In many instances it is scientifically validated by research

  • Progress can be clinically evaluated by blood tests, scans, endoscopy etc

  • The use of herbal medicine strengthens the immune system and does not cause antibiotic resistance

  • Above all herbal medicine is really green and planet friendly.