supplements vs plant medicine

The natural health industry can be confusing – there are multiple therapies and often we don’t know what is most effective or where to start. Nutritional supplementation and traditional plant medicine are two ways to support good health. But what is the difference between them?

Nutritional Supplementation:

Nutritional supplementation feeds the body with nutrients. You will find minerals and vitamins in the supplement section of health stores and pharmacies, and online. Supplementation is relatively new therapy.  The idea was introduced during the industrial revolution to correct deficiencies in diets. Vitamins and minerals are essential in thousands of chemical reactions in the body. Even the best diets may need supplementation. For example, in New Zealand our soils tend to be low in magnesium and selenium.  That can make it hard for us to get these nutrients from food alone. If we have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, then nutritional supplementation can be an effective way to correct it. Supplements available are both naturally and synthetically derived. Some are made with excipients or fillers, and preservatives, which should be avoided as these add extra stress on the body.

Traditional Plant Medicine:

Traditional Plant medicine uses extracts of certain plants to support wellness, to build resilience and support optimal health. It is also called herbal medicine or phytotherapy. Traditional Plant medicine not only boosts nutrition but has active constituents that deliver balancing and strengthening effects on organs that help our body to function optimally. It has been used for thousands of years and is well documented throughout civilisations around the world.

echinacea purpurea

Traditional Plant medicine has a different mode of action because plants, like humans, must protect themselves from predators and their environment.  A plant’s antioxidant, and anti- pathogenic properties are its only defence mechanism. They are essential for survival. When plants are grown in particularly harsh climates and/or conditions they are packed with antioxidants, and immune boosting etc. properties. Anyone who consumes the plant can gain the benefit.

The best traditional plant medicines use whole plant extractions and combine plants together to make formulations that have multiple effects on the body to support wellness. They retain the active ingredients in their natural state and help to support the body’s natural defences.

Let’s look at an example; You have ills and chills and the sniffles, and your immune system is compromised. Those symptoms are a result of the body’s immune system response.

Two of the most common natural health choices for ills and chills are:

  • Nutritional supplement – Vitamin C. High levels of Vitamin C can help to support the body’s immune response. However, this benefit wears off as the vitamin is expelled from the system. Due to Vitamin C being water soluble.
  • Traditional plant medicine – Echinacea. Fresh plant echinacea tincture supports the body’s production of white blood cells to fight pathogens. Through this process Echinacea has been shown to support the immune system.

This example shows there is a difference in action between traditional plant medicine and nutritional supplementation. But importantly it also highlights that we need both for optimum health.

Overall, traditional plant medicine can still work with a depleted system, but it works best when the body is well nourished.

TAPS: PP2448

Author: Skye Macfarlane – Education Manager & Medical Herbalist at Artemis.
Skye is a Medical Herbalist and Naturopath, holding a Bachelor in Natural Medicine from the South Pacific College of Medicine. She has worked for Artemis for 2 years managing their team of Educators throughout the country. Skye provides training material for the Artemis team, sales force and retail staff, as well as writes content for publications and media.

The Artemis range includes herbal medicines in a number of traditional forms, from targeted specialty tea blends to skin oils and creams and liquid herbs. Shop the full range online.