What Are Healing Plants?

Healing plants are essentially plants with health or medicinal properties to help your physical, emotional, mental and many believe your spiritual wellbeing. Someone like Judi Dench, whose spiritual connection and love for trees lead her to learn the new research of individual trees and the interactions woodland community over the season of a year. 

Spiritual wellbeing 

“I shall never be able quite to walk so nonchalantly through a woodland again without thinking of all that incredible work that is going on under here. Well I mean we think we’re we live in a society, there is no comparison to what goes on around here. How these chaps live, I mean it’s mind-blowing it’s wonderful and very exciting. I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without knowing but I know now.” – Judi Dench My Passion for Trees FULL BBC One 2017

Trees have many compounds that heal.  Yet, we love and need them as humans.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” HERMANN HESSE

Healing plants are in every area of the globe.

fern unrollingWe are connected to the earth literally

For this larger reasoning and a sense of connection with plants and the biosphere, a Native American with a broken leg, for example, may seek treatment to care for the physical injury but also from medicine man or woman to care properly for the spirit. And they would, in part, use a healing plant to assist the healing process. 

Healing plants treat Mind, Emotions and Spirit. 

C. Locust, in the article “Wounding the Spirit: Discrimination and traditional American Indian belief systems” states: “Treating the spirit is the process of finding out why the broken leg occurred, understanding the event in a spiritual rather than a physical sense, and then beginning the process of changing whatever it was in the body, mind, or spirit that was out of harmony enough to warrant a broken leg.”

Healing plants are plant medicine. 

Plant medicine is a larger research area than herbalism.

Plant Medicine is the easiest term to use because it encompasses both the healing and organic nature of the huge subject; for that reason, it’s the term I use throughout this post.

Herbal relaxation
Get ready for sleep

Recently, plant medicine has gotten attention which has created many misperceptions about the plant and human experience and how it can be used to achieve healing or grow in consciousness. Today, pharmaceuticals prevail in Western medical treatment, but they are far from the only approach to healing. 

Plants help in human healing.

Quoting from Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.

“Currently, herbs are applied to the treatment of chronic and acute conditions and various ailments and problems such as cardiovascular disease, prostate problems, depression, inflammation, and to boost the immune system, to name but a few. In China, in 2003, traditional herbal medicines played a prominent role in the strategy to contain and treat severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and in Africa, a traditional herbal medicine, the Africa flower, has been used for decades to treat wasting symptoms associated with HIV (De Smet 2005; Tilburt and Kaptchuk 2008). Herbal medicines are also very common in Europe, with Germany and France leading in over-the-counter sales among European countries. In most developed countries, one can find essential oils, herbal extracts, or herbal teas sold in pharmacies with conventional drugs.

Forms of medicinesair herbal scent

Herbs and plants can be processed and can be taken in different ways and forms, and they include the whole herb, teas, syrup, essential oils, ointments, salves, rubs, capsules, and tablets that contain a ground or powdered form of a raw herb or its dried extract.

Plants and herbs extract vary in the solvent used for extraction, temperature, and extraction time and include alcoholic extracts (tinctures), vinegars (acetic acid extracts), hot water extract (tisanes), long-term boiled extract, usually roots or bark (decoctions), and cold infusion of plants (macerates). Unfortunately, there is usually no standardization.

Compounds are likely to vary between batches and producers.

Variety in plant compounds

Plants are rich in a variety of compounds. Many are secondary metabolites and include aromatic substances, mostly phenols or their oxygen-substituted derivatives such as tannins (Hartmann 2007; Jenke-Kodama, Müller, and Dittmann 2008). Many of these compounds have antioxidant properties.” 

And I say all these compounds are needed for a healthy human life. 

hand of gingerMedicinal Plants

Many people are turning to the medicinal plants used globally throughout human history. Herbal remedies were the first medicines. They have the ability to heal and boost physical and mental well-being. For example, drugs like aspirin, codeine, quinine, and morphine all contain plant-derived ingredients.

Cavert – Hopefully, this post will serve to answer questions you may have about what plant medicine is and clear up some of the common confusion. In general, avoid using herbs for infants and young children and for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Unfortunately, most herbs you buy haven’t been tested for safety or the amounts or condition on the packaging. Hence for those who are vulnerable, trying a variety of new plants isn’t worth any risk. With this in mind, choosing the right plant can seem difficult to someone who wants to feel better without taking medication. 

ground tumeric Add Comments and Questions 

Please comment below if you have thoughts or questions. Remember that I have 50 years of study based in the US with a global historical overview. Other people with different cultures and traditions in different locations have different views and that’s fine. 

Great Variety of Healing Plants

This medicine runs the gamut of varieties, from living foods to flowers that can be muddled into a salve to rub on your skin to herbs that are used to help depression and anxiety. Plants help with all sorts of medical issues like skin conditions, burns and scrapes, arthritis, chronic pain, oral health, headaches, and many others.

growing healing plantsManufactured drugs have certainly changed our lives. It is comforting to know that nature’s power is on our side because most are originally plant-based.  Herbal choices are available to complement our health practices in the West.

Healing Plant Power

But herbal and plant power is finally being explored using the scientific method. The research dollars are not there in many traditional healing settings. But even your doctor could agree that herbs and, for example, teas or aromas offer harmless subtle ways to improve your health. Pay attention to what the evidence says and your own body’s reactions to each plant’s effectiveness as well as potential interactions or safety issues. 

Decide what issue you want to deal with

This is why I have looked at the most effective and therapeutic plants and methods to use them for five decades. Strong scientific evidence more than ever supports their safe use.

Medicinal plants: Traditions of yesterday and drugs of tomorrow

fresh basilMaking decisions about using plants and herbs along with more traditional medicinal approaches is something you and your healthcare practitioner can address together.

Less Risk and Side Effects

At times ingesting plants can have even less risk and side effects than taking concentrated, manufactured supplements, as there’s more risk of contamination of the product with the manufacturing processes. 


Plants Heal

It’s a wonderful way to experience healing, their effects and especially the satisfaction of growing them yourself. Plants and particularly herbs can also be a way to add a needed nutrient and particular bacteria, all while having great taste. 

In the pharmaceutical world, the stronger a medicine is, the more dangerous it is, but this is not always the case with the herbal world. An herb can be powerful and also very gentle.

In short, plants have been used from the dawn of humankind to heal and change people. Plants throughout history have provided people with all their needs: shelter, clothes, food, fuel, flavors, fragrances and important medicines. 

Traditional Medicine Systems

“Plants have formed the basis of sophisticated traditional medicine systems, including Ayurvedic, Unani, Chinese which have given important drugs in use today. Systems of medicines are the African and Australian, Central and South American, amongst others. The search for new medicine using the science of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacognosy are used as a guide to lead chemists towards different sources and classes of compounds.”

lavender flowers growingSome healing traditions include;

Ayurvedic – One of the world’s oldest systems of medicine, the word Ayurveda comes from the 

Sanskrit terms for life (Ayur) and knowledge (Veda). A key tenet of Ayurveda is that of 

interconnectedness and balance. Ayurveda views health holistically and is designed to prevent disease and maintain good health by carefully balancing the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Ayurveda is based around the fundamental concept of individualized treatment. Because no two people are alike, in Ayurveda, each person is recognized as a unique, self-healing being with respective needs. Ayurvedic medicine seeks to restore health and promote wellness by correcting imbalances in a person’s bodily energies, called doshas.

Unani medicine is a system of alternative medicine that originated in ancient Greece but is now practiced primarily in India. Involving the use of herbal remedies, dietary practices, and alternative therapies, Unani medicine addresses disease prevention and treatment.

tcm in bottlesTraditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient system used to diagnose and treat health conditions based on natural principles. The traditional medicine system has evolved over the last 3000 years and offers a unique approach to understanding the human body. The concept of Chinese medicine is based on the whole idea of universal concepts and the spiritual influence of Daoism. The medicine has created a highly reliable and effective set of practices in resolving disease and illness and preventative health and wellness. 

Traditions of healing plants vary.

Traditions, locations and culture influence how plants are used in life and particularly in medicine. Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian healers all have a long history of using indigenous, or native, plants for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. Medicinal plants and their applications are as diverse as the locality of the tribes who use them. 

Indigenous Plants for healing diets

Beyond their medicinal benefits, indigenous plants were the staple of people’s diet before the Western colonial intervention. Again presently, indigenous plants are improving dietary health. For example, in Hawai‘i, the “Waianae Diet” and “Pre-Captain Cook Diet” reduce processed food, fat, and additives promoting a healthier balanced diet.

Alaska Natives and other tribes are growing and cooking traditional foods knowing, the food we eat is medicine.

Sacred Plant Rituals

One of the better-known ritual traditions of the sacred use of plant medicine is in South American. Ayahuasca, a vine-based infusion made throughout South America, is popular, but many people do not realize that Ayahuasca is not the only traditional medicine available. A shortlist of sacred plant medicines can be found here. They are used in rituals. Plus, plant medicine is at least partly a misnomer, as there are some fauna-related sacred medicines. There are many terms used to refer to particular parts of plant medicine, but let’s get a bit more specific before we move on. 

Key plant medicine terms are:

Nutritive, nutritious, suitable to eat, in other words, nourishing for the body.

pile of dried licoriceAdaptogens, used for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic healing practices. Adaptogens are components of herbal medicines that help the body’s resilience in dealing with physical and emotional stresses. Adaptogens have anti-aging properties. Some adaptogenic herbs are very bitter and not used as food, so they are made into powdered supplements, capsules, smoothies, teas, or herbal drinks or integrated into tinctures which are herbal supplements dissolved in alcohol and ingested in a liquid form. There are many different adaptogens. Each said to have its own specific action.

Common adaptogens and actions produced in the body include:

  • Astragalus root: Popular TCM healer, immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory effects, helps reduce stress and aging by protecting your telomeres (structures linked with aging, located at the end of each chromosome)
  • Ashwagandha: Helps the body cope with daily stress and used as a general tonic
  • Ginseng: Provides energy to help with fatigue and overwhelm
  • Holy basil: Promotes relaxation, relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Licorice: Increases energy and endurance and help boost the immune system, stimulate the adrenal glands and promote healthy cortisol levels 
  • Maca: Improves mood and increase energy
  • Reishi: A famous specific mushroom which, helps the body adapt to stress and promote a healthy sleep pattern
  • Rhodiola Rosea: Lower anxiety, fatigue, and depression
  • Wild yam: Regulates female hormone levels.

Entheogens refer to ‘generating the divine within’ and refers to any psychoactive drugs used for their religious or spiritual effects.

Anti-spasmodic, relieves or prevents involuntary muscle spasm or cramps.

Examples are chamomile, ashwagandha, basil, calamus, guggul, licorice, myrrh, sage, gotu kola, jatamanshi, peppermint, sandalwood, and spearmint.

mint close upAromatic, a pleasant, fragrant scent and a strong taste. These may be used to help to disguise the taste of other herbs in preparations. Examples are cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, peppermint, and turmeric.

Astringent, cause a local contraction of the skin, blood vessels, and other tissues to stop the discharge of blood, mucus, etc. Usually used as a topical application.

Examples are agrimony, blackberry root and leaf, rose, white oak, witch hazel leaf and bark, cinnamon, jasmine, sandalwood, and yarrow.

Psychotropics, any substance which is mood or mind-altering, but that is not a great description.  For example, Xanax, a well-known mood-altering pill, is not a spiritual experience like Ayahuasca.

Hallucinogens, any drug that causes hallucination. This is not a great term, as ritual sacred plant medicines serve a healing purpose for indigenous people. Their use and traditions do not depend on Western allopathic medicine. I believe sacred plant medicine has nothing to do with LSD, a popular hallucinogen in the ’60s. Plant medicines are 10% hallucinogen, 90% entheogen, whereas LSD is 90% hallucinogen, 10% medicinal therefore, I am not covering it. 

Nervine, herbs calm and soothe the nerves and reduce tension and anxiety.

Examples are ashwagandha, kava, passionflower, valerian, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, gudmar.

green garden

There are thousands of healing plants and some are rare, endangered or very hard to find.  Here is a list of plants easy to grow in some areas or to find in the US – Rosehip, Rosemary, Garlic, Yarrow, Red Clover, Valerian, Hops, Sumac, Aloe, Blackberry, Lavender, Mint, Turmeric, Ginger, Hummingbird Blossom, Black Gum Bark, Goldenrod, Cattail, Pull Out A Sticker/Greenbriar, Passion Flower, Saw Palmetto, Slippery Elm, Sage, Honeysuckle, Wild Ginger, Mullein, Licorice Root, Devil’s Claw, Alfalfa, Prickly Pear Cactus, Ashwagandha, Uva Ursi. 

For more information and references

The Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical databases

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.

References from Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.

Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011.

Chan M. F. E, Mok Y. S, Wong ST. F, Tong FM. C, Day CC. K, Tang K, Wong D. H. H. Attitudes of Hong Kong Chinese to traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine: Survey and cluster analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2003;11(2):103–9. [PubMed] [Reference list]

De Smet P. Herbal medicine in Europe: Relaxing regulatory standards. N Engl J Med. 2005;352:1176–8. [PubMed] [Reference list]

Tilburt J. C, Kaptchuk T. J. J. Herbal medicine research and global health: An ethical analysis. Bull World Health Organ. 2008;86(8):594–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Reference list]

Jenke-Kodama H, Müller R, Dittmann E. Evolutionary mechanisms underlying secondary metabolite diversity. Prog Drug Res. 2008. pp. 121–40. [PubMed] [Reference list

Hartmann T. From waste products to ecochemicals: Fifty years research of plant secondary metabolism. Phytochemical. 2007;68:2831–46. [PubMed] [Reference list]

Dragland S, Senoo H, Wake K, Holte K, Blomhoff R. Several culinary and medicinal herbs are important sources of dietary antioxidants. J Nutr. 2003;133:1286–90. [PubMed] [Reference list]

WHO site includes plant medicine 

More info on herbs

The International Herb Association 

Growing herbs for home gardener 

Plant based medicine 

Looking at traditional knowledge today 

Kumar M. Rural Communities and Ethno Medicinal Plants, Uses and their Conservation. Med Aromat Plants. 2016; S3: e003.

TABLE 2.2Antioxidants in Herbal/Traditional Plant Medicine


TABLE 2.3Antioxidants in Herbs and Spices


Info on Universal healer Lavender

Penn State extension great resource  in general specific to drying herbs 

Current research in Plants Healing – Covid19 

Moringa peregrina a Natural Medicine for Increasing Immunity Defense against the COVID-19

Flowers and effects 

Bach flower therapy 

38 Bach Flower Remedies 

Bach Flower Remedies for psychological problems and pain: a systematic review           

Kylie Thaler, Angela Kaminski, Andrea Chapman, Tessa Langley, and Gerald Gartlehner

It’s scientifically proven that flowers make you feel better

Research on Health benefits of flowers 

12 Healing Houseplants

But when you are hungry, all bets are off 

There is a directory of famine foods 

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