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Five things you may not know about herbal medicine

Five things you may not know about natural therapies, their uses today, and how they have been reintroduced in modern times.


medically reviewed by


June 22, 2021

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Humans have turned to plants to feed, fuel and heal our bodies for as long as we have existed. In many communities, traditional and plant-based medicine remains the primary healthcare system, with over 60% of the world’s population depending directly on medicinal plants for their medical purposes.

Despite this, many in the West still view plant-based medicine as ‘alternative’ to or less effective than their synthetic counterparts. While modern medicine and pharmaceutical drugs have been vital in the treatment and prevention of countless diseases, it’s important to remember just how much our modern healthcare systems owes to plants. And to acknowledge the many benefits that safe, evidence-based use of plants can have in therapeutic and medicinal contexts.

Here, we take a look at five things you may not know about natural therapies and their uses today:

1: Plants, the original medicine

Early written records and even earlier physical evidence suggests that humans have known about and used plants for their medicinal properties for tens of thousands of years, with archaeological excavations indicating that the practice dates back at least as far as 60,000 years ago. Over time, established understandings of plants and their medicinal purposes have been developed amongst cultures and communities all over the world through trial and error, and the passing down of knowledge and experience. The first modern pharmaceutical medicines were derived from plants that humans had already been using to treat and prevent illness for centuries.

2: Modern medicine maintains its roots in natural therapies

Some of the most common drugs prescribed to patients today continue to be derived from plants, fungi, bacteria and other living species that were widely used by humans in traditional medicine for centuries prior. Of the 120 active compounds currently isolated from higher plants and used in modern medicine today, about 80% indicate a positive correlation between their modern therapeutic use and the traditional use of the plants from which they were derived.  

3: ‘Natural’ does not always mean safer

Many assume that because plants are more natural or wholesome than their synthetic counterparts, that they don’t come with the same level of risks and side effects. Just like any medicine that produces an effect on the body, natural therapies are capable of producing adverse effects like allergic reactions, rashes, asthma, headaches or even more severe effects. Natural therapies should always be taken in safe doses as directed by a healthcare professional, and any effects should be monitored closely.

4: Traditional medicine remains the primary healthcare system for most of the world’s population

Affordability, accessibility and enduring traditional beliefs and knowledge about plants and their uses has meant that traditional medicine, much of which relies on plants, has endured as the primary healthcare system for much of the world’s population. 60% of the world’s population and about 80% in developing countries depends on plants for medicinal purposes. This is in spite of conventional medicine’s history of challenging and suppressing herbal medicine as a viable and effective practise, but is also categorised by the lack of access to essential medicines faced by millions in developing countries.

5: The growing resurgence of plants as medicine in the West

Growing dissatisfaction with conventional, chemical drugs – including their side effects, over-prescription and associated risks of dependency – has led many to turn to plants as both a complementary or alternative treatment. While this increasing use comes with its own issues – including overexploitation of traditional plants and limited monitoring of the safety and quality of products on the market – their benefits when sourced and used responsibly are abundant. There is much established and ongoing research to support the use of plants in the treatment of numerous ailments, from minor to severe. Conventional medical practitioners are increasingly recommending natural therapies to their patients, and patients are increasingly seeking out holistic practitioners who will support them in their search for natural alternatives to conventional medicine. Doing proper research, engaging a reputable health professional and always using plant-based products as advised are just some of the ways you can ensure you get the greatest benefits from your plant-based treatments.


The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.

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Holistic Health

Getting to know natural alternatives

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Getting to know natural alternatives

What are natural alternatives?

When it comes to supporting our body’s innate ability to heal itself, natural alternatives such as products, treatments and lifestyle changes can be used in place of conventional medicines and treatments for a more holistic healing process. When these therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medicine, they are typically referred to as complementary therapies.

Natural alternatives are regarded by many as cleaner, more balanced versions of their synthetic counterparts – meaning they can work in unison with our body’s natural healing process. Natural alternatives go hand-in-hand with holistic medicine, in that they support healing of the whole person and help to balance every aspect of a person’s health, rather than just treat individual symptoms.

What are some examples of natural alternatives?

Natural alternatives can include, but are not limited to:

  • Herbal and plant-based medicines
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Diet and nutrition changes
  • Organic products
  • Traditional or holistic remedies
  • Naturopathy
  • Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine
  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Aromatherapy

Many of these therapies have been developed slowly over time to work alongside more conventional modern treatments and have been used by various cultures throughout human history.

When might I use a natural alternative?

Everyone is different, and has different preferences when it comes to what works for them and their health. Many people turn to natural alternatives out of dissatisfaction with more conventional or synthetic treatments they’ve tried, others are simply looking for a more natural way to support their health alongside their existing treatment plan. Here are some of the most common reasons you might want to try a natural alternative:

  • You want to feel more in control of your health and wellbeing
  • You’re dissatisfied with conventional treatments you’ve tried or you want to explore natural therapies to use alongside your existing treatments for added health benefits
  • You’ve read or heard evidence about the effectiveness of a natural alternative
  • You’re concerned about the potential adverse side-effects of conventional prescription medicines (Note: natural alternatives such as herbal medicines can also produce adverse side-effects and should always be prescribed by a qualified practitioner)
  • You’re concerned that your existing treatment plan is only addressing your symptoms, rather than looking at your health holistically
  • You’re looking for a more holistic or natural way to treat symptoms like fatigue, gastrointestinal diseases or other minor conditions  
  • You belong to a culture with traditions, practises and/or beliefs that incorporate natural medicines and therapies

As with any treatment or medication, conducting proper research and speaking with your doctor before commencing an alternative treatment is advised.

Getting started with natural alternatives

Exploring the world of natural alternatives can be an exciting and empowering part of your journey towards better health. But before you commence a natural alternative or treatment plan, it’s important to do your research. Ensure you’re only working with qualified, registered practitioners and seek a referral from your doctor if necessary. Your practitioner should take all of your medical history, health, allergies and any conditions into consideration before prescribing any products and you should always consult with your doctor before abandoning any of your existing conventional treatments. Most reputable and licensed natural healthcare practitioners will be constantly updating their knowledge of health and medical advancements to be able to provide you with the best care possible.

Holistic Health

Understanding The Holistic Approach

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Understanding The Holistic Approach

Holistic health is the overarching philosophy of looking at a person’s health from every aspect – be it physical, emotional, social, spiritual or mental – and observing how imbalances in one or more of these areas can bring about unwanted symptoms in others.

While modern-day Western medicine has provided us with a long list of essential, life-saving medical advancements, it has also wired us to look at our health in terms of individual symptoms and treatments, rather than looking at the person – and all our parts – as a whole.

By considering how these interdependent parts of our personhood work together to either heal or bring about illness, holistic health provides an alternative or complementary approach to mainstream medicine that goes beyond treating symptoms as they arise. Instead, holistic health practises can support healing by tending to the vast array of factors that impact our wellbeing on a daily basis.  

What are the 5 key aspects of holistic health?

Holistic health looks beyond just the physical body when addressing health issues and symptoms – even those that manifest physically such as pain, fatigue or illness. While a symptom may cause pain or discomfort in a physical sense, its underlying causes (and therefore its treatments) can be more rooted in our emotional, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing than we realise. Similarly, how we take care of ourselves physically can have ripple effects on our health in other areas, such as our mental state or emotional wellbeing. Here, we look at the five key aspects of holistic health and how they can work together to impact our overall wellbeing:


When we think about health, most of us tend to think about the physical health of our bodies and how optimally they are functioning. Pain, illness, fatigue and tension are all examples of physical symptoms that are easy to detect and monitor, making them obvious indicators of health issues and imbalances. In mainstream medicine, these physical symptoms are typically treated with medications, physical therapies and/or surgeries – all of which can be incredibly beneficial to the patient depending on their needs and situation. What some mainstream practises fail to do however, is look at the underlying causes of physical symptoms which can manifest as a result of any combination of emotional, social, spiritual, mental and other physical imbalances. This means that while patients may find temporary or even long-lasting relief from their symptoms through mainstream medicines, many may be unaware of how much their environment, lifestyle choices, relationships and other aspects of their lives could be contributing to their physical health and wellbeing. Likewise, imbalances in our physical health such as our sleep, diet, exercise and lifestyle choices can negatively impact our health in other areas. This is why things like getting more sleep, eating more nutrient-rich foods and moving our bodies each day can help regulate our mood, emotions and mental wellbeing.

In tending to a physical or other unwanted symptom, a holistic practitioner will look at every aspect of a person’s health to determine the best treatment/s for them. Examples of treatments could range anywhere from massage and natural alternatives to stress-reduction techniques and therapy.


Emotional health refers to a person’s ability to maintain perspective and control over their moods and emotions as they navigate daily life. An emotionally healthy person is not necessarily someone who is happy all the time or who does not experience setbacks, but rather someone who has the tools and self-awareness to be able to ‘cope’ in a wide range of situations and changing environments.  

Tending to our emotional health through emotional regulation practises like mindfulness and meditation, counselling and therapy or journaling and listening to music can be equally as important as tending to our physical health. Especially when we consider the impact that emotional distress is known to have on our bodies’ immune system and susceptibility to physical illness. Good emotional health is key to our ability to manage stress and build resilience, foster high self-esteem and self-awareness and form deeper social connections with others.

Beyond the emotional health practises listed above, we can also tend to our emotional wellbeing through physical health practises like exercising and getting more sleep; social health practises like spending time with loved ones and spiritual health practises like spending time in nature.


Researchers have consistently shown links between our social relationships and health, with poor social health being linked to physical and mental health issues like high blood pressure, heart attacks, cancer, depression and anxiety. Loneliness has also been linked to chronic conditions like heart disease and inflammation due to its impact on our immune systems, with studies stating that a lonely person is 50% more likely to die prematurely than someone with good social health.

Healthy and meaningful social relationships are incredibly important to maintaining good health in all other areas – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional – and are key to our ability to manage stress and experience joy in our lives. It’s important to note that the quality of our social relationships is equally as important as the quantity, and that negative or ‘toxic’ social relationships can be as harmful to our health as a lack of social relationships.

Good social health practises can include things like engaging with your community, turning to family and friends for support, building meaningful relationships with others, creating healthy boundaries, communicating effectively and making time for in-person connection.


Spiritual health can mean different things to different people, making it harder to define than other aspects of holistic health. While spirituality is distinct from faith or religion, the two can overlap depending on your individual beliefs. Spirituality can be defined as our connection to the intangible or non-physical parts of life, such as the feeling we get when we do something we’re passionate about or the meaning we apply to certain places, groups and practises. While for many spirituality can imply a connection to faith, for others it is simply about connecting to themselves, their purpose or the world around them.

We can support our spiritual health through doing things we enjoy or that make us feel purposeful, spending time in nature, practising faith and engaging with our community. All of these practises will enhance not only our spiritual health, but all aspects of our health and wellbeing.


Mental health is distinct from emotional health in that it refers to our overall cognitive wellbeing and the way our brain functions, rather than just our day-to-day mood and emotions. There are many things that can impact a person’s mental health – ranging from biological factors and physical wellbeing to socioeconomic pressures and relationships – and good mental health plays a vital role in helping us foster wellness in all other areas of our lives.

Supporting your mental health holistically can take on many forms. A combination of self-directed activities like getting more sleep, managing stress and eating a nutrient-rich diet can complement treatments like psychotherapy, art therapy, natural alternatives and/or medication for more effective results when treating or preventing mental illnesses and their causes.

Treating the person, not just the symptoms

Holistic practitioners employ a variety of treatments, suggestions and techniques to support their patients’ health, with the goal of holistic medicine being to treat the person – not just their individual symptom/s – as a whole. Your holistic provider should empower you with the knowledge and incentive to make informed decisions about what works for you, your health and your goals by suggesting a range of tailored, evidence-backed therapies based on your needs. By looking at your health from every aspect, you and your holistic practitioner will be best-placed to detect, treat and prevent imbalances while monitoring the impact they have on other areas of your health. It is in this way that holistic health can promote profound, long-lasting healing and empower us to take greater care of our overall wellbeing.