IO5 – How to use medicinal plants


Phytotherapy applications- instructions on how to use medicinal plants products


Plant parts to be used

  • Aerial parts or herb (herba): The large majority of botanical drugs in current use are derived from leaves or aerial parts. All parts of the plant found above the ground are referred to as the aerial parts.
  • Leaf (folia) :The leaves arise out of the stem. The leaves sometimes can be used alone or mixed with the petiole.
  • Flower (flos): Although the flowers are of great botanical importance, they are only a minor source of drugs used in phytotherapy or pharmacy.
  • Fruit (fructus): Fruits and seeds have yielded important phytotherapeutic products.
  • Bark (cortex): The bark is the outer most protective layer of a tree trunk and is formed by layers of living cells just above the wood itself. There are usually high concentrations of the active ingredients in the bark.
  • Root (radix): The fleshy or woody parts of many species are used medicinally. They can be whole or sliced, peeled or unpeeled. Roots may be fibrous, solid or fl Roots may have tuberous shape or conical, cylindrical, e.t.c.
  • Rhizome (rhizoma): The rhizome is a woody or fleshy elongated stem that usually grows horizontally below the ground, forming leaves above the ground and roots into the ground.
  • Bulb (bulbus): A bulb is the fleshy structure made up of numerous layers of bulb scales which are leaf bases.
  • Seeds: Seeds are contained in the fruit.
  • Gums-Resins: Gums are solids consisting of mixtures of polysaccharides. Gums flow from a damaged stem as a defense mechanism or sometimes as a protective system against the invasion of bacterial and fungal rots. Resins are excreted from specialized cells or ducts in plants.
  • Fatty oils: These are from the seeds or from the fruits of plants.



For the preparation of phytomedicines in domestic conditions the following ratios are given:

  • One pinch (as much as the three fingers get dust) contains 0.5 – 1 g. crushed preparation.
  • One teaspoon full, filled with crushed preparation contains 1.5-2g of medicinal plants.
  • A spoon full, filled with crushed preparation contains about 5 g of combination of medicinal plants.
  • A spoon full filled, contains about 4 g of flowers or leaves.
  • A spoon full filled contains about 8g of roots or wood.
  • A spoon full filled contains about 7,5 g of seeds or stalks.


Modes of administration

  • Oral: decoctions, infusions, tinctures, syrups and tablets are taken orally and sometimes sublingually.
  • Nasal (Smoking, snuffing or steaming): Essential oils suspended in hot liquids or powdered materials may be snuffed so that the active compounds are absorbed through the mucosa
  • Skin: Lotions, oils, ointments or creams containing extracts of medicinal plants are applied directly to the skin, where the active compound is absorbed.
  • Rectal: The liquid preparations can be administered as enemas and the solid as suppositories. The active compounds are absorbed by the mucous membrane of the rectum.
  • Bathing: Herbs or herbal extracts may be added to bath water.


Duration of the treatment with herbal medicinal products.

Usually the therapeutic effect of medicinal plants is slow, so treatment should be continued for 2 to 4 weeks. When prolonged use is required, then it is recommended after 1.5-2 months, the treatment to be stopped for 1-2 weeks, and restarted.  Often the failure of herbal therapy is due to the omission of the above rule.


The traditional ways of using medicinal plants are:

Mixtures are products with medicinal properties and which contain 2 or more plants or herbs that can act individually, additively to restore or maintain health. In Traditional medicines, medicinal plants are typically used in mixtures.

Teas The meaning of the term tea gradually broadened in the English language, first referring to the dried tea leaf, then to the beverage brewed from it, and soon it was applied to all herbs from which potable infusions can be made. A basic distinction is drawn between:

  • Non-medicinal teas that are consumed for pleasure, such as black tea and its blends.
  • Medicinal teas that are used either as single teas or, more commonly, as tea mixtures.

Medicinal teas or infusions prepared by steeping herbs in boiling water. A typical medicinal tea consists of several herbs. There are basically three ways to prepare tea: Decoction, Infusion and Cold maceration.

  1. a) Decoction: are preparations of hard woody parts of plants such as bark, roots, seeds and nuts. They are usually prepared by boiling 1 to 2 coffee teaspoons of the hard part of the plant for 1-10 minutes. For the preparation of the beverage, is better not to put hot water on the herb, but instead to add cold water and heat the mixture to boil. After boiling the liquid should be left for 15 minutes to rest and then can be drained. The beverage is better to be drunk in a single dose, as in this way its active elements will be kept unchanged. For the procedure, is better not to use stainless steel utensils, but to use clay, enamel, glass or similar.
  2. b) Infusion (hot tea or beverage): The infusion is prepared by using boiling water but without boiling the herb. This means that boiling water is pour in a cup with the pharmaceutical preparation and the mixture is left covered for 15-20 minutes to rest. In this way, the active substances from delicate medicinal plant parts (usually flowers, leaves) will not evaporate or neutralize with extensive boiling. Usually 1 – 2 coffee teaspoons of crumbled herb are used for a glass or a cup of boiling water. More specifically 1 ounce or 25 grams of dried herbs, or 2 ounces or 50 grams of fresh aromatic herbs, should be added to 1 pint or 600 ml of boiled water. The hot beverage should be drunk immediately, but also can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. In a chronic disease, a cup of medicinal tea should be consumed three times a day, since in an acute phase the herbal tea can be consumed 6 times a day.
  3. c) Cold Maceration: refers to a preparation made by adding cold water to the required amount of the drug, which is allowed to soak at room temperature for 6–8 h before it is strained.

Dosage of teas

Prepared tea (irrespectively to the way of preparation) should be consumed within 24 hours of preparation; otherwise the solution could be a suitable environment for the growth of various microorganisms that will poison the tea with their toxins.

Tea with unpleasant odor, blur and color change should not be drunk. The infusion after preparation should be stored in glass or enamel containers and not metallic, because the tea can react with the metal releasing harmful substances. As a rule, the infusion is stored in dark and fresh places, at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

The teas of medicinal plants are drained and sweetened preferably with honey, it is advised to be used warm, usually 3 glasses a day, morning fasting (before eating), noon after eating and the evening before sleep, but the following exceptions should be noted:

  • Diuretic tea is taken at breakfast time; 1 liter should be consumed in one sitting if possible.
  • Appetite-stimulant teas are taken about 30 min before meals.
  • Teas that are used as a laxative or for sleep aid should be taken at night.
  • Peppermint and chamomile teas for an upset stomach should be taken at the patient’s usual meal times or as needed.
  • Diaphoretic teas such as Linden blossom tea and elderflower tea has no effect in the morning, but when taken in the afternoon as the body temperature is rising, it promptly induces profuse sweating (Hildebrandt et al., 1954).
  • Dosage proportions for liquid tea are:
  • One teaspoon full contains 5 g of tea (liquid).
  • A spoon full filled contains 15 g of tea (liquid).
  • A cup of coffee full contains 50 g of tea (liquid).
  • A cup of tea full contains 100 g of tea (liquid).
  • A full glass of water contains 150-200 g of tea (liquid).

Typical doses of liquid tea therapy are:

  • Adults take about 3 glasses of tea per day (morning before eating, lunch after eating and evening before bedtime).
  • Children aged 6-14 take ½ of the adult dose.
  • Children aged 2 to 6 take 1/4 of the adult dose.
  • Children aged 0-2 years receive 1/8 of the adult doses.


Dosage proportions for the preparation of infusions and beverages:

The most common ratios are:

  • 1-3 teaspoons or 1 spoon full filled with a medicinal preparation for a glass of water or
  • 6 teaspoons full filled with crushed preparation in 1 lit of water.


Extracts: are concentrated preparations of liquid, powdered or viscous forms that are ordinarily made from dried plant parts (the crude drug) by maceration or percolation.

Tincture: Tinctures are obtained by immersing an herb in an alcoholic solution for a period of 3 weeks. During this time, the active ingredients of the herb are dissolved in the alcoholic solution resulting in the tincture being formed.  For the preparation the most commonly used alcohol is ethanol solution (40 – 70%) such as vodka, jean or white rum. The crushed plant is placed in a glass container and covered with alcohol (1:5, 1:10 or 1:20), and left in a warm place for 21 days. Then the liquid is pressed, drained and stored in firmly closed glass containers, in dark places, as are designed for longer shelf life and storage. The tinctures of poisonous plants and those with strong action are kept separate from other formulations.

Use: Tinctures are used internally as drops diluted in water. Also, tincture can be pouring directly into the mouth for immediate absorption, or can be drunk with a small amount of water or juice. If the alcohol, smell is not preferable the appropriate dose of the tincture can be dissolved in about half a glass of warm water and the alcohol will evaporate in just a little while. Generally tinctures are much more effective than infusions and infusions.   

Ointment: Ointments are semi-solid preparations aimed at external application. They can be easily absorbed by the skin and transferred to the affected area of the body, the therapeutic ingredients they contain. Ointments usually contain medicinal mixtures that are used for therapeutic purposes, for massage to relieve muscle pain, to stimulate the muscles and body joints. They are prepared by warming or simply mixing vegetable oils with herbs and alcohol tinctures. The easiest way to make an ointment is to use petroleum jelly or natural beeswax and mix it with appropriate herbs or herbal tinctures or essential oils.  They are used externally and kept in a fresh and dark place.

Medicinal Oils (Pharmaceutical Plant Infusions in Oil): are fatty oils or liquid waxes containing solutions or extracts of medicinal plants.  They are prepared when the herb is left with oil (usually olive or sunflower oil), for a few days in the sun. Then the active ingredients of medicinal plants are extracted in the oil. Medicinal oils are used both internally and externally usually as massage oils, especially in aromatherapy.

Essential oil: These are volatile oils extracted from plants through a process of either steam distillation or extraction. They are of considerable importance as active ingredients of medicinal plants.

 Poultice-Compass (compress). It’s a moist mixture that is applied directly to the body, where is necessary. For the preparation, fresh or dried herbs are used as a poultice. When fresh leaves, stems or roots, are used should be breached or crushed before. If dried herbs are used, a little hot water can be added to the herbs, which are either finely chopped or powdered. For the therapeutic procedure first on the crushed plants powder, are added a few drops of boiling water and then stir until pasta is formed. Then, the mixture is spread on gauze and placed externally on the painful part wrapped with fine net gauze. The pouch is hold in place with a bandage and kept warm.

Syrups: Medicinal syrups contain extracts or infusions of the medicinal plants, which are added to the basic syrup prepared with raw sugar or honey, as it has softening properties. The unpleasant taste of some herbs is covered by the sweet taste, making the use easier for children and persons who mind the bitter and intense flavors.

Juice: Fresh juice is prepared by freshly harvested plant parts, which are macerated in water and pressed. For this purpose, fresh plants and fresh fruit are compressed in a mixer machine and then squeezed to juice. The juice is stored in dark glass containers in the refrigerator for one day to settle down and then should be filtered.

Powder: The powder is prepared by grinding thoroughly the dried plant matter or the combination of medicinal plants. For this purpose, the dried plants are crushed and then pulverized by using a mortar, or chopping machine. The final product sold in sachets, is used for the preparation of beverages and there is no need for filtering. It is also possible the powder to be taken directly on the tongue or to be mixed with food such as soup or yogurt.

Dissemination & Use