The oldest phytotherapy was certainly chewed fruit or leaves. In the age of tablets and capsules one should be aware of how this ancient way is valid even today for some plant species. For some it is not. Knowledge of phytotherapy is also based on distinguishing these two simple sentences.
Integral medicinal forms of plants imply the use of the entire plant or plant organ or product (e.g. root, flower, oleoresin…), dried or fresh, without any extraction procedure in which compounds or plant fragments would be separated.
The most common forms are pulvises (powders) of dried plants, obtained by drying, grinding and sifting, to facilitate their oral intake. Powders of plants are sometimes known to be applied in capsules and are still present on the market to this day. They were once used simply by mixing in water, milk, juices, or masked in sweet fruits such as figs if the powders were bitter or spicy hot.
Another form is completely fresh herbs or plant organs and fruits, for example, taking fresh parsley leaves to reduce bad breath or as a poultice for mastitis. Fresh lemon, along with the “peel” (fruit) was the first remedy for scurvy.
The application of integral forms was once dominant in phytotherapy. Today, we mostly use extracts. Some herbalists and naturopaths believe that integral forms are the only true medicinal forms, because by extraction the healing properties are lost, or even the “spiritual power” of the plant. Modern phytotherapy has confirmed the benefits of the extraction process, and in some plants only the extracts have a healing effect.
Nevertheless, individual plants are still used in this way, and examples are known:
- flax (seeds)
- fenugreek (seeds)
- neem (leaves)
- feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) as green plant pulvis
The procedure itself differs. In some integral forms of plants the digestive system itself acts as an “extractor”, that is, medicinal substances from plants dissolve in digestive juices. This is most pronounced in those forms that are directly taken by oral route. Take, for example, the herbal medicine Sinupret, which is used in acute and chronic rhinosinusitis. It contains pulvises (powders) of plants in the tablet we take.
In some processes, partial extraction occurs even before oral administration. Take the example of flax. Ground flax seeds are usually swollen in water. During this, the mucus from the flax is extracted, but we take the plant in integral form because we drink or eat the non-extracted part, too.
If, on the other hand, we soak flax seeds in water and then separate the part that has not dissolved by squeezing, then we are NOT talking about an integral form, but an aqueous extract. If we cook fresh parsley root and drink water and eat the root (you recognize that it is a soup) it is again about taking an integral plant. If we throw away the root, we are taking an aqueous extract of fresh parsley root, which is usually done by adolescents in soup when they avoid vegetables in the soup with disgust. Therefore, mother is integral and the child is an extract.
Today, a popular and commendable diet of vegetables and fruits chopped in blenders is also the consumption of whole plants.
Sometimes the border is blurry. An example of this is ginger root, which is grated and squeezed, and the coarse fibrous material is removed. Some would call it an extract (obtained by squeezing the plant), and some would call it the integral juice of the plant.