Medicinal plants

Medicinal plants

Nature offers many natural remedies that can prove to be precious in ensuring the health and well-being of the body. Man has always sought and used the healing properties present in plants, from the traditional ancient medicine of every culture to modern phytotherapy. Medicinal plants are plant species that have a particular content of active ingredients from which a possible therapeutic use derives.

Many cultivated aromatic species have interesting properties, such as balsamic, anti-inflammatory, and purifying properties. Even among spontaneous plants, we can find medicinal herbs.

It is necessary to have a careful approach in the recognition and correct use of these natural remedies, which can have contraindications and interfere with traditional medicines. This is why they must be used with awareness and without forgetting that for everything concerning health it is important to be assisted by a doctor.

List of medicinal plants

It is not easy to define what medicinal plants are, given that each plant species has useful properties and substances, below you will find a list that does not claim to be all-inclusive but can be a starting point for those who want to deepen some of these medicinal plants. For some plants, you will find the clickable link that takes you to a specific tab with all the information on cultivation. There are also official lists of medicinal plants, in Europe, it was established by the law of 1931 and is an indication for pharmacies.

Definition of medicinal herbs

The term “officinal” refers to the ancient botanical workshops of the apothecary masters, who once played the role that pharmacies have today, that is, to provide remedies for various ailments. While today drugs are developed in laboratories, ancient medicine was more closely linked to botany, for which it was treated mainly with plants.

Medicinal plants are therefore those that can have curative or preventive properties.

If we want an official definition, we can refer to that of the WHO (World Health Organization) for the term “medicinal plant”:

“A medicinal plant is considered to be any vegetable that contains, in one or more of its organs, substances that can be used for therapeutic or preventive purposes, or that are precursors of chemo-pharmaceutical hemisynthesis.”

Establishing in practice which herbs are actually medicinal is not taken for granted and for this reason, the lists of medicinal plants may differ from one country to another.

Speaking of “medicinal herbs” we generally refer to small shrub plants, such as aromatic plants, while “medicinal plants” is a broader term that also includes tall trees.

The term “aromatic herb” is not a synonym for “medicinal herb”, because it refers to its culinary and not curative use. However, practically all aromatic plants, which have a strong content of essential oils, also have properties of phytotherapeutic interest.

Grow medicinal herbs

Many medicinal plants can be cultivated. The cultivation technique is different depending on the species and for this reason, it would not make sense to speak in general. There are both perennial medicinal herbs and annual plants that must be re-sown every year.

In the list above we find a long list of herbs and plants of medicinal interest, some names are clickable and refer to the indications on how to cultivate each of these species.

In general, we can remember that to have a quality crop it is important that the soil has all the necessary substances so that the plant can develop its own active ingredients and accumulate in the leaves the substances that give it its properties.

In many cases, the harvesting period and the method of conservation and use of the plant parts of our interest are also fundamental.

Balsamic time and harvest period

The harvest period is often important in cultivation because many medicinal plants have a specific balsamic time.

The balsamic time is the period in which the presence of active ingredients is greater and can be variable depending on the soil and climatic conditions.

Spontaneous medicinal plants

Medicinal plants are not only cultivated ones: we can find in the wild a great variety of species that have interesting healing properties. To collect spontaneous medicinal plants in complete safety, it is essential to be experts in recognition, avoiding making mistakes and perhaps confusing medicinal plants with other plant species that can instead be toxic or poisonous.

The balsamic period is also important in the collection of spontaneous plants, as much as it is for cultivated medicinal plants.

Interesting plant parts

The set of useful substances in a plant is called a Phyto complex. The officinal species are not all the same: each has one or more plant parts that contain the active ingredients and which are therefore of interest for phytotherapy purposes. The parts to be collected can be:

  • Leaves
  • Fruits
  • Seeds
  • Flowers
  • Floral buds
  • Roots
  • Bark
  • Wood

How to store and use medicinal products

The methods of conservation and use of medicinal products are many, each plant lends itself to being used in different ways.


Drying aromatic herbs by sun, ventilation or heat is one of the most widespread and ancient methods of preserving them. The dried herbs can then be used in various methods, starting with infusions and decoctions. Drying is therefore a first post-harvest conservation method.

Essential oils and hydrolates

Essential oil is an oily mixture obtained by pressing or distillation from a single plant species, which maintains some organoleptic characteristics. Hydrolates (or aromatic waters) are obtained from essential oils.

The mother tincture

The mother tincture is a hydroalcoholic extraction used in phytotherapy. The process extracts the useful substances by exploiting the extraction capacity of alcohol and for this, it allows to obtain a high concentration of active ingredients. The tincture is called “mother” because it is the starting point for many derivatives.


Hydrolytes are extracts of substances from medicinal plants carried out with water, thus only water-soluble substances are obtained.

Oleolytes and acetolites

As the name suggests, oolites are extractions that use oil, while acetolites use vinegar. Each of these methods extracts substances differently and can be more or less suitable for different species.

Herbal teas: infusions and decoctions

Herbal tea is part of the hydrolytes, and is one of the most traditional and popular methods to benefit from the properties of medicinal plants.

It is a hot drink made from crushed and dried plant parts. We can obtain it by infusion, pouring boiling water on dry plant material, or with decoction, when the plant material is placed in cold water and brought to a boil.


The syrup is a solution of water and sugar, characterized by high viscosity. It is a method for preserving the properties of different plants in a formula that is useful for making drinks when needed, by diluting them in a greater amount of water.

Properties of plants

Each medicinal plant has different positive effects, here are some of the most common properties in phytotherapy with some examples of useful plants.

  • Antioxidant (blueberry, black currant)
  • Antirheumatic (arnica, devil’s claw, nettle)
  • Antiseptic (wormwood, licorice, St. John’s wort, myrtle, oregano)
  • Astringent (orange, lemon, blueberry, hypericum)
  • Balsamic (eucalyptus, mint, myrtle, rosemary)
  • Soothing abdominal pain (yarrow, calendula, oregano, rue)
  • Cicatrizing (shepherd’s purse, burdock)
  • Depurative (burdock, corn, parietaria, parsley, dandelion)
  • Diuretics (heather, horsetail, corn, parietaria, sorrel)
  • Digestive (cinnamon, fennel, juniper, lemon, anise)

  • Disinfectant (basil, chamomile, mountain pine, tea tree)
  • Emollient (chamomile, calendula, rocket, primrose)
  • Expectorant (eucalyptus, licorice, mallow, black pepper)
  • Gastroprotective (aloe vera, mallow, chamomile, marshmallow)
  • Immunostimulant (echinacea, ginseng, dog rose)
  • Laxative (fig, castor, rhubarb)
  • Soothing (arnica, aloe vera, calendula, hypericum)
  • Relaxing (hawthorn, fig, hops, lemon balm)
  • Tonic (cinnamon, licorice, mint, rocket)

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