According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traditional medicine refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal, and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose, and prevent illnesses or to maintain well-being. If the material being used is of plant origin, then it is called traditional herbal medicine.

Different types of traditional medicines are widely applied in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to meet primary health-care needs. Traditional medicine has main-tained its popularity in most regions of the developing world. The application is also rapidly spreading in industrialized countries, where adaptations of traditional medicines are often termed “complementary” or “alternative.” In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) uses the name complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to cover health systems, practices, and products that are not considered part of conventional medicine. Worldwide, among all the different traditional medicine systems, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is currently the most popular, followed by Indian medicine. In Western terminology, the name “Oriental medicine” covers Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicines preferred by immigrants from Korea, while “Asian medicine” is often used to include TCM, Indian (Ayurveda), and Tibetan medicine. Among all treatment methods in traditional medicine systems, medicinal herbs are the most widely applied.

Medicine has been revolutionized in Europe by advances in chemistry, laboratory techniques, and equipment since Robert Koch discovered the transmis- sion of disease by bacteria, followed by the discovery of antibiotics in the early 1900s. Thus, modern medicine is commonly called Western medicine even though there are also traditional medicines in Western countries. It is also called conventional medicine.

Webster’s medical dictionary defines conventional medicine as medicine prac- ticed by holders of medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. Other terms for Western medicine or conventional medicine include allopathy and allopathic medicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, regular medicine, and biomedicine.

Although conventional medicine is the mainstream medicine in Western countries, application of traditional medicine, including herbal medicines, is growing worldwide for many reasons, in particular, the side effects or inefficacy of modern drugs. The following data are provided by the WHO.

- In Africa, up to 80% of the population uses traditional medicine for primary health care.

- In China, traditional herbal preparations account for 30–50% of the total medicinal consumption.

- In Europe, North America, and other industrialized regions, over 50% of the population has used complementary or alternative medicine at least once.

- In Germany, 90% of the population has used a natural remedy at some point in their lives.

- The global market for herbal medicines currently stands at over USD$60 billion annually, and is growing steadily.

Since the last century, scientists all over the world have studied herbal medicines from the fields of chemistry, biology, pharmacology, toxicology, and clinical trials. Recently, in addition to screening out new drug candidates, investigators also expect to explore the preventative and therapeutic mechanism of herbal medicines that play very important roles in most of the traditional medicine systems, such as TCM and Ayurveda medicine.

Soure: Traditional Herbal Medicine Research Methods, Edited by Willow J.H. Liu Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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