"Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge. Remedies from chemicals will never stand in favour compared with the products of nature, the living cell of the plant, the final result of the rays of the sun, the mother of all life." - T. A. Edison
Plants are master chemists and biochemists. Unlike an isolated compound in a pharmaceutical medication, plants contain many different substances within them that act synergistically. For example, ginseng has over 30 different ginsenosides, some of which increase heart rate while others decrease heart rate. If used in isolation, these individual constituents may cause heart attack but are totally safe when used together in the plant. Other examples include green tea which has caffeine and theanine, caffeine stimulates while theanine relaxes; bitter melon which has several different polysaccharides to help with blood sugar control; and yellow dock, while low in iron, has vitamin C which increases the absorption of the iron content in the plant.
A botanical prescription is also different from pharmaceutical medicine in design. Often there is a lead herb, which targets the main complaint, but there are other herbs in the formula that combine to improve the actions of the formula (“deputy” and “assistants”). These herbs can augment the action of the lead herb, treat the co-existing symptoms, or mitigate the side effects or the toxicity of the lead herb; sometimes these herbs may have an opposite action to the lead herb, but in the body, these counter-actions provide for movement of energy that promotes self regulation.
In prescribing single herbs or an herbal formula, the intent of the doctor is to improve—even to restore—functions to the tissues or organ systems, not to suppress symptoms. While natural, herbal medicines (and supplements) are considered higher-force interventions, as soon as the body makes the necessary adjustments, these recommendations are discontinued in favor of lower-force interventions. The goal is to return the body to normal, optimal health without outside influences.