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Harnessing the power of the whole plant

It makes sense to control the medicinal action of a plant by concentrating the compounds that cause the action. 

By learning more about the properties of plants and isolating their compounds, we have made great progress in terms of accuracy, repeatability and power of action. 
However, this approach does not make allowance for the molecular complexity of plants. Some of their pharmacological and medicinal properties are not produced by just one or two substances, but several hundred compounds which act in synergy to produce the effects that the plant is traditionally used for.

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Hundreds of substances known to be active

There are two types of essential ingredient which contribute to the properties of medicinal plants:  

  • compounds which have their own pharmacological action: these are the active ingredients
  • and compounds which do not have their own pharmacological action but which can modulate the effect and tolerance of active ingredients inside the body and improve the way they are assimilated: these are called useful ingredients. 

This complex combination of compounds can produce different medicinal properties than those obtained by selectively extracting only certain parts of the plant.  
 

The totum: why 1 + 1 = 3

All of a plant’s active and useful ingredients together make up what we call the totum. Generally, none of the molecules taken separately can reproduce the effects of the original plant. 

In other words, when it comes to phytotherapy, 1 + 1 = 3 … or greater! The whole of the plant (or the whole of the selected plant part) is greater than the sum of its parts.

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Turmeric also contains polyphenols, including curcumin, which, once extracted and combined with other ingredients to improve its bioavailability, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. When a “totum” or whole plant form of turmeric is used it contains a lower concentration of curcumin but its bioavailability is optimised by other ingredients. These other ingredients include essential oils and polysaccharides which contribute to the plant’s recognised properties for cardiovascular and hepatic protection and its digestive benefits, namely as a cholagogue, choleretic and anti-ulcer agent.

Sometimes, the totum has to be used. This is the case for adaptogenic plants (rhodiola, ginseng, Siberian ginseng or milk vetch) whose multiple properties depend on a complex blend of molecules; or hawthorn, whose pharmacological properties cannot be obtained from one particular fraction on its own.

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Hence, we can choose to only use a small part of a plant’s compounds, in which case we opt for the partial extraction of certain active ingredients, or to use an extraction process which is able to harness all the ingredients of the plant (the totum).

Partial extraction can isolate active ingredients – which can be useful for separating them from other potentially toxic substances in the plant, such as the andrographolides contained in andrographis – and/or concentrate them to enhance their action (like the curcuminoids found in turmeric). This can be considered as ‘molecular phytotherapy’, which is similar to allopathic medicine in the way it uses synthetic compounds. 

The totum is used to harness all the plant’s active ingredients in order to obtain the maximum benefit of its medicinal action. 
This requires special manufacturing processes which can extract and collect all the plant’s ingredients and keep them intact. 

The plant extracts used for phytotherapy can be obtained from dried or fresh plants or parts of a plant.  

The drying process can sometimes damage the most fragile ingredients, which makes them less effective.
Using fresh plants keeps all the plant’s properties intact, but they need to be frozen quickly after harvesting. 

At PiLeJe, we have chosen to use fresh plants to make our phytotherapy products.

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Sources

  • Jacques Fleurantin (2013) Du bon usage des plantes qui soignent. Published by Ouest-France.
  • Eric Lorrain 100 questions sur la phytothérapie. Published by La Boétie (2013).
  • Eric Lorrain 50 solutions plantes pour votre santé au quotidien, Published by Tallandier (2016).
  • Jean-Pierre Théallet (2016) Le guide familial des plantes qui soignent. Published by Albin Michel. 
  • Laetitia Bonifait, Daniel Grenier. Les polyphénols de la canneberge : Effets bénéfiques potentiels contre la carie dentaire et la maladie parodontale. J Can Dent Assoc 2010;76:a130_f
  • Site de la Société international de médicine endobiogénique et de physiologie intégrative : https://www.simepi.info/spip.php?article57