Celebrating 3 More Global Traditional Herbalism Practices: Kampo, Traditional Australian Medicine, & Traditional Russian Herbalism

Published on June 26, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Herbalism, a practice as ancient as hunting and foraging, has experienced a surge in popularity in the last decade.

From taking herbal supplements to seeking alternative care from herbalists, acupuncturists, and Ayurvedic practitioners, this traditional wellness practice resonates with the new (and educated) health-conscious consumer.

This isn’t surprising, given that people from all corners of the globe have relied on traditional herbalism to sustain them for millennia.

In this way, herbalism may be considered one of the most universal wellness practices on the planet, with 80% of the world's population using herbs for basic healthcare needs.REF#4118 REF#4119

However, few of us know the complete origins of the herbs we are privileged to access so freely today.

At Gaia Herbs, we’re committed to increasing awareness about the history and merits of herbalism practices worldwide.

To date, we’ve written several articles outlining specific practices, such as Traditional African Medicine, Traditional Native American Medicine, and Traditional Iranian-Islamic Medicine, as well as covering seven global traditional herbalism practices that helped shape alternative medicine.

But we’re not done yet!

This article shares three more influential global traditional medicine and herbalism practices from Japan, Australia, and Russia.

An Overview of Traditional Herbalism

Whether your grandmother gave you chamomile tea for a tummy ache or you use essential oils in your skincare products, almost everyone has been exposed to elements of traditional herbalism. 

Also known as folk medicine, herbal folklore, herbal medicine, botanical medicine, phytomedicine, or phytotherapy, herbalism is the practice of using plants and plant extracts to support physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

These plants, which include culinary herbs, trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, etc., may take the form of tinctures, teas, powders, supplements, essential oils, packs, compresses, charms, or other preparations and may include various parts of the plant including leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, bark, etc.

According to a 2014 research paper, over 53,000 species are used in various forms of herbalism REF#4120  and, as previously mentioned, over 80% of the population relies on herbs to support health.

It’s only in developed countries and cities that herbalism fell out of favor for a time and was replaced by more modern medical drugs and care.

In rural communities and underdeveloped countries, people have always relied on traditional medicine practitioners and plants for sustenance and health.

Fortunately, the tide has turned as people in developed countries are rediscovering a link to their past and autonomy through modern herbalism.

Herbal Origins: Three More Traditional Medicine Practices that Helped Shaped Global Herbalism and Modern Medicine

As mentioned previously, at Gaia Herbs, we are passionate about raising awareness about the origins of herbalism and these precious ancient plants.

We began with How Global Traditional Medicine And Herbalism Shaped Alternative Medicine, which featured traditional medicine and herbalism practices from seven countries around the world.

That article inspired a deeper dive into various global herbalism practices, such as: 

Here, we’re sharing information about three more lesser-known traditional medicine practices that helped shape global herbalism and modern medicine.

1: Japanese Traditional Herbal Medicine, aka: Kampo Medicine 

Japan is one of the most progressive countries in adopting their Traditional Medicine, known as Kampo, into modern healthcare.

For example, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) has approved the use of 148 Kampo formulas and the prescription of Kampo traditional medicines within the national health insurance system.REF#4121

Kampo is also now taught in Japanese medical schools for all physicians, allowing doctors to offer truly integrative care.REF#4122 Doctors may also choose to become experts or specialists in Kampo medicine.

Currently, over 70% of Japanese physicians offer Kampo medicines, which typically contain herbs or herbs and animal products, in everyday practice.REF#4123

This is nearly unheard of in Western countries, where traditional herbs and other wellness practices and services are typically not covered by insurance or taught in medical schools.

In other East Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, traditional herbal medicine is typically used by specific oriental medicine providers, not medical doctors. 

Kampo formulas can also be bought over the counter or online.

So, What Exactly is Kampo?

Kampo, the Traditional Medicine of Japan, has roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which was introduced in Japan in 552 AD.

Since then, it has developed into its own type of Traditional Medicine known as Japanese Kampo. Kampo is less philosophical than Traditional Chinese Medicine but still includes the use of various herbs, acupuncture, and other TCM or variations of TCM modalities.REF#4124

In Japan, Kampo is only practiced by physicians, and since it’s covered by insurance, most people get prescriptions for Kampo formulas from their doctors.

Traditional Chinese medicine is also practiced in Japan by medical and non-medical providers, such as Doctors of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncturists.

Because Kampo is so widely accepted in Japanese culture, a vast body of research has demonstrated its efficacy, as described in the Kampo evidence reports by the Japanese Society of Oriental Medicine. 

Physicians recommend traditional Japanese herbs, also known as Kampo medication, based on four examinations: 

  • Inspection
  • Hearing and smelling
  • Inquiry
  • Palpation, which includes pulse and abdominal examination

Kampo medications are then determined based on these criteria and may consist of dry extracts or decoctions (boiling the herb or plant in water to extract its beneficial properties).

Examples of Herbs Used in Kampo Medicine

As previously mentioned, Kampo medicines may be exclusively plants or a combination of plant and animal materials.

Many of the herbs used in Kampo Medicine come from Traditional Chinese Medicine, and some are unique to Japan.

The following are examples of some herbs used in Kampo Medicine:

  • Astragalus root
  • Bamboo
  • Chinese gentian root 
  • Clove
  • Chinese cinnamon
  • Daikon (Japanese Radish)
  • Fennel
  • Forsythia fruit 
  • Ginger
  • Glycyrrhizae Radix (Chinese liquorice root).
  • Japanese cornel fruit 
  • Japanese mugwort
  • Japanese water lily rhizome 
  • Jujube fruit and seed
  • Kudzu root 
  • Kuromoji (Spicebush)
  • Schisandra
  • Shiso/Perilla leaf

Unlike many other developed countries, Japan has remained faithful to its roots in Traditional Medicine and herbalism, which are now reflected in its modern medical system.

Many experts speculate this loyalty to Traditional Medicine in Japan may play a role in the historical health and longevity of the Japanese population.

Learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine, which inspired Traditional Japanese Medicine, in A Complete Overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

2: Traditional Australian Medicine and Herbalism, aka Bush Medicine

Before colonization, Traditional Medicine practices, also known as Bush Medicine, were the only forms of care for Australia’s indigenous for more than 50,000 years.REF#4125

Colonization, which had a devastating effect on Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, sought to marginalize and destroy these traditional practices by disconnecting people from their land and families.

Since this wisdom was often passed on from indigenous healer to healer and generation to generation, mostly through verbal communications, songs, paintings, and dances, it had a dramatic impact on Australia’s many forms of traditional medicine and herbalism.

Chemists and pharmacologists began exploring the medicinal properties of indigenous Australian herbal remedies in the 18th century to gain knowledge of their properties and significance in indigenous cultures.REF#4126

Some of Australia’s traditional medicines and treatments were adopted by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, while others remained part of the medical practices of bushmen, drovers, and woodcutters. 

The study of Australian traditional herbalism and plants has also impacted herbalism in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as modern naturopathy, homeopathy, and other forms of complementary alternative medicine.

Traditional Medicine/Bush Medicine and herbalism are still widely practiced in Australia today.

Like other indigenous traditional medicine practices, Bush Medicine takes a holistic view of healing involving the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the person.

Therefore, bush healers/clinicians typically specialize in one of two areas:

  1. A spiritual doctor was considered the ultimate authority and was sought after to heal the sick by correcting spiritual disharmony. Spiritual doctors or healers performed diagnostics, treatments, and determining the cause of death. 
  2. A medicine man worked alongside spiritual doctors/healers to recommend herbs and other remedies in addition to spiritual rituals. 

Today, practitioners of Bush Medicine are still very active throughout the country, especially among the indigenous. Their knowledge has influenced modern medicine through the discovery and creation of various drugs and other beneficial supplements.

Bush Medicine clinicians may practice in their homes, villages, or in more modern traditional medicine clinical settings, such as the Akeyulerre Healing Centre in Alice Springs.

Examples of Herbs Used in Bush Medicine

Australia’s diverse climate makes it home to thousands of species of plants, many of which were and are used in bush medicine.

Bush healers typically combined plants with animal fat, which was believed and is now known to facilitate the absorption and action of the herbs. 

Some examples of herbs used in Bush Medicine include:REF#4127

  • Aloe
  • Asteraceae
  • Beach Bean
  • Corymbia terminalis, also known as tjuta, joolta, or various types of bloodwood
  • Eucalyptus
  • Goat’s Foot
  • Native Hop
  • Nettles
  • Noni (Indian Mulberry)
  • Lemongrass
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Pituri (a narcotic used in rituals and ceremonies)
  • Sneezeweed
  • Tea Tree
  • Tulsi (also known as Holy Basil)

Traditional Australian Medicine gets a different level of attention than other TM practices, such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, it has been highly influential throughout the global herbalism community.

3: Traditional Russian Medicine

Traditional Russian Medicine comprises of influences from Russia, Asia, and Europe. 

The Greeks began influencing Traditional Russian Medicine and herbalism in the 10th century when copies of Greek herbal texts made it into Russia’s medicine society via monasteries and were translated into Russian.REF#4128

Russia’s first herbal pharmacy, known as a potion store, was opened in the hospital of Kiev-Pechora Lavra in 1005–1010 by a Greek monk. This event is believed to have significantly influenced Greek medicine’s influence on Russian herbalism.

Russian herbalists, known as "knowledgists," successfully used various herbs in their traditional medicine practices and also discovered the healing properties of mold many centuries before the discovery of penicillin.

The Asian influence came from the Mongolian occupation of Russia in the mid-thirteenth century and likely from visiting neighbors from other Asian and European countries who shared their wisdom with Russian herbalists.

Russia was among the first countries to compile a pharmacopeia in 1778, the “Pharmacopoeia Rossica” published in St. Petersburg by the Russian Academy of Science. This work contains 770 monographs, of which 316 texts are on herbal medicinal preparations.

In the 19th century, Russian doctors were unique from Western doctors, who had abandoned nearly all herbalism, and Asian doctors, who were largely unaware of more modern medical practices because they knew of and practiced Russian folk herbalism and modern Western medicine.

Traditional Russian Medicine and herbalism believed health came from a strong connection with the forces of nature and the power of plants and wild foods to support health and shamanic and spiritual healing practices such as prayer, rituals, and sound therapy.

According to a review article published in Frontier Pharmacology: “Russia in the past and present can be regarded as a “herbophilious” society. The term “herbophilia” was used by Łuczaj (2008) for such cultures, in which medicinal and food plant species are often used and highly prized. Approximately 58% of the Russian population was reported to use phytopharmaceuticals as a form of treatment (Shikov et al., 2011), including wild plants.REF#4129

Traditional Russian Medicine also strongly believed in food as medicine, which is evident in their most recent Pharmacopoeia, in which 98 out of 119 documented plants are known to have been used as food and traditional herbs.

Examples of Traditional Russian Herbs used in Herbalism and as Foods:REF#4130

Russian Traditional herbalists and healers relied heavily on adaptogens, a class of herbs known to support resiliency, stamina, and a healthy stress response, especially in harsh conditions like Siberia.

Some of the most famous Russian adaptogens include Russian Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea, and Chaga.

Fun fact: The Russian pharmacologist Nikolai Lazare coined the term “adaptogen” in 1947 when studying the effects of Eleuthero.

Today, many Russians opt for herbalism and other traditional medicine practices of their ancestors and tend to be suspicious of allopathic or modern medicine treatments.

In summary, Russia was one of the first countries to adopt and maintain a truly integrative approach to health by incorporating the best of modern allopathic and traditional medicine to serve its people.

How to Learn More About Traditional Medicine and Herbalism From Around the World

We hope articles like these inspire you to learn more about the history, connection, and empowering nature of traditional herbs.

Herbs have always played an essential role in supporting people's health globally, and it is because of this traditional wisdom we enjoy such free access to herbs and supplements today.

Gaia Herbs is committed to sharing these stories to raise awareness and help preserve the legacy and existence of these precious plants, their soil, and their ecosystems.

To learn more about traditional herbalism around the world, click the links in the introductory paragraphs.

For more information on how Gaia Herbs is making a difference, see:


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