Traditional knowledge of Western herbal medicine and complex systems science

Kathryn Niemeyer, Iris R. Bell, Mary Koithan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Traditional knowledge of Western herbal medicine (WHM) supports experiential approaches to healing that have evolved over time. This is evident in the use of polyherb formulations comprised of crude plant parts, individually tailored to treat the cause of dysfunction and imbalance by addressing the whole person holistically. The challenge for WHM is to integrate science with traditional knowledge that is a foundation of the practice of WHM. The purpose of this paper is to provide a plausible theoretical hypothesis by applying complex systems science to WHM, illustrating how medicinal plants are complex, adaptive, environmentally interactive systems exhibiting synergy and nonlinear healing causality. This paper explores the conceptual congruence between medicinal plants and humans as complex systems coherently coupled through recurrent interaction. Complex systems science provides the theoretical tenets that explain traditional knowledge of medicinal plants while supporting clinical practice and expanding research and documentation of WHM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-119
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Herbal Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Herbal medicine
  • Phytotherapy
  • Traditional herbal medicine
  • Traditional knowledge
  • Western herbal medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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