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Gemmotherapy [from Lat. gemma, bud, and New Lat. therapīa, Grk. therapeia, medical treatment] is a form of herbal medicine that uses remedies made principally from the embryonic tissue of various trees and shrubs (the buds and emerging shoots), but also from the reproductive parts (the seeds and catkins) and from newly grown tissue (the rootlets and the cortex of rootlets). In two instances, remedies are also made from the sap.
This raw material is taken in the Spring (in the case of the seeds, in the Autumn), at the peak time of the tree or shrub’s annual germination, in order to capture the various nutrients, vitamins, plant hormones and enzymes that are released during this process, and which in some cases are only present in the plant at this time.
Gemmotherapy, like many other alternative therapies, lacks an evidential basis and is not accepted as an efficacious treatment by the scientific community.
Development and spread of gemmotherapy
The therapeutic effects of remedies made from the embryonic material of plants were first investigated in the late 1950s by a Belgian doctor, Dr. Pol Henry (1918-88), working with a group of French homeopaths and biotherapists including Dr. Max Tétau (1927-2012) and Dr. O.A. Julian (1910-84). They conducted a series of clinical trials on humans and animals to establish the psycho-pharmacological effects of, initially, some twenty or so gemmotherapy remedies, and published several monographs detailing their findings (see for example refs 3-5 below).
Gemmotherapy became an accepted form of herbal medicine in France (entering the Pharmacopée Francaise in 1965), but it is now most widely used in Italy. Until recently it has been virtually unknown outside these two countries, with the partial exception of the UK, the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Gemmotherapy remedies have principally been used for organ drainage[how?] in France, generally prior to homeopathic treatment. There, the primary role of herbal or naturopathic treatment is considered[according to whom?] to be the detoxification[how?] of tissues that have accumulated waste material due to the malfunction of the body’s eliminative processes, under pressure from environmental pollution, poor diet and the modern lifestyle. Gemmotherapy remedies are often used in mixtures or combinations, or together with herbal medicines and oligotherapy, in line with the ‘complex’ approach of complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) in that country.
In Italy, where homeopathy and related therapies adhere to the more classical tradition of the ‘simplex’ (i.e. one remedy at a time), gemmotherapy remedies tend to be used in a different way. Although they continue to have an important role as drainage remedies, they are frequently also used either symptomatically or systemically as an adjunct to homeopathy and therapeutic approaches, or indeed as a sole treatment in their own right. They are therefore as likely to be used in the treatment of sleeplessness or high blood pressure as for sinusitis or digestive problems.
As soon as possible after being picked (and with a delay of not more than a few hours), the buds, young shoots or other parts to be used are cleaned and weighed. A sample is set aside so that the dry weight of the plant material can be determined. This is done by heating it at 105°C in an oven until its weight does not reduce any further.
The rest of the fresh plant material is macerated in an equal quantity of alcohol and vegetable glycerin, to a combined total weight of twenty times the equivalent amount of the dried sample. The proportion of fresh buds to excipient is about 1:9, and of young shoots, about 1:4.
The mixture is left to stand for one month in a cool, shaded environment, and is agitated at intervals. It is then decanted and filtered under constant pressure. After standing for a further forty-eight hours, it is filtered once more. The resulting liquid is known as the souche, or stock. It consists of equal parts of glycerin and alcohol, and 10-25% plant material, depending on the water content of the plant used.
To prepare the remedies in their final bottled form, one part of the souche is diluted with nine parts of a mixture of 50% glycerin, 30% alcohol and 20% water, and this is lightly succussed (shaken rather than struck) thirty times to bring it to the 1DH (1X or 1:10) homeopathic potency.
If properly stored in light-proof bottles and a cool, preferably dark, environment, the therapeutic qualities of gemmotherapy remedies do not diminish significantly over time. However, European regulations stipulate that they should be used within five years of the date on which the plant material from which they were made was picked.
One or two producers use modes of production at variance to that described in the European Pharmacopoeia; for example by diluting the remedies in the final stage to the 2DH homeopathic potency, or by not diluting them at all and offering them as ‘concentrated’ gemmotherapy remedies.
Several exploratory monographs were published in French in the Archives Homéopatiques de la Normandie during the 1960s (see for example ), and in the Cahiers de Biothérapie and other journals of biotherapy and phytotherapy through the 1970s and 80s (see for example ).
Some research has been published in English, for example in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
The main work on gemmotherapy available in English is Gemmotherapy: A Clinical Guide, by Max Tétau MD. This is a translation, published in Canada, of his Nouvelles Cliniques de Gemmothérapie.
Buds of Fagus sylvatica, Beech Tree
Catkin of Salix alba, White Willow
Rootlets of Filipendula ulmaria, Meadowsweet
Bud of Juglans regia, Walnut
- Pharmacopée Francaise, 8th edition, Ministère de la Santé, Gouvernement Français, Paris 1965
- European Pharmacopoeia, 6th edition, European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and Healthcare, Strasbourg 2007
- Henry, P., Bases Biologiques de la Gemmothérapie. Saint-Norbert: Tongerlo. Belgium, 1959
- Tétau, M., Conception de la Gemmothérapie. Archives Homéopatiques de Normandie, January 1959
- Julian, O.A., Observation clinique de Gemmothérapie. Archives Homéopathiques de Normandie, January 1961
- Reymond, E., La Gemmothérapie dans les affections du système nerveux. Cahiers de Biothérapie, April 1972
- Guillemain, J., Tétau, M., Contribution à l'étude d'un ‘tranquillisant végétal’: Tilia tomentosa bourgeons. Société Mèdicale de Biothérapie, Sommaire 68, December 1980
- Fauron, R., Gemmothérapie et teintures-mères-thérapie associées dans le traitement de certaines affections hépatiques. Cahiers de Biothérapie No 87, supplement, October 1985
- Swenson, T., Gemmoterapia. Edizioni Mediterranee, Rome 1981
- Rossi, M., Tinture Madri in Fitoterapia. Studio Edizioni, Milan, 1982
- Brigo, B., Fitoterapia e Gemmoterapia nella Pratica Clinica. La Grafica Briantea, Como 1991
- Piterà, F., Compendio di Gemmoterapia Clinica. De Ferrari Editore, Genoa 1994
- Hoefler, C., Fleurentin, J., Mortier, F., Pelt, J.M. and Guillemain J., Comparative choleritic and hepato-protective properties of young shoots and whole plant extracts of Rosmarinus officinalis in rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, No. 19, 1987, pp 133-143
- Tétau, M., Gemmotherapy, A Clinical Guide. Éditions du Détail, Inc., St Bruno, Quebec 1998 [translated from Nouvelles Cliniques de Gemmothérapie, Éditions Similia, France, 1987]