What is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine is
a system of medicine which exclusively uses plants.
Herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine on
our planet, and is still used as the primary form of
medicine by over 75% of the world's population.
In fact it is the traditional medicine of all
cultures, and is based on observation and experience
passed down from generation to generation for
thousands of years.
Nowadays, there is also an enormous body of
scientific information and research in the field of
herbal medicine. This information assists
herbalists to apply their traditional remedies with
even greater safety and efficacy. Herbal
medicine is the forerunner of modern drug medicine.
Many chemical drugs are based on compounds found in
plants. For example, the idea for aspirin came
from the salicylates found in Willow bark, and heart
drugs are still extracted from the Foxglove, more
than 200 years after their discovery. There
are many other examples. The Madagascar
Periwinkle provides drugs for the treatment of
leukaemia, and taxol from the Pacific Yew offers one
of the most promising breakthroughs in cancer
chemotherapy for decades.
The World Health Organisation encourages herbal
medicine because it is cheap and effective.
Why is it Different?
A major difference is the form in which medicines
are used - herbalists prefer the crude plant form of
a medicine instead of pure chemicals refined from
In modern medical science, pharmacologists
examine the traditional medicinal used of plants and
then locate what they believe to be the active
chemical. They then make the drug by isolating
that active principle. Herbal medicine
acknowledges the existence of this active principle,
but insists that the other less active components of
the plant are essential in presenting the medicine
in a form which is easily absorbed, utilised and
excreted by the human body.
Herbalists believe that the biological complexity
of humans is ideally matched by treatment with
remedies of biological complexity - plants! In
other words, herbalists believe that the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts. Another
major difference is that herbalists work on the
premise that we have an innate ability to heal
ourselves, and that medicines should be used to
restore and support the body's own very capable
defensive and restorative mechanisms, rather than
try to replace these mechanisms. Herbal
medicine is used within a holistic philosophical
framework, treating the whole person rather than
just a disease or one part of the body. Herbal
medicine empowers people to play an active role in
their own healing.
What Should I Expect?
During a consultation with a herbalist, the
problem itself in examined along with an assessment
of diet, lifestyle, emotional factors and other body
relationships. Then a diagnosis is made.
Not just in terms of the name of the disease, but
also in respect to what is perceived to be the
underlying cause in holistic terms. In other
words, the herbalist attempts to remove barriers to
health, empowering and mobilising the patient to
restore their own defences.
According to the practitioner's assessment of the
patient, a prescription will be formulated.
Usually containing 4 to 6 herbs, this prescription
is usually given in liquid form because liquids are
easily combined in a formulation. Also liquids
represent the least amount of processing needed to
turn dried plant material into an acceptable
pharmaceutical form. If the patient
experiences difficulties with the taste of liquids,
they can be taken in juice, and if this fails,
tablets or capsules can be prescribed. The
individual prescription is reviewed and adjusted at
How Do I Choose a Herbalist?
There are some health care professionals who are
specialist herbalists, but herbal medicine in mainly
practised by natural therapists who combine a number
of natural treatments. A number of medical
practitioners and pharmacists also use herbal
medicine. If there is no government
registration of herbalists in your area, then it its
best to ask the practitioner whether they are a
member of a professional association appropriate to
their claimed area of expertise. It is best to
choose a practitioner with whom you think you would
feel comfortable in discussing your lifestyle and
What Can Herbal Medicine Treat?
Herbal medicine can successfully treat may
common health problems. However, it is
particularly suited to the treatment of chronic
disorders such as arthritis, asthma, skin disorders
and digestive problems.
Herbal medicine is also highly effective for the
treatment of female menstrual problems such as
period pain, excessive or disordered menstruation,
pre-menstrual syndrome and menopause.
One of the greatest strengths of herbal medicine
is the way it can improve the functioning of the
immune system. Good immune function in vital,
given the demands of modern living.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
Treatment of chronic problems is sometimes slow,
taking many months, but a permanent change and
relative freedom from side effects are more than
adequate compensation. Generally some
improvement will be experienced within 4 to 6 weeks,
although this varies widely and also depends on how
much effort the patient is prepared to make on their
For more acute problems such as colds and flu,
response to treatment can be very quick, with
benefits coming in a day or two.
Is Herbal Medicine Safe?
properly, herbal medicine is safe and effective for
healing disease and maintaining good health.
Herbal medicine fills a gap in conventional medical
treatment because sometimes it is only the subtle
complex of chemicals found in plants which can meet
the needs of patients and help to restore them to