Herbal Medicine is the use of plant remedies in the treatment of disease.
What can Herbal Medicine treat?
Practitioners of herbal medicine claim the therapy can help treat almost any condition that patients might take to their doctor. Common complaints include:
- skin problems such as psoriasis, acne and eczema
- digestive disorders such as peptic ulcers, colistis, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion
- problems involving the heart and circulation like angina, high blood pressure, varicose veins, varicose ulcers
- premenstrual syndrome/endocrine problems
- menopausal problems
- migraine and headaches
- allergic responses like hayfever and asthma
People have always relied on plants for food to nourish and sustain the body. Herbal medicine can be seen in the same way. Plants with a particular affinity for certain organs or systems of the body are used to ‘feed’ and restore to health those parts which have become weakened. As the body is strengthened, so is its power and ability to fight off disease. When balance and harmony are restored, health will be regained.
Herbal Medicine is the oldest form of medicine known, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians and Chinese. Our ancestors, by trial and error, found the most effective local plants to heal their illnesses. Many of the pharmaceutical drugs used today are also based on plant constituents and, even now, when scientists are seeking new ‘cures’ for disease, it is to the plant world that they turn. They find, extract and then synthesize in the laboratory a single active constitutent from the plant which can then be manufactured on a large scale. Herbal medicines, however, are made from the whole plant (eg. leaves, roots, berries, etc) and contain hundreds if not thousands of plant constituents.
Herbalists believe that the active constituents are balanced within the plant and are made more or less powerful by the numerous other substances present.
Consultation and treatment
Medical Herbalists are trained in the same diagnostic skills as orthodox doctors but take a more holistic approach to illness. The underlying cause of the problem is sought and, once identified, it is this which is treated, rather than the symptoms alone. The reason for this is that treatment or suppression of symptoms will not rid the body of the disease itself. Herbalists use their remedies to restore the balance of the body, thus enabling it to mobilise its own healing powers.
The first consultation will generally take at least an hour. The Herbalist will take notes on the patient’s medical history and begin to build a picture of the person as a whole being. Healing is a matter of teamwork with patient, practitioner and the prescribed treatment all working together to restore the body to health.
Treatment may include advice about diet and lifestyle as well as the herbal medicine.
The second appointment may follow in two weeks, subsequent ones occurring monthly. This will depend on the individual herbalist, the patient and the illness concerned.
Herbal remedies can be taken as decoctions, tinctures, infusions, infused oils, creams and ointments.
Costs start from £20 for 40 minutes.
There are many over-the-counter herbal products available for the self-treatment of common ailments. Choose products from reputable suppliers and always follow the instructions on the label.
For self-treatment to work effectively, a holistic approach to health is essential, and diet, lifestyle and exercise are all important considerations.
How to find a practitioner
Contact the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, the oldest body of practising medical herbalists in the world, for a list of registered practitioners. All its members have completed a four-year training course and have committed to adhere to a strict professional code of ethics. Members can use the initials MNIMH or FNIHM after their names.
Herbal remedies are ‘natural’ but this does not mean they are all safe and gentle in their action. Certain herbal preparations are very powerful and must only be used by qualified practitioners.
Tell your practitioner if you suffer from: high blood pressure, heart problems or glaucoma; if you are taking prescribed medication; and if you are pregnant as certain herbal remedies should not be taken during pregnancy. However, qualified herbalists know when a condition is best seen by a doctor or another therapist.