Herbal medicine: explained

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Herbal medicine: the practice of using plants in health and illness, in the context of a holistic approach where a full range of factors such as diet and lifestyle are considered in the treatment process. A practice that has been going for such aeons in the history of people and planet that one writer named it ‘the longest clinical trial in human history’. (Stuart, 1979, cited in Gabrielle Hatfield’s Encyclopaedia of Folk Medicine: Old World and New World Traditions, 2004).

Herbalists treat a very broad range of health situations and issues. Herbal medicine is helpful in chronic and long-standing conditions but equally has a place in some acute situations. Herbs can be effective on multiple levels, are non-addictive, present few adverse effects compared with pharmaceutical medicines and are suitable for all ages. If you want to discuss your or your family’s health with me and ask about herbal medicine, please don’t hesitate to contact me. The herbs are very useful – jump in and find out for yourself!

Many traditions of plant medicine exist around the world; I am trained in western herbalism but there are shared ideas in the working model of herbalists in many different places. A key one is that using plants as healing agents takes the approach of supporting (not suppressing) our bodies in their function, helping them to work at more optimum levels and regain the balance that is instrumental to health. The herbalist also takes care to explore the background to a person’s health, in order to find ways for you to address imbalance yourself. So we take into consideration elements of the whole life – what you eat and how, lifestyle, emotional and spiritual health. Often there are modifications that you can make to bring changes, before even using the herbs. The herbs are there though for added supportive power should you need it!

Background

Living and working with the plants around us to support our health is such a beautiful, fitting and life-giving way to go that it is no surprise to me that people have been doing this since they have been around on this old earth. We have long been eating plants; this is a form of medicine, as is walking in the hills or looking up at trees, or having a picnic in a field lying on the ground looking at wondrous ants… It seems clear to me that, having all grown together over time, we are bound to share symbiotic strands. It is often said that herbs are useful and effective in human health because as external agents they are better absorbed in our systems, being composed of chemicals more akin to those that make up our own bodies. I think it’s time to get more familiar with them and their powerful potential again!

Herbal medicine for me is an intelligent way to work with our bodies and connect our intelligences with those of the other species of the earth. Studying plants and natural ecologies we can discover effective systems that can sustain balance and health – and also see what brings about the opposite. These can reflect, and inform, our own lives and health.

Part of my training as a herbalist has involved studying ‘energetics’ and constitutions, ideas that originate in older systems of medicine, but that are still in vital use today, amongst many people. These mean thinking about what kinds of elements are at play in us that can lead to particular kinds of health issues. Traditional herbalists have also extensively explored the energetics of plants and the kinds of health issues that different ones have particular affinities with. Thus the role of a herbalist is also to bring a herb together with a person that it is suitable for. Working in the community as a herbalist, an added benefit is being able to share herb knowledge with all of you so that you can make the links with the herbs yourselves.

My knowledge of herbal therapeutics is complemented by a parallel foundation in clinical medicine – hence the title ‘medical herbalist’. This enables herbalists today to integrate our practice with current healthcare systems – as is absolutely necessary. We are trained to work positively and constructively with primary care providers, always taking into account what other treatment(s) you are having and ensuring the best and safest concurrent treatment if you choose to use herbal medicine alongside other therapy/ies and/or medication.

Herbal medicines are given in a range of different preparations:
Tinctures > Extraction of whole plants (or one part, such as leaf, root, flowers) in a mix of water and alcohol;
Infusions > Fresh or dried herbs (usually leaves, stems and flowers) infused in water and drunk as a tea;
Decoctions > Denser plant parts (roots, seeds) simmered in water and drunk;
External > Ointments/salves/balms – oil-based preparations for the skin, made with herb-infused oils; creams – oil & water-based skin preparations.

These and other preparations are prescribed according to the individual situation.

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