What is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine is the use of plant remedies in the treatment of disease. It is the oldest form of medicine known. Our ancestors, by trial and error, found the most effective plants to heal their illnesses. Now, with the advancement of science enabling us to identify the chemical constituents within these plants, we can better understand their healing powers.
Herbalism, in this country, is now classed as an 'alternative' or 'complementary' discipline but it is still the most widely practised form of medicine worldwide, with over 80% of the world's population relying on herbs for health.
What can Herbal Medicine treat?
Herbal medicine can treat almost any condition that patients might take to their doctor. The treatment focus is on the person, the disease and symptoms, therefore it is effective across the whole spectrum of conditions.
Common complaints seen by herbalists include:
- Digestive and bowel disorders
- Pre-conceptual and fertility issues
- Skin complaints
- Heart and circulation problems
- Menstrual, menopausal and gynaecological conditions
- Respiratory problems
- Muscular aches and pains
- Urinary problems
- Anxiety, stress, irritability, mood swings, and sleep disturbances
- Frequent colds and infections
- Allergic conditions
- Childhood disorders
Qualified herbalists know when a condition is best seen by a doctor or another therapist.
The Herbalist's Approach
Medical Herbalists are trained in the same diagnostic skills as orthodox doctors but take a more holistic approach to illness. This 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 the 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.
How do herbs work?
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 been weakened. As the body is strengthened, so is its power and ability to fight off disease and when balance and harmony are restored, health will be regained.
What are the differences between Pharmaceutical and Herbal drugs?
Many of the pharmaceutical drugs used today are 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 constituent from the plant (the part that has therapeutic value). This can then be manufactured on a large scale.
Herbal drugs, however, are extracts from a part of the whole plant (eg. leaves, roots, berries, etc) and contain hundreds, perhaps 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.
For example, the herb Ephedra sinica is the source of the alkaloid ephedrine which is used, in orthodox medicine, to treat asthma and nasal congestion but it has the side effect of raising blood pressure. Within the plant are six other alkaloids one of which prevents a rise in blood pressure.
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists was establised in 1864 and is the oldest body of practising medical herbalists in the world. All members have undergone a rigorous 4 year training and adhere to a strict professional code of ethics. They have the letters MNIMH or FMIMH after their names.