Health and Healing from Nature
What is it?
Herbal medicine is the practice of using plants and their products as natural medicines. Herbalists use a holistic approach to health and disease, understanding illness and wellbeing in terms of a person's biology, environment, emotional and even spiritual self.
How does it work?
Plants produce a vast array of natural chemical substances that can benefit us in a variety of ways: from kick-starting our immunity, to strengthening our hearts, increasing our metabolism to facilitating our inbuilt excretory systems, physically soothing damaged tissues or even affecting our brain chemistry.
Is there evidence that they work?
Yes, lots of evidence in many different forms. Herbalists normally use whole-herb extracts in individualised preparations for their patients, so it's difficult to produce the kind of rigorous, large-scale trials that support the use of pharmaceuticals. However, there is a huge amount of clinical experience underlying the use of herbal medicines, which is more and more being validated by laboratory investigations and observational studies.
What can I use herbal medicine for?
People can take herbal medicine for all manner of reasons. Our patients might have specific medical conditions, be suffering from stress or anxiety, or just wish to maximise their well-being. Herbal medicine is directed at healing the whole person, not specific conditions. Herbal medicine can be used for long-term problems, in first aid and as an adjunct to conventional therpaies.
Is it dangerous? Aren't some plants poisonous?
Yes, some plants are very toxic and they contain complicated mixes of natural chemicals that can have very real effects on the body. That is why you should only take them under supervision of a herbalist, who are trained in using them carefuly and judiciously.
I don't drink alcohol, can I still take herbal medicine?
Herbal medicines are normally given as tinctures, which are ethanolic preservations of herbs. Don't worry, there are many other ways to get their benefit.
Is it the same as homeopathy? What's the difference?
Homeopathy is quite a different practice, normally using white pilules that contain the greatly-diluted essence of various substances. It doesn't use plant extracts containing active principles and uses a very different underlying theory, although both herbal medicine and homeopathy have a holistic approach.
I'm pregnant or taking pharmaceutical drugs. Can I still take herbal medicine?
Yes, but it is extremely important you give your herbalist all the necessary information. Many herbs are harmless or even beneficial in pregnancies. Some herbs interfere with or interact badly with drugs, so herbalists are trained at identifying potential issues and avoiding them to ensure your safety.