What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal Medicine

This weekend I was asked what a medical herbalist does.  

I am a medical herbalist…but what does this mean really?  What really is Herbal Medicine?  As a medical herbalist (and a naturopath) I achieved a degree in Natural Medicine, which allows me to   to prescribe herbal medicine using the extracts of plants, whether it be bark, seeds, leaves or flowers to promote a healing response within the body.

The aim of modern natural medicine is to restore health, promote healing and bring balance back to the body.  Nowadays we prescribe in pill form, capsules or herbal tinctures (liquids) – and of course, there are herbal teas!

Herbs pack a powerful healing punch, not dissimilar to medications. In fact, many medications are derived from their botanical counter-parts actions.   For example, Digoxin, the heart medication, is derived from Digitalis, or the Foxglove plant.

I think, as increasingly people take responsibility for their health choices, we have seen a resurgence in the popularity of natural medicine. Known as phytotherapy (plant therapy) herbs are cost effective, have few side effects and have screeds of research available to back up their efficacy.

The original form of medicine, the use of herbs and natural remedies has been around for millennia, right back to the stone age and predating that – it is truly the oldest form of medicine -  there is a long history documented of how herbs have treated various ailments. Our forebears did not have medical drugs – they used the bounty of nature to cure.  

We must be careful and realise that herbs influence the body and mind, as do medications.  Most plants are considered safe to use but this is where a person trained in herbal meds is so valuable – because of the risk of possible contraindications between drugs and herbs. This is a real thing! One of my chief bug bears.  It is so very important to make sure that any herbs and drugs you are taking do not contradict with each other and cause side effects you were not expecting.  It’s important to understand the actions of an herb before you use it. St John’s Wort and anti-depressants, or Licorice and blood pressure medications.  These things need to be managed by carefully by a qualified health practitioner.

I have been doing this for a while and It is heartening to see more medical professionals having open minds into the use of natural meds - asking questions, checking things out, supporting the use of natural medicines.  We love this! We encourage this! We want to work hand in hand – surely it is what is best for the patient? To use the best of both worlds harmoniously if necessary?

As a herbalist/naturopath I aim to treat the cause, and not just the symptoms. As our degrees are science based these days we look for the evidence and research to back up treatment of acute and chronic conditions.

Using herbs can be as simple as starting with growing and adding culinary herbs in your cooking and trying herbal teas.

I encourage you to give herbs a try!

By Joanna Vinsen BNatMed HbT