What is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicine is the practice of healing using whole-plant based medicines. The aim is to strengthen and restore balance in the body, and to encourage the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Modern herbal medicine combines thousands of years of traditional use with the most up-to-date research.
Western herbal medicine is based on a holistic approach. The intention is to obtain a complete picture of a person’s overall state of health – a medical herbalist treats the whole person and not just the disease. Prescriptions are individually formulated which means that two people visiting a herbalist with the same condition will leave with their own uniquely blended medicine. A herbalist looks to treat the cause of the illness as well as relieving symptoms where possible.
What to expect when visiting a herbalist.
The first consultation takes up to one and a half hours. It involves taking a full case history, including details of the current illness, past medical history, diet and questions about a person’s health in general. The consultation may include a short physical examination. If necessary, pulse and blood pressure are routinely taken. At the end of the appointment the herbalist will prescribe a herbal remedy – usually an alcohol-based tincture, but occasionally a medicinal herbal tea, herbal syrup or external preparation such as a cream, ointment or liniment. The herbalist may also make dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
Follow up consultations typically last up to three quarters of an hour; the first of these takes place after two weeks and thereafter every four weeks. The herbalist will regularly assess the progress of the patient and the herbal mixture may be altered at subsequent visits. The journey to health is a dynamic partnership between patient and herbalist and a two-way dialogue is encouraged at all times.
How long will it take for me to get better?
As people respond at different rates to herbal medicine, it is difficult to estimate how long treatment may last. Some conditions may see a swift improvement, while others take a little longer. It is more useful to think in terms of a long-term commitment than a “quick fix”, although in general there should be some improvement noticed in 3-6 months, sooner in many cases. The length of treatment also depends very much on the severity and duration of the illness and the individual’s constitution.
Who can benefit from herbal medicine?
Herbal treatment is suitable for everybody, from children to the elderly, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Qualified medical herbalists are trained to use herbs safely alongside orthodox medications, and to be aware of drug-herb interactions. Patients should always bring along details of any prescribed medication or supplements they may be taking.
Some conditions which may respond well to herbal medicine include:
- Digestive problems e.g. IBS, indigestion
- Skin conditions e.g. eczema
- Gynaecological disorders e.g. PMS, menstrual irregularities, fertility problems, menopause symptoms
- Allergic conditions e.g. hayfever
- Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- Respiratory complaints e.g. asthma, sinusitis, glue ear, recurrent colds