Western herbal medicine is the use of plants and a holistic approach to health that has traditionally been used in Europe and North America for centuries. It has a shared history with modern medicine, but a different approach to health that appreciates what plants and a broader view point can offer.
In herbal consultations, a holistic view is taken in which the overall health of a person is assessed (including, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing) and herbs are prescribed to gently encourage more balance and better functioning of the body. The aim is to harness the body’s ability to heal itself and to help you develop a helpful narrative about your health that will enable you to take control of your health. Remedies are tailored to you rather than a disease so that two people with the same condition could receive very different treatments. Which is why it is often much more effective to have a consultation with a qualified practitioner than to self-prescribe herbs from the health food shop. Part of the treatment also involves nutrition and lifestyle advice, as a big part of health is about how we look after our own body.
Herbs are most commonly prescribed as a tincture (alcohol and water extract from the plant). This consists of all the active constituents present in the plant in proportions that enable them to work together to produce the most beneficial effect. Many of these plants have had chemicals extracted from them to form orthodox medicines (such as aspirin from white willow and morphine from poppies), however, this often leads to side effects that aren’t present when whole-plant extracts are used (e.g. white willow has pain-relieving properties without the stomach-damaging effects of aspirin).
The training to become a medical herbalist involves extensive study of clinical medicine, diagnosis and conventional treatment, which means that herbal remedies can be prescribed to complement conventional medicine. In addition to learning traditional advice and knowledge about herbs, students analyse up-to-date scientific clinical research into herbal treatments and are required to complete 500 hours of clinical practice in a herbal clinic.
The types of conditions that people who are commonly helped by herbal medicine have include digestive complaints, stress, anxiety, fatigue, skin conditions, hormonal imbalances, arthritis, migraine, hypertension, hayfever and allergies. However, due to the holistic nature, improvements can be seen in the health of people with any condition.