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. Remedies are tailored to the person rather than the 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 acknowledgement by the patient for their role in health is important.
Herbs are most commonly prescribed as a tincture (alcohol and water extract from the plant). This consists of all the active consituents 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 for becoming 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, depression, 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.
“Whence flow spontaneously the genuine virtues of medicines, diffused universally over the face of the whole earth, where nothing grows in vain”
– preface to Culpepper’s Complete herbal, 1826