Herbal medicine has been practised around the world for over 2,000 years. Even today, in parts of the world where people have access to and can afford Western medicine, herbal medicine is preferred. In fact, many of the Western medicines that are used daily by millions of people are derived from plants and herbs.
For example, digoxin, used to treat heart failure, is a synthesised form of digitalis, a chemical found in the foxglove plant. And aspirin, one of the most popular painkillers in the world, is a synthetic form of the bitter powder extracted from willow bark.
A great deal of research has been undertaken to identify the chemical components of a wide range of plants and herbs used for healing. Studies have conclusively shown that herbal remedies are effective. (British Medical Journal 2000: ‘St. John’s wort as effective as tricyclic antidepressants for relieving mild to moderate depression’. British Journal of Anaesthesia 2000: ‘Ginger relieves nausea in post-operative patients’. British Medical Journal 2002: ‘Butterbur effective for relieving symptoms of hay fever’.) What does it involve?
A consultation with a medical herbalist will last for approximately one hour. The practitioner will begin by taking extensive notes relating to the client’s medical history and family medical history, lifestyle, work, personal relationship and important life events. The practitioner, with the client, will aim to identify not only the physical or mental symptoms the client is experiencing, but also the root cause of the symptoms.
For example, is the client constantly tired because she is stressed and unhappy at work and at home; or is she tired because of poor nutrition, lack of exercise and little time for rest and relaxation? The aim of the practitioner is always to treat the whole person, rather than treating just the symptoms by themselves. Once the practitioner has decided on the best treatment for the individual client, a remedy will be prepared on the spot in the practitioner’s pharmacy. The remedy (usually made from a combination of herbs) may be a liquid tincture or medicine, a tea or infusion, a cream or ointment, or even capsules or small tablets.
After the initial consultation you should expect to attend for at least three or four further sessions. Long-standing chronic conditions such as, for example, asthma, bronchitis or migraine may require a number of additional visits.
Herbal remedies can be used to treat almost every kind of illness and disease, whether physical, mental or emotional. Clients frequently consult a herbal practitioner for help with chronic pain, digestive, circulatory and skin disorders, PMS and menopausal conditions, depression, insomnia and anxiety.
Perhaps the most important benefit of herbal medicine is that, unlike orthodox Western medication, herbal preparations rarely produce serious side effects. Also, clients who use herbal medicine report that often long-standing health problems clear up, and that the herbal remedies make them feel generally healthier, more balanced and energetic.
It’s vital that if you are taking orthodox medication you continue to take your prescribed medicine, you inform your GP that you intend to consult a herbal practitioner and you tell the herbal practitioner which medicines you are currently taking. This is because herbal remedies can interfere with over-thecounter and prescription medication. For example, St John’s wort should be avoided by anyone taking warfarin, digoxin, SSRIs, oral contraceptives and many other drugs. Also, the herbal practitioner must be told if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, heart disease or glaucoma.
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