HERBAL MEDICINE PRACTICE
Herbal (botanical) medicine or 'phytotherapy' is the use of plant remedies to support health and wellbeing, as well as correct the underlying imbalances that lie at the heart of many illnesses. It is one of the oldest forms of medicine and, from a global perspective, is still the most common form of medicine practised today.
A Bachelor degree qualified herbalist or naturopath is a healthcare provider trained in many of the same biomedical assessment skills as a conventioanal Western medical provider, however they are not medical doctors. They are instead specialist practitioners with comprehenisve training in the use of plant-based medicines. It is this knowledge of plant medicines and understanding of pharmaceutical drug therapies that allows for in-depth consideration of how herbs and drugs may work together, or conversely which herbs and drugs may not be compatible. This is fundamentally important in the safe prescribing of Western herbal medicines.
People have always relied on plants for food to nourish and sustain the body. Herbal medicine can be seen in the same way. Plants with a particular affinity for certain tissues, organs or systems of the body are used to nourish and restore health to those parts which have become weakened. As the body tissues regain function and are strengthened the innate intuitive and sophisticated mechanisms of healing are restored and health will be regained.
Herbal medicine is the forerunner of modern medicine, which derives many drugs from plant sources but typically uses individual plant compounds in isolation. Medical herbalists use the whole plant because it contains a complex mixture of compounds that work together - known as synergy - to give a gentle healing effect without the side effects that may occur when extracting a single compound for use as a pharmaceutical. For example, the drug aspirin was derived from Willow Bark. As a drug, aspirin can cause ulcerations in the stomach lining over time, whereas Willow Bark, as prescribed by an herbalist, contains balancing antacid properties and can actually be used by patients with irritation to the gut lining.
Unlike orthodox medicine, where drugs are targeted at specific symptoms and diseases, Western herbal medicine is very much focused on the individual. It is the patient who is the focus for the practitioner, not the disease or illness. The prescribed herbal therapy is directed at the root cause of the illness as it presents itself in that particular patient, not just the obvious symptoms. Because of this person-centred approach, it is common for prescriptions to vary between patients with similar illnesses.
An herbalist will formulate and compound herbal remedies for the individual patient’s needs. A Western herbalist does not use any animal or mineral materials in a liquid herbal prescription, nor do they prescribe or employ any orthodox pharmaceuticals.
Herbal treatment is commonly backed up by appropriate advice on lifestyle, particularly nutrition, and the practitioner works at all times to create an ambience of trust and positivism in the therapeutic relationship.
The relationship between patient and herbalist is based on trust and honesty. The herbalist will assess the patient holistically, considering their personal health history, lifestyle and family history. Using this information, they will assess the all round wellbeing and constitution of the patient. Western herbal medicine is suitable for everyone, from the young to the old, delivering a safe, effective and research-based approach to healthcare.
PROFESSIONAL REGISTRATION & REGULATION
Herbalists are regulated in Australia, England and Europe by professional organisations such as the Naturopaths & Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA), the UK-based National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), and the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA). Current membership into one of these bodies is a key feature to look for in a practitioner, as this guarantees that your herbalist has achieved globally recognised high standards of training and proficiency in herbal and traditional medicine.