HERBAL MEDICINE PRACTICE
Herbal medicine is the use of plant remedies in the prevention and treatment of disease. It is one of the oldest forms of medicine and, from a global perspective, is still the most common form of medicine practised today.
Western medical herbalists are healthcare providers trained in Western orthodox medical diagnosis, who use plant-based medicines to treat their patients. They are experts in plant medicines and also understand pharmaceutical drug therapies. This allows for in-depth consideration of how herbs and drugs may work together, or conversely which herbs and drugs may not be compatible. This knowledge 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 organs or systems of the body are used to ‘feed’ and restore to health those parts which have become weakened. As the body is strengthened its intuitive and sophisticated mechanism of healing is restored and health will be regained.
Herbal medicine is the forerunner of modern medicine, which derives many drugs from plant sources but uses individual plant compounds in isolation. Medical Herbalists use the whole plant because it contains a complex mixture of compounds that work together to give a gentle healing effect without the side effects; for example, the drug aspirin was derived from Willow Bark. As a drug, aspirin can cause ulcerations in the stomach lining, 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 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.
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). Membership into these bodies guarantees that an herbalist has achieved globally recognised high standards of training and proficiency in herbal and traditional medicine.