Herbal Medicine

Herbs as medicine

Herbs, along with massage, must surely be the one of the oldest forms of medicines used by human beings. Herbal medicine is very effective and certainly remains relevant today.

Rosmary. Illustration from A Modern Herbal by M. Grieve (1931).

How herbs are used

Herbs may used in various kinds of preparations both internally and externally. Herbs can be used in two different ways:

  • To treat symptoms or conditions. This is similar to conventional medical practice except that herbs are used instead of pharmaceutical drugs.
  • To treat the underlying physiological imbalances which in the long term have predisposed to the symptoms or condition. The sum of these imbalances is sometimes referred to in herbal medicine as the “constitution”. My own understanding of this takes insights from the systems of traditional medicine of India, China and ancient Greece.

In practice, the best approach is to do both. Thus, typically one would prescribe the fewest herbs necessary to treat:

  • The main symptom.
  • Other related symptoms.
  • The constitution.

Herbs are entirely complementary to other modalities of natural healing such acupuncture or osteopathy, and are best used in conjunction with dietary or lifestyle changes. Remember that if the things that caused the problem to arise are not changed, it will not go away, and if it does it will probably recur!

What can be treated with herbs?

The range of conditions which can be effectively treated with herbs is wide, and the number for which herbs may make a useful contribution is wider. I would go so far as to say there is no condition where herbs could not be usefully employed in some respect.

Herbal medicine is not homeopathy

Herbal medicine uses substantial doses of herbal material. Homeopathy is a completely different treatment, using highly diluted material that has undergone a lengthy process of shaking said to amplify the “potency” of the material. Personally I have important reservations about homeopathy.

Safety first

It is important that the herbalist gain a complete picture of the client’s medical history before prescribing herbs. Some herbs are contraindicated in certain conditions, and many herbs may interfere with certain kinds of medications. Thus, at the interview the herbalist always asks about any illnesses that the client has and the medicines that they are taking.