WHAT IS HERBAL MEDICINE?
Herbalism, also known as Phytotherapy or Botanical Medicine, is one of the oldest forms of medicinal healing known to mankind. It involves the use of plants to treat minor to severe disease, common ailments, and promote holistic wellness. It is estimated that currently over fifty percent of all new and existing pharmaceutical medications contain at least one or more ingredients derived directly from plants or discovered from plant sources and later synthesized.
The origins of modern medicine can be traced back to herbal therapies. Until the advent of synthetic medicine within the past one hundred years, nearly every medical doctor would prescribe herbal remedies routinely as a form of medicine to treat their patients. Between 250,000 to 500,000 plants are believed to be on earth today (the number varies depending on whether subspecies are included). Only about 5,000 of these plants have been extensively studied for their medicinal applications.
HOW DOES HERBAL MEDICINE WORK?
Herbal medicines work similarly to conventional pharmaceutical drugs, via their chemical makeup. Within the past 130 years, chemists and pharmacists have been isolating and purifying the "active" ingredients contained within plants in an attempt to develop reliable pharmaceuticals drugs. Some examples of such drugs include Digoxin (from Foxglove), Reserpine (from Indian Snakeroot), Colchicine (from Autumn Crocus), Morphine (from Opium Poppy), and many more.
Unlike conventional pharmaceuticals, herbs and plants use an indirect route to the bloodstream and target organs resulting in a slower effect and less dramatic onset. Many doctors and patients accustomed to the rapid, intense effects of synthetic medicines may become impatient and dismissive of potential benefits for this reason. A herb's "action" is referred to the active ingredients of herbs and the effects on it has on the human body. Plants have a direct impact on physiological activity and by knowing which body process an individual wants to help or heal, the appropriate action can be selected. A relevant approach to this is to categorize herbs by looking at what kinds of issues can be treated with their help. Something that an Herbalist is extensively trained to identify and administer to their patients in the safest, most effective manner.
Some of the properties of herbs which make them beneficial in treating the human body include:
Adaptogenic, alterative, anthelminitic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, astringent, bitter, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, hepatic, hypotensive, laxative, nervine, stimulating, and tonic.
Some forms of herbal medicine include:
Whole herbs, teas, capsules and tablets, extracts and tinctures, essential oils, salves, balms, and ointments.
Different Systems of Herbology
From Native American cultures, to European traditions, from the Welsh to the Sicilian, there is much diversity and richness surrounding the various herbal traditions of the world. Although these ancient, highly developed medical systems such as Ayurveda from India and Traditional Chinese Medicine contain differences in cultural contexts their purpose remains the same: restoring harmonious balance within.
Herbs In Traditional Chinese Medicine:
Restoration of balance and harmony is an integral part in TCM. This harmonious balance is represented in terms of two complementary forces - Yin and Yang; and the Five Elements - Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Particularly important, the Five Elements give rise to the five tastes by which all medicinal plants are evaluated. Fire gives rise to bitterness, earth to sweetness, metal to acridity, water to saltiness, and wood to sourness.
Each of these tastes are said to have a particular medicinal action: bitter-tasting herbs drain and dry; sweet herbs tonify and may reduce pain; acrid herbs disperse; salty herbs nourish the kidneys; sour herbs nourish the Yin and astringe, preventing unwanted loss of body fluids or Qi (pronounced "chee"). Herbs which do not have any of these tastes are considered bland - a quality that indicates that the plant may have a diuretic effect. The taste of a plant can also indicate the organ to which it has a naturally affinity. TCM also ascribes different temperatures to herbs - Hot, Warm, Neutral, Cool, and Cold (visit the Traditional Chinese Medicine glossary to find out more).
Herbs In Ayurvedic Medicine:
Ayurvedic Medicine originates from the ancient subcontinent of India. It too recognizes the Five Elements: Ether, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Manifested, these Five Elements form the Tridosha or Three Basic Humors: Vata (the principle of air or movement); Pitta (the principle of fire); Kapha (the principle of water). Ayurvedic Medicine views all universal energies as having the counterparts within the human being. The healing process seeks to achieve balance in individuals between the elements of air or wind (Vata), fire or bile (Pitta), and water or phlegm (Kapha).
The taste (known as rasa, from the Sanskirt word for essence) of a particular herb is indicative of its properties. There are six essences: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent. For example, pungent, sour, and salty-tasting herbs cause heat and so increase Pitta (fire); sweet, bitter, and astringent herbs have the opposite effect, cooling and decreasing Pitta.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON YOUR FIRST VISIT
Herbalists practice with a holistic approach of healing: the whole person and their life experience is all taken into consideration in planning an appropriate solution. This wholeness necessitates the herbalist appreciates the mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental aspects, as well as the physical all in planning a treatment plan. This is an important aspect as similar symptoms may have many different causes and every individual person is unique. Herbalists often assess the multiple facets of a condition and it's underlying cause to tailor a specific treatment to meet the diverse needs of each individual. This is all in effort to see the patient's health as a positive state of well being and not simply the absence or temporary quick fix solution to disease.
Most herbalists practice as primary health care providers or adjunctive health care consultants. First time visits to an herbalists will generally begin with an initial consultation about your past and current health history, family health history, dietary and lifestyle practices, or other factors related to your health issue(s). The herbalist will then make a diagnosis based on his or her findings that addresses your specific health needs and concerns and where necessary may make referrals. Together you and your herbalist will develop an integrated herbal program that is discussed in further detail, including an indication of how long the treatment period may be, and the level of treatment required. The duration and intensity of the herbal treatment varies according to the condition. An individually crafted herbal prescription is then formulated and dispensed with appropriate use instructions.
WHAT CAN HERBAL MEDICINE TREAT?
Herbal medicine has been used to treat, alleviate, or prevent virtually every possible medical condition. Herbal Medicine is a safe and effective healing modality for everyone and can be beneficial to people of all ages from infants to the very elderly. Since the beginning of time human beings have co-existed with the plant kingdom and so our bodies have evolved the ability to extract and use the various healing constituents found within them.
Herbal Medicine uses a variety of plants that do not contain the aggressive and invasive effects of most modern drugs, but instead aid the human body's own natural tendency to heal itself. People already receiving medical care may be further helped, and specific treatments are given that do not adversely interact with their current medication.
Some of the conditions often seen by herbalists:
Allergies, hay fever, & asthma, fatigue, Anxiety, depression & stress conditions, Headaches, migraines, & insomnia, reproductive problems & PMS symptoms , Eczema, acne & skin disorders, Digestive & bowel conditions, Circulatory disorders & heart disease, Arthritis, body aches & pains, Infections & immune deficiencies, and much more..
For more information and to learn more about Herbal Medicine contact an Herbalist near you.