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Medical Herbalism

 

Herbal medicine uses plant extracts to treat all manner of ailments. It is among the oldest forms of healing known, and, according to the World Health Organisation is still the most widely used form of medicine throughout the world today.

Fundamental to the European tradition of herbal medicine is the view that the body has an innate tendency to heal itself. A herbalist will use plant extracts to help this process, and to help provide the optimum conditions for it to occur.

For example, herbs can encourage healthy organ and tissue function, improve circulation, improve immune system function, enhance digestion and assimilation of food, and provide essential nutrients.

Thus when people take herbal medicines to treat a specific condition, they often notice an improvement in their general health as well as amelioration of the symptoms that prompted them to seek treatment.

Although many pharmaceutical drugs used today are based on plant constituents, herbalists prefer to use extracts from a whole part of the plant (e.g. leaves, root, berries etc.). This is because plants are complex organisms, made up of thousands of constituents, and often the medicinal action of a whole plant extract cannot be attributed to a single constituent. It is also true that whole plant extracts tend to have fewer unwanted effects ('side effects') than isolated chemicals.

What to expect from your first consultation

Your first consultation will last about 1 ½ hours, during which time a full case history is taken, with details of symptoms, general health, medical history, diet, exercise and any other background information. There may be some physical examination, for example measurement of pulse and blood pressure, and any other examination that is relevant for you.

The herbalist will give you an individualised herbal prescription, based on your case history. This is most often in the form of a liquid medicine called a tincture.

The herbalist will also discuss diet and lifestyle, suggesting changes where appropriate.

Subsequent appointments

Follow-up appointments are usually monthly, though this may vary. At these appointments the herbalists will monitor your progress, discuss any ongoing concerns, and modify your prescription if necessary.

The aim of treatment is that you will feel better, and will ultimately be able to stop taking the herbal medicine and maintain improved health and well being. This is usually possible, though for most chronic conditions it will take several months.

Who can benefit from herbal medicine?

Herbal medicine can be used to treat almost any condition that you might take to your doctor. Common complaints treated by herbalists include skin problems (e.g. eczema, psoriasis) and digestive problems (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, indigestion). Gynaecological complaints such as premenstrual syndrome and menopausal problems often respond well to herbal medicine, as do conditions such as angina, arthritis, asthma, hayfever, headaches and insomnia.

Herbs are well suited to the treatment of children, as they are gentle and well tolerated.

As well as being used in chronic problems, herbs are also very effective in acute conditions such as cystitis, influenza or tonsillitis.

Summary

Herbal medicines provide gentle and effective treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions, both addressing specific symptoms and improving general health.

The Medical Herbalist is Clare Dobie.

 

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