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Herbal Medicine Week

This week is Herbal Medicine Awareness Week, which has been organised by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists to raise awareness about the many benefits of Herbal Medicine.
Herbal medicine quite simply uses plants and plant extracts in the treatment and prevention of disease.  People have been using plants to cure illness for thousands of years. In fact, herbal medicine and orthodox medicine share a common root: it was not until around 200 years ago that scientists first began to extract individual active constituents from plants in order to produce orthodox drugs, and thus modern medicine and herbal medicine parted company.

Most of the pharmaceutical drugs used today are still based on plant constituents, which have been extracted or synthesised in a laboratory. For example, digoxin from foxgloves is used to treat heart disease, morphine from the opium poppy is a powerful painkiller, vinchristine from periwinkle is used in chemotherapy, and ephedrine from ma huang is an ingredient in many over the counter cold and flu medicines.

Herbal medicine, however, still uses the plants themselves, which contain many constituents, ‘as nature intended’. The main active component of the plant is balanced by these other constituents, which support its action or help to reduce its side effects. In recent times, modern research methods have been used to establish the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicines.

Herbal medicines are now widely available over the counter in most pharmacies and health food shops.  For many people with minor health problems these remedies are adequate to meet their needs.  However if you are suffering from a serious illness or are unwell for any length of time, if the remedy you are taking is ineffective, or if you find yourself buying more than two or three products, it may be time to get some professional advice: It is important to ensure that the problems you are experiencing are correctly diagnosed, and that you are taking the right remedy at the right dosage.

Medical Herbalists are trained in the same diagnostic techniques as orthodox doctors but also incorporate a more traditional approach to healthcare.  Herbal Medicine is a holistic treatment, which means it is concerned with identifying the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms, and treating the person as a whole and not just the illness.  Medical herbalists are trained to identify any potential interactions between orthodox and herbal medicines and to know when a condition is best referred to a doctor or another therapist.

Medical herbalists prescribe a blend of herbs which are uniquely tailored to the individual, using high quality extracts at effective dosages.  You will also receive individually tailored dietary and other advice, as well as recommendations about which supplements could be helpful to you.  Herbal medicine can be used to treat almost any condition, but illnesses which respond particularly well to herbal treatment include:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance.
  • Asthma, sinusitis and recurrent infections
  • Poor circulation and varicose veins.
  • Digestive problems, constipation, and IBS.
  • Irregular periods, PMS, infertility and menopausal symptoms.
  • Recurrent cystitis and prostate enlargement
  • Arthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Skin problems such as varicose ulcers, eczema and acne.

Modern medicine has undoubtedly saved and changed the lives of many people, and still remains an essential part of our healthcare system.  However, more and more people are looking for a safer, more natural and holistic approach to healthcare, and many (especially those suffering from complex, recurrent or chronic problems) achieve much better results from herbal medicine, either alone or in conjunction with another form of treatment.