Insights and Facts About Medical Herbalism
Medical Herbalism uses herbs in specific preparations, such as herbal infusions, tinctures, and creams.
Most herbal remedies take effect immediately. But their results are softer and more subtle than conventional medicine and may take longer for us to notice, depending on how sensitive we are. Therefore the effects of herbs are not as predictable as the effects of conventional medicine, but herbal medicine is safer and works. Herbal remedies can work in different ways on the body and have an energetic and emotional impact that some people notice. People are often treated with herbal medicines to re-establish health over time, so the long-term effect is reached much slower but is consistent and lasting.
Herbal medicine supports specific symptoms of an ailment and often seeks to resolve the root cause of these symptoms. It is a safe treatment for especially long-term (chronic) problems. When the appropriate herbs are used in the correct dose, they can significantly affect our health.
A naturopath can prescribe herbal medicine in heavy or light doses and over varying periods of time, e.g over a period of a month or up to 6 months. In many cases, herbal remedies are accompanied by other supporting programmes such as detox, cleansing, bodywork, nutrition, and lifestyle changes.
Interactions between pharmaceutical drugs and plants are possible and need to be considered for using both in conjunction.
Herbal medicine may include the use of:
- Herbal tinctures, typically an alcoholic plant extract, preserve the extracted plant material and its medicinal properties. Tinctures are quickly absorbed by the body and can be used internally and topically (on the skin). Non-alcoholic remedies can be made using vegetable glycerine and are very useful for children or people with alcohol addiction.
- Herbal infusions are dried herbs infused in boiling water for minutes to overnight. Infusions should be taken unsweetened, or only sometimes can they be sweetened with honey, as this may change the effect and absorption in the body.
- Decoctions are preparations of root, bark, seeds, leaves, or stems, simmered in boiling water for many hours.
- Ointments are made from a semi-solid mix of fatty ingredients such as oils and waxes, often containing a small amount of herbal tincture or dried herb. They protect, heal and moisturise the skin.
- Cremes are made from a mixture of water and herb oil.
- Herbal poultices and compresses are mixtures applied with a cloth to the body’s surface, often in combination with heat or cold.
- Capsules are encapsulated herbs, most commonly in a gelatin capsule. More recently, vegetarian capsule options have become available.
- Herbal tablets are pressed herbs.
- Pessaries and suppositories are herbs in soluble, solid preparations, usually in a conical or cylindrical shape, to be inserted into the vagina or rectum to dissolve.
Medical Herbalism is ancient.
Medical Herbalism has been practised by humans as far back as human behaviour has been studied. Medicine people all over the world have been gathering and preparing herbs forever. When we didn’t feel well, and nature around us was still our friend and home, we found help through local plants and trees.
Medical doctors used to be knowledgeable about the potential use of plants. In recent history, we have only been able to isolate specific parts and substances from plants. Since then, we have reached the state where we are synthesising pharmaceutical drugs and have forgotten where they come from.
Today we are lucky to have scientific knowledge of most plants and trees from all over the world. We know which plants are poisonous and which plants are safe. We know what they have in common, which family they belong to and what their constituents are.
Pharmaceutical companies do not support trials on plants, as it is not in their interest to make them available to the people. The German Commission E is investing in testing the use of plants and their effects on people. These clinical trials, where people are retaking herbs, can bring us closer to our old inherent trust in the healing properties of herbs, the knowledge that plants are safe and beneficial, to regain the ability our ancestors held.