Herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine. Records go back over thousands of years to the earliest days of Western, Oriental and American civilisation. Many modern medicines have their origins in plants. For instance warfarin, the blood-thinning drug, is derived from sweet clover (Melliotus officinalis). The herbal medicine practiced today combines this historic knowledge with the latest research on herbs, to make the treatment strategies even safer and more effective.
Herbalists make their ayurvedic medicines specifically for each patient, so every patient will take away a different medicine. Typical medicines will consist of a tincture, that is, a liquid herbal extract that the herbalist will blend from a number of herbs chosen for that person. Apart from tinctures, the herbal medicine may consist of teas, creams, pills or a host of other types of preparations.
Qualified herbalists and naturopaths are trained to consider the safety of herbs when prescribing. When preparing your prescription, herbalists consider your own unique health circumstances, any drugs you are currently being prescribed plus all the latest safety data on the herbs in your prescription. The level of training and consideration given to our patients mean that medical herbalists have an excellent safety record.
Both naturopathic medicine and homeopathy use herbal remedies. This is where the similarity ends. The philosophy and general approach to treatment is very different. Homeopathy uses very diluted medicines. In fact, there is unlikely to be any pharmacologically active ingredients in a homeopathic plant medicine.
Herbal medicine, on the other hand, uses the whole herb which contains active plant constituents that have an effect on the body. The broad range of chemicals in the herbal remedy work together to help the body to return to normal function. The herbalists skill is in selecting the appropriate herbal formula for each individual.
To become a ayurvedic doctor and member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists requires a minimum of a recognised degree course in herbal medicine. Recognised courses include:
It's important that you find a trained ayurvedic medical practitioner who is registered with a professional body. At the moment, anyone in the UK can call themselves a herbal practitioner or herbalist, even if they don't have professional qualifications or experience.
The NIMH (National Institute of Medical Herbalists) is the main organisation for medical herbal practitioners in the UK. Members are required to complete a BSc degree in herbal medicine at an accredited college or university. The degree course involves 500 hours of supervised clinical training and theory-based work. Members of NIMH must carry out a continuing professional development programme to ensure that they maintain a high standard of practice. Medical herbalists are qualified to understand which herbs interact with conventional medicines.It's important that you find a qualified practitioner as some herbs may interact with conventional medicines. Although herbs are natural, they can still result in serious side-effects if used incorrectly.
Members of NIMH can give you advice on any potential interaction between herbs and your conventional medicines. They will also know about common adverse reactions to some herbs.
There is no standard course of treatment and the number of sessions you will need depends on your health condition and your current symptoms. It will also depend on the severity of your condition and how your condition progresses with the treatment.
Your practitioner will review your progress regularly throughout your treatment to give you an idea of the length of treatment you will need. Some herbs may take longer to have an effect on the body than conventional medicines, so you might not see an improvement in your condition for weeks or months - your herbal practitioner will advise you on this. Take this information into account when thinking about the cost of your treatment.