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What is herbal medicine?

At the heart of the practice of herbal medicine is the understanding that we humans, like all living things, have an extraordinary, in-built, natural intelligence that knows how to self-repair from injury or illness.

Healing happens, not because we make it happen, it just happens. Our primary goal is to see and remove whatever may be obstructing that natural intelligence, then use what herbs or whatever else we can to support it to do its job.


Herbs were our very first medicines. Over countless generations, our ancestors have learned, refined and passed on vital knowledge about which herbs harmed and which herbs helped. Which remedies reliably eased suffering or helped remove such obstacles to self-repair as infection, inadequate circulation, poor digestion, impaired elimination etc.

Those leaves, roots, barks, berries, flowers and fruits that we and other animals instinctively sought out when we were sick have been the subjects of an on-going clinical trial for 'what works' for an unimaginably long time, many tens of thousands of years, it continues to this day.



Today, the World Health Organisation recognises that herbs are still, by far, the most widespread form of medicine used on our planet. The great test of time has proven which herbal medicines work, now the tests of science are helping us to understand how they work and in that process, new possibilities are constantly coming to light.

Most people do not need to become dependent on pharmaceutical drugs in order to care for themselves or their loved ones. So long as one takes careful steps to ensure the authenticity of the supply, we have better access to more high-quality herbal medicines than at any time in history. Today is an excellent time to study herbal medicines and to learn how to use them wisely.


The Medicines

The herbs used in modern herbal medicine are truly tried and tested and adverse reactions are extremely rare. Nevertheless, to get great results with herbs, it is vital to match the right remedies to the right person and there is more to this than it might first appear when one sees the many popular recommendations to take this herb for that problem. An interested reader can learn more this match-making process by exploring the section on constitutional medicine found here

It is also essential to understand that herbs contain complex chemicals that the body does not normally produce by itself, nor obtain from foods. Herbs are natural drugs, the importance of giving the right dosage, not too much, not too little, of the unique chemistry in herbal medicines cannot be overstated.

Historically, most herbal medicines were given in the form of teas or decoctions, where the herbs are steeped or simmered in water. Infusions and decoctions are still entirely effective methods to deliver medicinal dose however, these days, most herbalists will also use ml doses of concentrated tinctures and extracts and/or concentrated herbal powders in capsule form. These methods of delivery give precision dosing and greater ease of use to a person who needs to take herbs over any length of time.


How to find a good herbalist


Qualifications are obviously very important and, of course, you should aim to find someone who has trained and qualified in herbal medicine in some way. Most modern herbalists have completed at least several years of full-time undergraduate study and are well versed in the health sciences as they are in their knowledge of plant medicines.

This said, you also need to know that there are many paths to become a good herbalist. We successfully passed down our herbal lore for many generations without anyone ever seeing the inside of a classroom. The old traditions of apprentice-based learning, for example, whilst they may not confer a formal qualification, are still entirely valid to this day.



Many countries do not have a professional herbalist's association but one would hope that the herbalist you are looking to find will be a member of a national or international association because there are several important advantages to you if they are:

  • They are bound by a code of ethics and commitment to good practice which they have promised to uphold. They know that if something goes wrong they are answerable to a higher authority.

  • They must accumulate continuing education points each year to remain as full members of their associations. This ensures a vital professional development throughout their career.

  • They have the humanising, balancing and sometimes humbling benefits of being in regular contact with their colleagues. Hopefully this means that their feet are on relatively solid ground!



Location is an important consideration. Many complex health problems can be greatly helped by a good herbalist but it is unlikely to be an overnight fix so, before you make a booking, think about how you will likely need to go back at least one or more times after your initial visit.

If you are in one of these countries, then the following links to their professional herbalist's associations should be a good place to start:

~ in New Zealand ~ http://nzamh.org.nz
~ in Australia ~ http://www.nhaa.org.au
~ in the UK ~ http://www.nimh.org.uk
~ in Canada ~ http://www.herbalists.on.ca
~ in the USA ~

Every culture around the world has developed its own system of herbal medicine so, wherever you are in the world, there is an excellent chance that, even if you can't find someone on a directory such as those linked above, you will still be able to find a good herbalist in your area with a little asking around.

One approach is to make an enquiry to a midwife in your local community. Most drugs are not suitable for pregnancy and many midwives have a good working knowledge of herbal medicine including knowing who are the best herbalists in their area to refer people to.

Another approach is to go to your local fresh-produce or farmer's market. Someone who grows and sells herbs for the kitchen may also have herbs for the medicine cabinet and should know something about this subject, including who are the best, most experienced, herbalists in your area.


Experience & Individuality

When you do make contact, along with whatever else you might want to know, and especially if you feel you have a particularly difficult or chronic problem, then there are one or two useful questions that it is perfectly polite to ask

1) Have you had positive experiences working with   _______ (health problem x, y or z)
2) Do you make individual herbal formulas for people?

The first question explains itself. Experience counts for a great deal in health, as it does in every part of life. Experienced herbalists will have seen many different kinds of problems and will be accustomed to tricky cases.

The second question can be important too. The answer to this question will tell you whether they are using ready-made products or if they are combining individual herbs in unique formulas for each patient.

Individualising treatments is not necessarily more expensive but it does take more time and expertise. If you have an option, go for the practitioner who is still practicing in this way, you are likely to get better results.
Finding a good herbalist will change your life, whatever time or effort it requires will be worth it.

Angelica archangelica

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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