Western Herbal Medicine
Herbal Medicine is the oldest form of healing practiced by mankind and today is an important component of each of the traditional alternative medical systems: Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Naturopathy. All have herbal medicine as a major part of their therapeutic arsenal, yet herbal medicine is not restricted to any one system of medicine and anthropological evidence shows that every culture on our planet has a system of herbal medicine to treat their diseases and health problems.
The World Health Organization has estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspect of their primary healthcare. In Western countries, increasing public dissatisfaction with the cost, efficacy and the potential of side-effects form prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural remedies, has led to an increase in the use of western herbal medicine.
However, unlike Chinese herbal medicine, western herbal medicine does not make use of animals or minerals, it solely relies on the use of plant-based materials for its remedies. Most western herbalists are also aware of the need to preserve threatened and endangered plants and consequently avoid using them.
How Do Herbs Work?
Plants contain many chemical compounds and the exact nature and mode of action of many of these are still unknown. However, as a result of increased scientific research over the past 15 years we have a greater understanding of herbal medicines and have been able to validate many of the traditional uses of herbal remedies. Chemically, herbal medicines are highly complex and it is likely that the compounds they contain work synergistically to produce therapeutic effects.
Many factors affect how effective a herb will be. For example, the type of environment (climate, bugs, soil quality, altitude, etc.) in which a plant grows affects its chemical contents. In addition, how and when it is harvested and processed will also influence the quality of the resulting herbal medicine.
How Are Herbs Used?
Herbal medicines help to support the body in its own healing process and can be used in a wide range of health problems and as preventive medicines.
Traditional, western herbalists prefer using liquid plant extracts and teas as these are more easily absorbed and used by the body. However, because herbs in general tend to have a bitter taste, tablets and capsules are also often employed these days. Medicines can be made using the whole herb or specific parts such as roots, flowers, seeds, fruits and leaves.
Because the chemical compounds in herbs are so complex and numerous they are too complex to manufacture synthetically by the pharmaceutical industry. However, there are many synthetic drugs that are based on highly chemically active ingredients in plants that have been identified and isolated. Examples are salicylic acid used in aspirin and first found in White Willow Bark; and valerianic acid, used to make drugs like “Valium”, first found in Valerian Root. However, unlike their synthetic counterparts, White Willow Bark does not cause side effects such as over-thinning of the blood or stomach ulcers and Valerian Root is not addictive!
What Happens When You Visit a Medical Herbalist?
Herbalists today are professionals, highly trained in plant pharmacology as well as in Medical Sciences.
After a thorough consultation, the herbalist will prescribe a treatment approach that includes a herbal mixture, tea, cream, lotion or tablets that are specifically prepared for the individual.
Some conditions respond quickly to herbal medications and others, because of their complexity and chronic nature, may require weeks, months or even years of treatment.
Using western herbal medicine is a safe and effective form of treatment when prescribed by a trained and qualified practitioner.
About Our Herbalist at Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre
Susan O’Neill-Siegenthaler is a traditionally trained medical herbalist with well over 40 years of experience. She is a graduate of both Denis Stewart and Dorothy Hall, both well-known and respected herbalists.
Susan is a Fellow Member of the ATMS and holds an honours degree in Biology (BSc. hons). She is also a member of Yoga Australia and is registered as a senior yoga instructor. Susan also uses her expertise in Yoga therapy to help her patients recover from injury or post-surgery to regain mobility and flexibility more quickly.
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Page last updated: 14th Feb. 2021
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