Herbal Medicine FAQs
The following questions and answers provide an overview of some of the most frequently asked questions about herbalism or herbal medicine.
What Is An Herb?
An herb is any plant or plant part used for its culinary or therapeutic value. Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or fragrance.
What Is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine is the study, science, and practice of therapeutically using plants and herbs to support health and wellness. Practiced since the beginning of time by our ancestors, herbal medicine is the basis of traditional herbalism and has persisted as the world's first form of medicine with a written history dating back more than 5,000 years.
Many physicians specialized throughout Egyptian history, from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemies. As noted by Herodotus (a Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus), writings on tombs and the medical papyri show that neurologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, gastroenterologists, proctologists, and internal medicine specialists practiced in Egypt. Some doctors even had more than one specialty. One highly accomplished physician was Ir-en-akhy. His tomb announces that he was an eye doctor, a gastroenterologist, an “interpreter of liquids,” and a “shepherd of the anus.”
What Is An Herbalist?
An herbalist is someone who uses plants for healing and these practitioners are not medical doctors, though some practitioners are also referred to as medical herbalists. Herbalists are people who dedicate their lives to working with medicinal plants. They may be native healers, scientists, naturopaths, holistic medical doctors, researchers, writers, herbal pharmacists, medicine makers, wild crafters, harvesters, herb farmers or even your grandmother or grandfather. Many have an intimate relationship with plants and their medicinal value and they attempt to find the root cause of illness. They will also perform a clinical exam, inspecting certain areas of the body and create a personalized prescription. Patients may use just one herbal treatment or a combination of herbal supplements to support their health and wellness goals. While herbalists approach their craft from various traditions, they share a common respect for all forms of life, especially the relationship between plants and humans.
How Do I Choose A Qualified Herbalist?
First and foremost, the relationship between you and your herbalist should begin with clearly articulated goals and responsibilities from both sides. When you visit an herbalist, you should be fully informed of the experience, training and services provided by the practitioner. And likewise, the herbalist should clearly understand your goals and desires as well. Together, you and the herbalist should form a team to determine if the experience and services provided meet your immediate or long-term needs.
If you need help finding a qualified herbalist, feel free contact your local health food or herb store for referrals, and also ask for recommendations from people you trust, or just simply Google to find a Registered Herbalist in your area.
What should I Expect When I Visit An Herbalist?
When searching for a clinical herbalist, he or she should be well-trained, and is usually educated in both the traditional as well as scientific, evidence-based approach to understanding the way herbs work, how the body responds, and what is necessary to support good health of the mind, body, and soul. Most visits to an herbalist begin with an initial consultation about your past and current health history, your dietary and lifestyle practices, family and work life balance, stress and mood levels, and other factors related to your health. The herbalist, with your help, should develop an integrated program that addresses your specific wellness goals and concerns. After about 2 to 4 weeks of your initial consultation, you will be scheduled a follow-up consultation to monitor your progress with the integrated health plan. You should leave your herbal consultation feeling heard and regarded as a whole person of 360 degree healing of your physical, mental, and spiritual being, and not just as a symptom or disease.
How Are Herbs Different From Pharmaceutical Drugs?
A pharmaceutical drug is a chemical substance, which, when administered to a living organism, produces a biological effect. A pharmaceutical, also called a medication or medicine used for medical purposes such as cough syrup or sleeping pills, is a chemical substance used to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose a disease or to promote well-being.
Herbal preparations on the other hand, are made with fresh or dried plants and contain hundreds to thousands of interrelated and active compounds known as phytochemicals.
Science has demonstrated that the safety and effectiveness of herbs are often related to the synergy of the whole plant’s many constituents. Pharmaceutical manufacturers often focus on taking one active constituent, or active compound, from a plant to make a drug, while herbalists use the full spectrum of the plant (medicinal part of root flower, leaf, aerial part, etc.) to support healthy function of the body.
How Is Herbal Medicine Different From Conventional Medicine?
Herbal medicine takes a holistic approach and explores all aspects of an individual—physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and lifestyle—while acknowledging the innate healing power of the human body. Certain herbs, diet, and lifestyle recommendations focus on supporting the specific needs of each individual.
Conventional medicine is a system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals diagnose and treat symptoms and diseases. This system has many names including allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine, but should not be confused with Traditional Medicine, which refers to healing practices and herbal support that have been used with a high level of safety and efficacy for thousands of years. Conventional medicine uses modern techniques that could not be accomplished by Traditional Medicine, such as surgery to correct a cleft palate.
While drugs and surgical techniques do save lives, conventional medicine seems to have lost its “whole person” perspective with a quick diagnosis and immediate “healing” with pharmaceuticals that do not address the underlying health conditions and come with adverse effects, that, in some instances, lead to the use of additional pharmaceuticals.
What About Interactions Between Drugs and Herbs?
Because drugs are a strong and powerful substances, they can have a tendency to negatively interact with each other and with other substances, such as food or herbs. So it is important to understand drug interactions if your are taking pharmaceuticals, or drug-herb interactions if you are thinking about integrating herbs into your regime. What causes these interactions is a biochemical process described as the competition for binding sites on cells. Binding sites on cells enables them to absorb substances and nutrients through the cell wall into the interior cell body. Each cell has a limited number of binding sites that substances like food, supplements, or medication can lock onto in order to pass through the cell wall. When many different substances try to gain entrance to the cells at one time, they flood the available binding sites and are unable to get in. This causes the interaction problem.
Taking herbs and drugs two hours apart from each other will usually eliminate the problem in this scenario. The 2 hour interval allows one substance to use the available binding site to gain entry to the cells. After the substance passes through the cell wall the binding site is available for a second substance to be ingested by the cell; therefore, interactions do not occur.
Please be sure to bring any prescription drugs or supplements that your are consuming with you and if any interactions are possible this will be addressed thoroughly at your consultation appointment.
How Safe Are Herbs?
When it comes to the question of if an herb is safe, a good rule to start with is if the herb has been traditionally used without demonstrated harm, then it is typically safe to say this particular herb is safe to consume.
Researchers have found that many people mistakenly believe that products labeled as “natural” are safe. Although a particular herb is considered safe, there is always the possibility of sensitivity, allergies, or adverse reactions. As an informed consumer, it is important to read product labels carefully and make sure you are purchasing from a reliable source. Check into an herbal manufacturer’s background to see how long they have been in business and whether they follow good manufacturing practices (GMP). When trying an herb for the first time, use a small amount for the first few days and monitor for any sensitivity or adverse reactions you may experience. It is also important to disclose your use of any herbs, vitamins, or any other dietary supplements to your healthcare providers.
Sign up for our online course on Plant and Herb Safety coming soon!
How Do I Know If A Particular Herb Will Work For Me?
Just like conventional medicines, herbal medicines will have an effect on the body, and can be potentially harmful if not used correctly.
Using herbs or practicing herbalism is an art, as well as a science. No one can predict which herb will work best for them. However, the traditional uses of herbs combined with a historical, evidence-based approach teaches us the efficacy and effectiveness of a particular herb. If you’re unsure if an herb is right for you, seek the assistance of a trained medical herbalist or consult with your health care provider.
How Long Does It Take For Herbs To Be Effective?
This question depends heavily on a variety of factors including how long your ailment or illness has existed, the severity of your ailment or illness, the quality of the herbs, the dosage of the herb, how the herb is administered (tea, capsule, or tincture, for example), and how diligently do you follow the recommendations. Herbs may work in as little as 60 seconds when using a spoonful of herbal bitters to soothe digestion following a heavy meal, or maybe 20 minutes when soaking in a bath with rosemary tea to relieve tension, or even up to days, weeks, or months for tonics to build energy or resolve long-lasting imbalances in the body or mind. Chronic conditions may even take years to reverse.
(P-roper E-ducation A-lways C-orrects E-rror),
being mindful that knowledge is only told by way of "PEACE".