Western herbal medicine

Herbalism is the ancient practice of using natural properties within plants and herbs to treat illness. Plants contain unique and powerful qualities that can support both body and mind when used correctly. Western herbalism combines the ancient knowledge of plant-based medicine with scientific research and clinical trials. 

Here we will explore western herbalism in more detail, including what it can help with and what to expect in a session with a western herbalist.

What is western herbalism?

Sometimes referred to as ‘phytotherapy’, western herbalism uses contemporary scientific evidence as a base for the herbal medicine they use. They do use texts and records of traditional herbalism to inform their work, but they do so by combining it with their knowledge of conventional medicine. 

Like traditional herbalists, western herbalists work in a holistic way, treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms. This means they will likely ask about your medical history, your family history, diet and lifestyle to get a full picture of your health before prescribing herbal medicine.

The herbal medicines used can come in several different forms, including liquid tinctures, teas, capsules, lotions, tablets and powders. Your herbalist will create the appropriate formula, depending on what you’re seeking support for.

What can western herbalism support?

Herbs and plants have a variety of different medicinal properties, making them very versatile and able to treat both chronic and acute illnesses. Common concerns people seek herbal support for include:

  • joint pain
  • skin conditions
  • circulation issues
  • fertility support
  • fatigue
  • lack of energy
  • digestion problems
  • hormone health
  • allergies and intolerances
  • emotional well-being

It’s important to note that you should always visit your doctor in the first instance of illness and let them know if you plan to get help from a western herbalist.

Because of herbalism’s natural roots, it can take more time than conventional medication to work. However, it aims to address the root cause instead of just the symptoms, so could produce more long-lasting results. 

Can herbs be used alongside conventional medicine?

In many instances, herbal medicine is safe to use alongside conventional medication. In some situations, however, taking herbal medicine can have a negative effect on the medication you’re taking. To be sure, always check with your doctor before trying herbal medicine and be sure to inform your herbalist of any medication you are taking.

Taking western herbal medicine safely

Whilst a huge number of us assume that herbal medicines are safe because they are natural, as with all medication you should use with care and caution and ensure they are either licensed or registered.

For full and up to date information about herbal medicine regulation, please visit the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

What are the risks?

  • some remedies can interact with other prescribed drugs
  • some herbal remedies can have poisonous effects 

Yellow card system

The yellow card system is a way of reporting any adverse reactions from herbal remedies to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). You can do this yourself or you can ask your GP to report it on your behalf.

Tips for taking herbal medicine safely

  • Always consult your GP before you take any form of herbal medicine.
  • Do not exceed the recommended dose.
  • Always take herbal medicine under the guidance of a trained medical professional.
  • Always be particularly cautious if you are pregnant or nursing.

Herbs

Why try western herbal medicine?

Many people are drawn to herbalism because of its natural origin. Working close to nature can be a lovely way to feel more at one with our earth, supporting your health in a gentle yet powerful way. Seeing a herbalist also gives you the chance to be proactive about your health, taking control of how you want to feel day-to-day. 

A western herbalist will look at all areas of your life, including your physical, mental and emotional health to ensure they are treating the root cause. This can be particularly helpful if you’ve found conventional approaches deal with symptoms, but not necessarily the underlying causes. 

Meeting with a herbalist also gives you space and time to assess your general wellbeing. Even if you’re not struggling with a particular ailment, seeing a herbalist could help improve energy levels, boost your immune system and keep you feeling your best.  

What to expect in a session with a western herbalist

Your first consultation with a herbalist is your chance to find out more about herbal medicine and how it can support you. Your herbalist will likely ask a number of questions to find out what could be the underlying cause of what’s concerning you. It can help to make some notes beforehand so you don’t forget anything important. Remember to let them know about any medication you’re taking or any therapies you’re having.

Once the herbalist has a clear picture of what’s happening, they will be able to create a tailored treatment plan for you. This will include herbal remedies and if appropriate dietary and lifestyle change suggestions. 

After your first session, several follow-up appointments will be needed to check your progress and adjust your medicines where needed. The number of sessions you need will depend on the nature of your illness. 

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