Herbal Medicine

Originally posted by the Australian Naturopathic  Practitioners Association.

Herbal Medicine is a treatment modality using the inherent healing properties of plants as medicine. Herbal Medicine is the oldest medicine. It has been used in all cultures of the world for millennia. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 75% of the world’s population use herbal remedies as part of their primary health care. Dispensing herbal medicine requires specialised knowledge which may take a number of years to achieve.

Modern Herbal Medicine or Phytotherapy, combines the wisdom of ancient traditions, the clinical experience of modern practitioners, published literature and increasingly, is being validated by current scientific research.

In Australia, we are fortunate to have access to many high quality standardised herbal medicines in the form of dried herbs, extracts, tinctures, powders and tablets. The parts of the plant used include roots, seeds, leaves, flowers, stems and indeed the whole plant depending on the herb.  Herbalists believe the active ingredients found in herbs are supported by the synergistic actions of all its other chemical constituents.  This synergy allows the herb to exert its therapeutic affects and at the same time reduces the potential for unwanted side effects. Plants are complex medicines with many actions available in a single plant. This is quite different from pharmaceutical formulations that commonly have one action. Many herbs act as modulators. They may increase or decrease cellular responses. This is another unique inherent quality of using herbal medicine.

Herbal remedies are suitable for both acute and chronic conditions. They are individually prescribed and dispensed based on the presenting symptoms and the underlying causes determined by the practitioner from a detailed case history and thorough consultation. A herbal formula can be individualised, is able to simultaneously treat a variety of symptoms or body systems, and therefore is cost-effective for the individual. Many herbs are tonics to specific organs or body systems. Adaptogen herbs are unique. They are not found in conventional pharmacy. They support generalised wellbeing and create resilience in times of stress. There are several other classes of herbs. These include herbs for the gastrointestinal system, nervous system, urinary system, immune system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system etc.

Treatment is designed to moderate or alleviate symptoms and strengthen body systems. Its aim is to help prevent disease and support the body in its ability to heal itself by restoring balance and increasing vitality. This then brings about increased energy, improved health and a greater sense of well-being. Herbs prescribed correctly are extremely safe. If a patient is taking pharmaceutical medications they need to seek the advice of a well-trained naturopath or herbalist.

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