Herbal Medicine Explained (Part I)

What is herbal medicine and what is the philosophy behind herbal medicine

What is herbal medicine?

Herbal medicine is an ancient system of medicine that utilizes seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers of plants. Herbal medicine is sometimes referred to as phytomedicine, botanical medicine or herbalism.

Unlike orthodox (western/modern) medicine, herbal medicine is not just based in science, but has a strong component of art. It balances the art & science of medicine.

Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some aspect of their primary healthcare. In the last twenty years in the United States, increasing public dissatisfaction with the cost, efficacy and potential of side-effect of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in the use of herbal medicines. In countries such as Germany and Switzerland, roughly 600 to 700 plant-based medicines are available are prescribed by approximately 70% of physicians.

The Skills of herbalists have developed long before the science-based machines that go 'beep', and the skills of the doctor had to be far greater than simply looking at the blood test results from the pathology lab.

The herbalist has to be able to look at the physical, mental and spiritual health of the patient to interpret their state of health. That is not to say that modern day herbalists do not use technology. Of course they do, they use auroscopes, stethoscopes, and a variety of other technology, which is commonly used by a GP (orthodox general practitioner or MD - medical doctor).

As a doctor of Chinese medicine I am often looking at X-rays, blood test results and other test results that patients present to me. I also send patients for specific tests. After all, why not use technology if it can be of assistance in the treatment of my patient?

As a scientist, I also like to use these types of tests to get scientific validation that my treatments are working - why not, after all if I can actually measure the success of treatment why not do so.

A herbalist is also uniquely qualified to make natural herbal skin and personal care products, as their knowledge include an in-depth understanding of the skin and its needs.

In short, herbal medicine is a valid, safe and effective system of medicine that combines the art and science of medicine and uses plant-based materials to treat in individual's health problems.

What is the philosophy behind herbal medicine?

The basic principle behind herbal medicine is that your herbalist will assess you as a person and not a disease.

This simple statement has much more depth to it than it appears on the surface, because a patient has a disease, but is not that disease. That means the patient has developed a system wide imbalance that is reflected physically and/or mentally in the display of certain symptoms and attitudes.

The philosophical approach by the physician is to look at the patient as a person and consider the health issue in context of that individual.

For example, a patient may present with chronic headaches. Now the orthodox approach would be to do a series of tests to rule out any major pathologies and if there are no major diseases at work, such as tumors for example, the prescription will simply be one of pain relief - Aspirin, or a similar type of pharmaceutical drug.

An herbalist will assess a patient very differently. Yes, they will rule out any major or life threatening diseases also, but once these have been ruled out, the approach differs enormously.

Their approach will include a complete physical assessment of the body; it's alignment, posture, musculo-skeletal functionality and inspect any old physical injuries, etc. They will assess an individual's stress levels, work and family pressures and so on. A herbalist will also look at their patient's diet, life style and levels of exercise. In addition they will ask questions about seemingly unrelated issues such as niggling signs and symptoms that at first do not seem relevant.

This type of consultation will provide the physician with an over-all picture of the person in front of them - not the disease, but the person. The individual.

The idea of this is that in herbal medicine, the herbal mixtures are individually formulated specifically for that person with the health issue(s). It's specific, individual and personalized.

In short, an herbalist will 'paint a health picture' of you and employ herbal medicine to specifically treat you as an individual with a health problem.

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