Plants. We water them, we put them in the garden and we eat them. And for as long as people and animals have co-existed with plants, we have used them to maintain our health.
For most of history (and for most of the world’s current population) herbal medicine is just medicine. Hippocrates sums it up nicely in his quote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Medicinal herbs are plants that contain something which is beneficial to health.
I often hear – from people who would like orthodox medicine to be the only option – ‘but there’s no evidence’.
Well I don’t know about you but I don’t do anything repeatedly if it doesn’t work. Over the years, humans have tried loads of plants and the ones that successfully treated a condition were passed on in verbal and written traditions to future generations.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) protects plants which have documented traditional use from being patented by pharmaceutical companies. But I digress.
What can plants do for us?
The basic things we need from plants to stay healthy are:
- Soluble fibre
However, to protect themselves, plants have evolved a whole host of other things that have turned out to be medicinal to humans.
A cup of coffee and a bar of chocolate?
Caffeine from coffee and tea, nicotine in tobacco and theobromine in chocolate are all products that plants make to protect themselves from insects and to keep other things from growing too near.
Lots of us enjoy a coffee, and a small amount can help us feel awake and alert. However, too much coffee can lead to insulin resistance ultimately contributing to type 2 diabetes.
Nicotine, a neurotoxin, made by the plant to discourage insects and for many years used as flea powder, is now known to be highly addictive to people.
On the plus side, theobromine (Greek for food of the gods) in dark chocolate has an effect on the central nervous system which leads to a mild euphoria and improves our mood. We don’t think about it in these terms but this is daily and widespread self-medication!
Animals love plants, too…
Humans are not alone in our plant wisdom. Cats, dogs, horses, cattle and pretty much all other animals will seek out appropriate grasses and leaves when their digestion is upset.
If you look carefully at the grass that cats chew, nine times out of ten it’s what’s known as couch grass. Herbalists use couch grass to support the kidneys and the urinary system, as the amount of silica is useful in treating water infections.
Herbal medicine, folk medicine, traditional medicine, whatever you choose to call it, is part of everyday life for most people. A little self-education and a window box can contribute a great deal to our health because our daily foods have a huge effect on our health.
However there are times when we need someone with more knowledge to help us through our ailments and more serious health problems.
This is when you need a herbalist.
The most simple definition of a herbalist is someone who uses plants to treat problems with health.
Herbalists have access to a huge range of plant medicines which can treat most aspects of health.
A modern herbalist will have completed a rigorous education in herbal medicine with a basis in modern western orthodox systems. This means they use similar diagnostic techniques to a GP.
Sometimes this is even more rigorous, as often a GP can only refer you on for a blood test or other examinations at the hospital. A herbalist has more time and will take a thorough medical history and, if necessary, give you a thorough physical examination including blood pressure and pulse.
The extra time goes a long way. Sometimes a herbalist can make connections that a GP simply doesn’t have time for in your seven-minute consultation.
A true partnership
However, I’d like to stress this isn’t an ‘either/or’ situation. Herbalists can successfully work alongside your conventional medication, sometimes enhancing the benefit of your orthodox treatment and sometimes protecting you from the negative effects of medication you can’t live without.
The other thing that an herbalist can do is help you take control of your own wellbeing. A herbalist will teach you how to look after yourself, how to tailor your diet to your needs and help you find the things in your every day life that make you feel your best.
When you’re choosing your herbalist, make sure they are registered with one of the professional associations such as The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) or the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (CPP) or the United Register of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (URHP).
The power of plants has been long documented throughout generations. There really is more to herbal medicine than dandelion tea!
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