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Herbalism

Herbalism is the tradition of studying and using herbs for their healing properties.

 

An Introduction to Herbalism

Humans have used herbs as a remedy since the beginning of time. Despite the advancements in modern medicine, it is thought 70% of the world’s population still relies on alternative herbal treatments for healing purposes.

 

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicine is a medicine made from plants, either the whole plant or parts of it, like leaves, flowers, roots or bark.  It has been the main source of medicine used by people for thousands of years.

 

What is the difference between herbal medicine and modern conventional medicine?

Around 70% of the medicines used today are derived from plant chemicals. All plants produce chemical compounds as a part of their metabolic activities.

These compounds can be divided into two groups: primary metabolites and secondary metabolites. Primary metabolites like sugars and fats can be found in all plants, and secondary metabolites are found in a smaller number of plants. These secondary metabolites contain chemicals like aspirin or morphine that have healing effects on the human body.

Willow bark, for example, has been used in traditional medicine for more than 3500 years. The active agent within willow bark – salicin – led to the discovery of aspirin. In a sense, herbal medicine doesn’t differ so much from conventional medicine in the way it works in a body, which means it could be equally effective and have the potential to cause harmful side effects if used incorrectly.

The main difference between herbal and conventional medicines is that herbal medicines contain a combination of chemicals from one or more herbs, aiming to treat the whole body, opposed to a single active substance found in pharmaceuticals.

 

What forms can it take?

Herbal supplements and remedies come in different ways and have various applications.

Some of the most common forms include:

  • Infusions and decoction – parts of the plant soaked in water until the water absorbs the oils and flavours
  • Creams, lotions and gels
  • Ointments – oil-based formulas for external use
  • Syrups – a concentration of sugar and water, with a thick and sticky texture
  • Essential oils – concentrated plant extracts, also used in Aromatherapy

Herbs can be also taken as powders, mouthwash, or capsules. Steam inhalation with herbs such as thyme or rosemary helps clear the nasal passages, throat and lungs. Bathing with infusions is another age-old therapy used to treat diseases and reduce stress.

How can Herbalism benefit you?

How can Herbalism benefit you?

Many people choose Herbalism to support their general mental and physical wellbeing. These may include more specific reasons such as:

  • Diet and nutrition advice
  • Improve gut health
  • Body detox
  • Balance hormones
  • Therapies for supporting pregnancy
  • Labour Discomforts
  • Improve mental wellbeing
  • Manage stress
  • Increase energy and vitality
  • Find relaxation
  • Improve awareness & clarity
  • Spiritual growth & healing

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Further Reading / Herbalism Studies

More and more studies are being conducted into the health benefits of Herbalism. While they are yet to be conclusive, preliminary findings are very promising.

 

Skin conditions

Issues like acne, psoriasis, alopecia, dermatitis, herpes, different infections, wounds and burns can be effectively treated with herbs. Some herbal treatments can be prepared at home. One such example is the oatmeal bath – according to this study oats contain soothing properties for itchy skin as a result of eczema.

Another review of controlled trials testing Chinese herbal medicine in treating atopic dermatitis showed that herbal medicine may be effective in the treatment of skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis. All the trials reported significantly improved symptom severity of atopic dermatitis and all were well tolerated.

 

Fatigue

This article showcases the effectiveness of herbs like ginseng and ashwagandha to treat chronic fatigue disorder. It further states that herbal medicines may have the ability to increase the body’s resistance to stress resulting from a wide array of factors. It consequently saves energy and helps combat fatigue.

 

Digestion

This review from 2018 claims the peppermint oil is demonstrated to help with irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders.

 

Minor Inflammation

Research suggests some Chinese Herbs may have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects. For example, Bai Shao Yao (Paeonia lactiflora Pall), a barkless dried root that has been traditionally used for arthritis, muscle cramps, spasms and fever for over 1200 years has recently had some research suggesting that it might inhibit both acute and subacute inflammation.

 

Sleep problems

A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine for patients with primary insomnia found that patients who received Chinese herbal medicine reported higher total sleep duration and sleep efficiency than placebo.

 

Fertility

A total of 33 studies were included in this review. Eighteen pre-clinical studies included 762 women with menstrual irregularities, hyperandrogenism and/or PCOS. There was evidence for the regulation of ovulation, improved metabolic hormone profile and improved fertility outcomes in PCOS from six herbal medicines.

A systematic review of the efficacy of traditional Chinese Herbal medicine in the management of female infertility suggested it can improve pregnancy rates two-fold within a four-month period compared with Western medical fertility drug therapy or IVF.

 

Depression

In 2016, an in-depth review of 35 studies examined the effects of St. John’s wort on symptoms of depression. The study review found that it:

  • Reduced symptoms of mild and moderate depression more than a placebo
  • Reduced symptoms to a similar extent as prescription antidepressants
  • Appeared to have fewer side effects than prescription antidepressants
  • Doesn’t seem to reduce sex drive, a common side effect of antidepressant

Another study found that for patients with mild-to-moderate depression, St John’s wort has comparable efficacy and safety when compared to antidepressants.

 

PMS, menstrual pain and menopause

Dong Quai is an Asian herb frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine to support women’s health and treat symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. One study in 71 women that compared Dong Quai and a placebo revealed no significant differences in hot flashes or vaginal dryness.

 

Erectile Issues

This study identified 2798 articles, 34 of which were selected, as they discussed exclusive studies involving herbal medicine on erectile issues. The study concluded that the herbal medicine analysed in this study demonstrated positive effects on the libido, thus proving that, along with nutritional intervention, it is also a promising field in nutrition actions that provide support to combat sexual dysfunctions.

 

Seasonal allergies

This systematic review found that in six small studies, butterbur was similarly effective to modern antihistamines in treating allergies. A few small studies support the idea that stinging nettle extracts may act as an antihistamine.

 

Headaches

This  2020 review concluded that taking ginger seems to reduce migraine symptoms such as pain, nausea, and vomiting without any negative side effects.

 

Anxiety

A small 2019 clinical trial investigated the efficacy of ashwagandha for stress and anxiety. The 8-week study involved 58 participants with perceived stress. The participants who took ashwagandha showed less of the stress hormone cortisol than those in the placebo group. They also experienced improved sleep quality.

In another 2019 study, 60 participants with mild anxiety received 250 mg of ashwagandha or placebo for 60 days. Those taking the herb showed a significant reduction in some measures of anxiety but not others.

 

Common Cold

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to alleviate common cold symptoms. Whilst scientific research is limited to back up their use, a meta-analysis of randomised trials found echinacea can help reduce colds and shorten their duration.

Different approaches to Herbalism

Different approaches to Herbalism

Like many other forms of traditional medicine, herbalist practices and philosophies are influenced by the environment and geography where they first evolved.

Two commonly used approaches are Chinese Herbalism as a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western Herbalism. Ayurvedic herbalism, traditional Japanese Kampo and Unani medicine are other examples of traditional medicine systems that rely heavily on herbal treatments.

 

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Following the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese Herbalism aims to restore the body’s balance by affecting yin and yang – two opposing and complementary forces that make up qi. Qi is a vital force that flows through the body, and any imbalance to qi can result in illness, pain and suffering. The energy, or qi, is said to be unable to flow freely mostly due to stress, poor nutrition, unhealthy habits, trauma and injuries.

By assessing the state of a patient’s qi, the herbalist will give a diagnosis expressed in TCM terms – many of which can correlate to western terms and diseases. Chinese Herbal Medicine uses specific formulas or a combination of herbs that match the diagnosis. During the length of therapy, as the patient’s condition changes, formulas are modified according to the patient’s needs.

 

Western Herbalism

The origins of western herbalism can be traced back to the indigenous practices of Greco-Roman, European, Arabic and American cultures. Herbal medical practices were changing as global transport and communication kept expanding. North American herbs like Echinacea were brought to Europe, and at the same time, Eastern herbs like ginseng became a common ingredient in Western herbal remedies.

Just like Chinese Herbalism, Western herbalism is person-centred, treating the body as a whole instead of symptoms alone. Two patients may have similar symptoms and the cure prescribed for them could differ completely, based on the factors that may have caused those symptoms in the first place.

Western herbalists may be trained with the same clinical examination skills as general practitioners and therefore have an approach that is closer to more conventional medical practices. The term “western” should not be confused, however, with medical or clinical – western herbalists may still rely on traditional ways of treating patients.

Who is Herbalism suitable for?

Who is Herbalism suitable for?

Natural remedies should not be consumed without precaution. It is essential to talk to your doctor before taking on any treatment if you fall into any of the following groups: women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, young people, elderly, people taking other forms of medicine, people with liver or kidney conditions.

 

What does a typical Herbalism session look like?

The first session will likely last longer and includes a consultation. The practitioner will need the following information about you:

  • Your health history
  • Supplements and medication you’re taking
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Diet
  • Family’s medical history

The initial assessment helps them understand what could be an underlying issue that they need to treat. There may be a physical examination included, like taking your blood pressure, feeling the abdomen and looking at the pupils.

The practitioner may suggest dietary and lifestyle changes to support the healing. The number of follow-up check-ups will depend on the issue that is being treated.

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Medical concerns

Holistic disciplines can assist you in your wellbeing, though they are not a substitute for medical care. This information should be used as a guide only to help you explore which holistic disciplines may assist you. We recommend researching the discipline and speaking with a practitioner before choosing to book any service.

This information is not, nor is it intended to be used as a medical diagnosis. Any information provided must be considered as guidance only, and not a substitute for obtaining a diagnosis from a medical professional. Please see the full terms and conditions of use. Always consult your doctor for any medical concerns.

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