Understand herbal medicine

Know the facts about herbal medicines and the many everyday health conditions they can treat.
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Herbal medicines are remedies made from whole plant extracts. They contain all the therapeutic constituents of the plants they are made from. They should, as far as possible be organically cultivated or ethically sourced. They come in several different forms:

  • Tinctures are alcohol based, and are the most commonly prescribed form of herbal medicine. They keep well and are convenient to take. They are taken in teaspoonfuls or drops, in water.
  • Teas or Infusions are prepared in a teapot or cafetiere by pouring boiling water over a spoonful of dried herbs. It is left to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes before being strained and drunk as instructed.
  • Decoctions are made by simmering the dried herb in a pan of water for 5-15 minutes before straining. Teas and decoctions need to be freshly made at least every other day. If they are not drunk straight away they need to be refrigerated and discarded after two days.
  • Juices are simply the juices of the freshly pressed plant that are then bottled without any preservatives. These need to be kept in the fridge and drunk within two weeks. They are taken in teaspoonfuls in water.

As well as being taken internally, herbal remedies can also be given in the form of creams, ointments, lotions, oils, washes, compresses, gargles or baths for use externally.

What conditions can herbs treat?

Herbal medicine can be used safely and effectively for all age groups. It can be used to treat almost any condition, but is most frequently used for chronic conditions.

For example:

  • Digestive problems, such as ulcers, IBS, colitis
  • Circulatory problems, such as high blood pressure, varicose veins, poor circulation
  • Menstrual and menopausal problems, such as painful, heavy or irregular periods, endometriosis, hot flushes, etc
  • Immune system problems, such as chronic or recurrent infections or auto-immune diseases
  • Allergies, such as asthma, hayfever or food sensitivities
  • Joint problems, such as osteo or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Nervous system disorders, such as insomnia, anxiety or depression

Medical herbalists use extracts from the whole or a part of a plant, such as leaves, roots, berries etc, that contain hundreds, sometimes thousands of plant constituents. Herbalists believe that by using the whole plant, the remedy is balanced, effective and safe.

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists recommends that health concerns should be discussed with a qualified medical herbal practitioner or a GP.

This is because:

  • Herbal remedies, just like pharmaceutical medicines, can have positive and negative effects, so always consult a qualified medical herbalist for anything other than a minor ailments.
  • Some herbal treatments interact with orthodox drugs so always consult a qualified medical herbalist or a GP before mixing treatments.
  • Over-the-counter products often contain one or two chemical extracts of a plant, and often in greater concentration levels than found naturally. The National Institute of Medical Herbalists supports the use of the whole plant to produce remedies, which it believes to be safer.
  • Qualified Medical Herbalists treat the whole person rather than just symptoms. Herbal remedies are made specifically to meet the individual’s need. Treatments are specifically made for the individual patient, using the whole plant rather than extracts.

By Sara Hamer

Last modified: December 29, 2020

Written by 3:59 pm Alternative Health