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What Is Herbal Medicine?

Plants have been our only source of medicine for thousands of years and Herbal Medicine is still the most widely used system of medicine in the world today.  The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the world's population, or about 4 billion people, currently use herbal medicine for some or all of their health care.

The earliest  evidence of the use of  herbs was found in a 60,000 year old Neolithic burial Chamber  where remains of plants we still use today were discovered.

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Herbal medicine uses medicines made exclusively from plants either the whole plant or sometimes parts of it, for example leaves, flowers, fruits, roots or bark.

Herbalists use whole plant extracts - this means that, for example, the whole of the flowering tops or the whole of a root  is  extracted into the chosen medium - this can be alcohol (tincture), water (infusion or tea), oil or glycerine. The most effective and efficient medium is alcohol.

In herbal practice, plants  are not used on the basis of any one constituent so the whole plant or particular part of the plant  is extracted into the chosen medium so that all the many components that make up a plant’s chemistry  can contribute to its actions as a medicine - the synergy of  all these different elements complement and enhance each other making a potent and effective medicine.  The sum of all  these parts working together  is better than the individual parts working on their own. This is why the standardised extracts  that can be  bought over the counter  may not be as effective  as the “whole” medicine as only   one or two components of the plant, deemed to be the “active ingredients” are extracted resulting  in the loss of this unique synergy.

Mortar of dried marigold flowers and healing herbs on wooden plank. Herbal medicine..jpg

Many people  use herbal medicine as their primary form of medicine but it can also be very helpful as a supportive and complementary medicine working alongside conventional treatment.

Herbs are not only used to treat  presenting  symptoms but can be used to enhance recovery by, for example, supporting other vital systems like digestion, adrenal and other hormonal functions and by gently calming the nervous system. In addition, herbs can  provide alternatives - women who need support at the menopause and do not want to take HRT and patients with long term chronic problems such as eczema, psoriasis, asthma and hayfever may all benefit from herbal medicine. Women’s health issues in general are another area where herbal medicine can prove very useful.

NOTE: Herbal medicine and prescription drugs. Many herbs can be used safely whilst still taking prescription drugs however there are herb/drug combinations where the herb may add to or reduce the effectiveness of your drug so it is very important to take advice from a qualified herbalist before taking any herbal medicine.

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