What Is Western Herbal Medicine?
Western herbal medicine uses extracts of whole parts of plants to help support and maintain health. These plants are predominantly grown in Britain, Mainland Europe and North America. The use of medicinal plants for treating diseases is probably the oldest form of medicine and even many modern medicines originated from plants.
However, unlike modern medicines that tend to have a single active constituent, plants contain a complex range of chemicals (known as phytochemicals). Our bodies have a natural affinity to these phytochemicals. Scientific research in this area has really started to take off, showing some promising results and deepening our understanding as to how plants can benefit us. Here are just a few examples:
Flavonoids are a large group of phytochemicals that give the plant their colour, scent and flavour. They are powerful antioxidants and help to reduce inflammation as well as blood pressure, allergies and infection. They may also help the body to use sugars more effectively. The list of herbs rich in flavonoids is extensive, but examples include:
Green tea, chamomile, calendula, hawthorn, nettle, elder (berries and flowers).
Isoflavones have structures similar to oestrogen and are known as phyto-oestrogens. Isoflavones bind (albeit weakly) with oestrogen receptors and have been found to alleviate hot flushes and other symptoms associated with the menopause. Main sources:
Soy & red clover
Tannins are responsible for the astringent and puckering sensation when we taste them (think of a cup of strong black tea). In plants they have a protective action and prevent predators from eating them. Tannins have been found to reduce episodes of diarrhoea, uterine bleeding and protect inflamed mucous membranes, whilst reducing swelling. Herbs high in tannins:
Agrimony, yarrow, shepherd’s purse, witch hazel & oak
Bitters have largely been lost from our modern Western diet. Bitters are very important for our digestive health; increasing digestive secretions and improving pancreatic activity. They have even been found to help reduce sugar cravings and overeating, as well as relieving indigestion, bloating and heartburn. The benefits bitters can bring to the digestive system have long been known and as a result, aperitifs and digestifs drinks were formulated. Aperitifs and digestifs are taken before and after a meal, respectively. Herbs with a strong bitter component include:
Gentian, wormwood & berberis
The scientific research is still in its infancy and there are hundreds, if not thousands of phytochemicals yet to be studied. Many of these phytochemicals work together in exerting their therapeutic effects and this complexity is the wonder of herbal medicine.
Herbal Medicine Consultations: For Ongoing Health Conditions
What can herbal medicine treat?
Herbal medicine can be effective for a range of health conditions including functional dyspepsia (indigestion), irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, osteoarthritis, depression, migraine and types of acute upper respiratory infections.*
However, this list is not exhaustive and medical herbalists provide support and advice for many health issues. More importantly, rather than treat a named condition, we look at how the condition specifically affects you. We seek to identify and treat the underlying cause of your condition, rather than just your symptoms. Therefore, the herbal consultation is an important part of the treatment process.
Herbs are widely available to buy over the counter and these can be very useful in acute conditions. However, herbalists believe that the best results for ongoing conditions are achieved by individualised preparations, unique to each person. Medical herbalists have many herbs available to them and are able to select those that do not interact with any medications you may be taking. Therefore, by seeing a medical herbalist you can be sure you are receiving both a safe and specific treatment for your needs.
What Happens In A Herbal Medicine Consultation?
An initial consultation lasts approximately one hour where an in-depth picture is built up about your health. This covers your presenting complaint and symptoms as well as personal and family medical history, medication, diet and lifestyle.
A blood pressure check and other (non-invasive) physical examinations may be carried out, where relevant. These findings are discussed with you and a treatment plan agreed. Advice that might benefit your health further, such as lifestyle and nutrition, is also offered and discussed. My aim is to provide you with support and practical advice; working within your limits and allowing you to take control of your own health. I view the consultation as a two way process and I am happy to answer questions you may have at any time during your consultation.
At the end of the consultation, an individual herbal prescription is formulated for you. This is usually a tincture (a blend of herbal extracts in alcohol and water). but sometimes dried herbs, capsules, syrups or topical creams may be recommended. Instructions are given about how to take your medicine.
A follow up appointment is arranged for 2 weeks later and this lasts approximately 30 minutes. During follow up appointments adjustments may be made to your herbal medicine to ensure it is at its most effective.
The length of time you take herbal medicine depends on a number of factors such as your general state of health, how long you have had your presenting condition, the severity of your symptoms and the effects of any medications. Herbs work in a more subtle way than pharmaceutical medicines, but are also less likely to produce side effects. They can work quickly, but it is usual to take herbal medicine for several months to gain maximum benefit.
To book an appointment, please call Julie on 07796 580435 or use the contact form on our Get In Touch page.
*In response to an independent review of submitted clinical evidence, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) confirmed that herbal practitioners may claim to treat the conditions listed above.