I myself hold workshops sharing my knowledge of what herbs to pick from the wild, our gardens and the kitchen to use for simple, self-limiting complaints. Amongst other things, we make and taste different herb teas, make creams and ointments together, and we learn how to make herbal syrups and tinctures. There is a wealth of natural remedies all around us and as a herbalist I am passionate about educating and empowering people to use these resources for self-care.
So....Why the need for a Medical Herbalist?
Whilst I’m all for people using ‘herbal first aid’ and trying infusions and single tinctures to see if that might help (and if I think that’s all that’s necessary I’m likely to suggest you try it before booking an appointment) Herbal Medicine really comes into its own for more complex, long standing and difficult conditions, however these conditions require a more in depth understanding of how each herb works, how it interacts with other herbs (and any other medication you may be on) and what the underlying cause of your symptoms might be.
A qualified Medical Herbalist will have studied for (at least) 4 years, and have a Bachelor of Science degree. It is compulsory to undertake 500 hours supervised clinical training and be able to assess the patient medically as well as holistically. A medical herbalist is permitted by law to ‘diagnose’ in the same way as a GP (reflecting our level of training). It’s unlikely many of us do though, as our approach to treatment is very different, and the diagnosis is not always central to us, what’s more important is how the person came to develop the illness in the first place. Nonetheless, it’s vital to have the medical knowledge, as primary health care professionals we need to be able to spot any danger signs of serious undiagnosed conditions and refer on where necessary.
What happens in a consultation?
Firstly I’ll take your basic details, date of birth, address etc and then I ask you to talk to me about what you would like my help with. I go on to ask lots of questions about your condition and past medical history, current medication, diet, lifestyle and I review the workings of your body. I’m looking for signs that tell me how well the different organs and systems are working to see what has gone wrong, where and why so I know which areas to support to reduce the risk of the problem recurring after treatment. All the time I’m thinking about what I might want to include in your prescription. I will definitely be including things to help your symptoms, so if your digestion needs calming I might use chamomile, or something more appropriate with similar properties. I may use sage if you are having hot flushes, or thyme if you have a persistent cough.
But, this is only part of the picture. I’m basically building a unique recipe for each person. With in-depth knowledge of therapeutic dose and individual need I ensure you get the strength and quantity of each herb that is most likely to be of benefit for you and this will be different for each person. And then there are the ‘restorative’ herbs, aimed at targeting the body systems that might be contributing to maintaining the symptoms; your adrenal glands might have been overworked, your liver may have been sluggish, you may have been producing abnormal levels of hormones or your nervous system may have been under stress. Any number of things may have contributed to your condition. All the time I’m building your prescription I’m accounting for your medical history and any contra indications for existing medical conditions and medications you might take from your GP – this is all an important part of our degree training. A deeper part of being a medical herbalist is to be able to assess a person ‘constitutionally’ and identify which herbs may, or may not, be right for them. Most herbalists consider constitution vitally important.
All patients are different, some feel the cold, others run too hot; some put on weight easily whilst others remain slim regardless of what they eat. Constitutional, or traditional prescribing takes account of these tendencies when deciding how to treat and it is vital to understand this when putting together a prescription. It’s when addressing ones constitutional tendencies that herbal medicine prescribed by a Medical Herbalist is at its most successful – meaning the right herbs are used for the right person.
Some conditions might need long term treatment. Most people are helped by 3-4 consultations and medicine lasting up to six months. It’s always my aim to reduce the medicine as soon as the body’s resources have recovered sufficiently for it to maintain health on its own. It could be said that herbs prescribed by a medical herbalist remind the body how it needs to work!