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Herbalism is the practice of making or prescribing herbal remedies for medical conditions. Practitioners of herbalism may be licensed MDs, naturopaths, or osteopaths. They may also be unlicensed. Interested consumers should seek out knowledgeable, and preferably licensed, herbalists[1].

Herbalism is the oldest form of medicine known to man and forms the cornerstone of all medicines, both traditional and orthodox, as many pharmaceutical and homoeopathic medicines are derived from plants. Herbal Medicine is the use of any plant part - leaf, seed, stem, flowers, root, bark - for the relief of certain complaints, conditions, or ailments. Modern herbalism utilises plant medicine only but often combines the philosophies of the west with those of the east.


The history of herbal medicine is the history of every culture which turned to local flora for food and medicine. Humans have used plants to heal since the first cavewoman gathered vegetation to feed her family, flavour the food, and heal her children. As the earliest known form of medicine, knowledge of specific plants' curative powers was passed down from generation to generation in the family and tribe. Eventually the role of healer expanded to include shamans, or priest/healers. Herbs were used in healing rituals and religious ceremonies. Modern Medicine traces its roots back to the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, who wrote about plant remedies. This century's discoveries of modern drugs, such as digitalis, curare, cocaine, and quinine, are based on native herbal wisdom. Herbalism continues to be a mainstay of many societies, as folk medicine is intimately tied to the natural environment in which we all live.[2]

How Do Herbal Medicines Work?

The aim of herbalism is to help the body help itself, so that harmony or homeostasis may be restored and healing may take place. Herbal Medicines are said to work biochemically, triggering neurochemical responses in the body. Taken in moderate doses for long enough, these biochemical responses become automatic, even after one stops taking the herbs. Herbal formulas have three basic functions:

Elimination and detoxification: Herbs are used as diuretics, laxatives, and blood purifiers - one step in healing. Health Management and Maintenance: Herbs are used to counteract physical symptoms and stimulate the body's own self-healing powers. Health Building: Herbs are used to tone the organs and nourishes the tissues and blood. Herbalism is experiencing a revival in the world, because modern medicine has failed to provide satisfactory cures for many diseases. This has prompted research into plants in an effort to find new drugs. This research benefits herbal medicine, from the point of view that the chemical constituents are identified and this results in greater understanding of the pharmacology of these plants. So instead of basing the effects of plants on hearsay, the effects can now be scientifically validated.

The modern herbalist is scientifically trained and is able to examine the patient and perform certain diagnostic procedures. But the treatment will address the whole person and not the disease. Each patient is different and will need different herbal medicine in their treatment, even if they have the same complaint. This is why it is important to see a professional and not treat oneself.

Herbal medicine is balanced in its constituents and is safe when prescribed by a herbal practitioner. Side effects are rare and effects are usually not cumulative. Medicines are made from any part of a plant and from any plant that has chemical constituents of medicinal value. This means that a herb may be a tree or a weed.

Herbal medicine is usually taken in tincture form (which is an alcoholic extract,) pill or powder form, or in a tea (infusion) or brew (decoction). In some countries herbs are even taken in a soup. It has to be taken regularly and consistently to achieve results. The herbalist usually gives dietary and nutritional advice to complement the treatment.

Herbalism is quite different from homoeopathy in that the medication is not diluted and shaken as in homoeopathic medicine. The medicine is also not matched up to personality types as in homoeopathy. Herbal medicine works more on the physiological systems directly, rather than on energy levels. This means that it is fast and effective if chosen correctly.


  1. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Glossary of Terms
  2. Herbal Therapy
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