Norman Howard BSc (Hons), qualified medical herbalist       

 

Supporting people to recovery and manage, using the healing power of medicinal plants.

 

About Herbal Medicine and the practice of western herbalism

Herbal Medicine can be a powerful healing instrument when obtained from trained practitioners in the right way.  Key to this is the therapeutic relationship and a process that puts you the patient in control of where you want to go with your healing. A professional herbal therapist - 'phytotherapist' - will provide assessments, information, advice and support, and may also refer you on to other practitioners including your own doctor.  In fact, it is a good idea to keep your doctor informed and if you think you my have a serious condition you should consult your doctor.

Phyotherapists provide a holistic approach to a patient using treatments from plant-based medicines.  This means they first of all assess a new patient from each aspect of their health, as well as their presenting symptoms, and form an all round picture of their state of health, including their emotional state. It also means that treatment plans encompass not only herbal medicines where appropriate but also advice on lifestyle, such as diet and exercise.  The person as a whole is treated, rather than an individual disorder or disease.  

Herbal Medicine is still the most widely used form of primary medicine in the world.  The professional practice of herbal medicine in the western tradition (as opposed to other forms of herbal practice such as Traditional Chinese Medicine) is known as medical herbalism.  It has developed from the use of plants in traditional healing practices in Europe and North America, and its modern form of professional practice is now taught in the UK and elsewhere.

Herbal medication can be applied in several different forms, such as tinctures, infusions (teas), and creams.  Patients may be given preparations with combinations of herbs with complementary actions on different aspects of conditions that may obtain synergies.  Advice may also usually be given on diet, exercise, rest or other aspects of lifestyle. People may wish to consult a herbalist in three situations: when they have a persistent or chronic disorder, such as joint pain; for an acute condition such as a chill; or for improving their general health and wellbeing.

Chronic disorders

This is where the symptoms have persisted for more than a while (typically at least 3 months) and where herbal medicine has been helpful in supporting people.  After taking a full case history and making a thorough initial assessment I would try to pinpoint the underlying cause of the condition. Examples of the sorts of disorders where people have consulted herbalists include:

gastro-intestinal: digestive problems, heart-burn, food intolerances, irritable bowel.

respiratory: allergy, sinus pain

cardiovascular: migraine headache, poor circulation (arteries or veins), haemorrhoids.

skin: itchy skin problems, eczema.

musculo-skeletal: painful swollen or stiff joints, sprains.

nervous system: stress, sleep problems and headaches.

Some disorders like chronic fatigue defy categorisation but there may be something that herbal medicine can do for sufferers. If herbal medicine can not do anything for you, or if you have something that needs to be referred on, I will discuss this with you and refer you to the appropriate person, whether they are your doctor or another health professional.

 

Acute conditions

Colds, influenza and other acute infections are ususally self-limiting but herbal remedies may be able to help in many ways from helping to counteract the infective agent (e.g. anti-septics such as thyme or teatree oil) to supporting pain reduction (e.g. white willow bark) and promoting healing (e.g. pot marigold flowers). Notifiable diseases, including all suspected cases of cancer have to be referred to a patient's GP immediately. However, complementary help including herbal medicine may still be given in these cases to suppport reduced suffering and help the patient to cope with the disease and its treatment. For coughs and colds, people often choose to self-treat but if the infection persists or if you are unsure what to do, a trained herbalist may be able to help you with a customised remedy or appropriate course of action. You may also have learnt how to treat everyday ailments, such as cuts, bruises, colds and headaches from newspaper articles or courses at your local community education centre.

Health promotion and disease prevention

Some people manage their health very well but know that herbs can help them to improve it even more so or perhaps, to prevent a condition that they have previously suffered from erupting again.  You may wish to achieve a measurable health or wellbeing target, in a sporting, work or home related sphere.  For example, you might want to reduce the number of colds you get each year to fewer than two, or be able to run 3 miles in under 30 minutes, or wake up feeling refreshed on 99% of weekday mornings.  If you want to explore how you might go about this using medicinal herbs, you can telephone me on 07947-470789 for an initial ten minute discussion without charge.

 

Consultations by a medical herbalist

A consultation with a medical herbalist is holistic, looking at all health aspects not simply the presenting symptoms, and can help to clarify what a patient is suffering from. The underlying cause is sought, as well as the critical factors affecting it. Initially, there is normally at least an hour's consultation, followed by one for thirty to forty minutes, typically two to three weeks later.  If you are taking medication prescribed by your doctor or purchased from a dispensing chemist, you will need to tell me and I will take any potential interactions into account when selecting your course of treatment.  This is another good reason to not self-medicate with herbal remedies.

 

How herbal medicines work

Treatments aim both to reduce pain and suffering and support the body's natural healing processes.  Each plant used by herbalists has traditionally been viewed as having at least one medicinal action (some have several).  It is these medicinal actions that form the cornerstone of herbal therapy and some if not many have been supported by scientific studies.  Indeed, often an action can be identified as being carried out by a particular constituent or group of constituents of a herb.  For example, it is thought that the flavanolignan extract, known as silymarin, from milk thistle fruit (or 'seed') is active in helping to improve the functioning of liver cells.  And the polyphenols and flavonoids in hawthorn flowering tops or berries are thought to be responsible for its action, traditionally viewed as lowering high blood pressure and supporting the heart.  A wide range of actions are employed by western herbalists amongst the herbs that they use and these can range from relaxing the nervous system to anti-inflammatory action, from protecting liver function to immune modulation, and so on. 

Herbalists also take account of a person's constitution and may prescribe herbs that are cooling and moistening at one extreme to warming and drying at the other. Herbal remedies can help a patient at more than one level within the body. For example, milk thistle is thought to work within liver cells, helping to regenerate their functionality. On the other hand, active constituents of horse chestnut seed are thought to reduce blood vessel permeability and strengthening the elasticity of vessel walls. Herbal remedies may be taken internally or applied topically (externally). For example creams and ointments for helping with varicose veins, joint pain and itchy skin conditions are all applied topically.

 

Herbs

The herbs we use come from high quality suppliers who focus on providing for herbal practitioners. Many of the herbs are from organic sources but even if not the extracts have come mainly from ethical sources and have been obtained without adding or removing any constituents. 

Many different plants are used to treat people by medical herbalists. About 200 or so plants are in current use by "western" herbalists but many more have been used over the ages and some herbalists still use a very wide materia medica that may include plants grown all over the world. Many of the herbs in use here in Britain are popular garden plants, such as thyme and mint. Some are trees and shrubs, such as oak and hawthorn. Often only one part of a plant is used (e.g. ginger rhizome or 'root'). Sometimes two parts may be used. For example, both the berry and leaf of hawthorn are used to help people with circulatory problems; on the other hand, dandelion leaf is a diuretic, whereas its root is a digestive tonic. Science has in recent years increasingly provided data on how herbs work, often confirming traditional use.

 

Safety

We check interactions between herbal remedies and orthodox drugs taken by their patients. We also check the dosages are within safety limits, according to age and degree of infirmity or vitality. In general, herbalists prescribe low dosages so that their action is safe and gradual and unlikely to produce adverse reactions. We explain the herbs being prepared and how they may help you. Where it is in your best interests, professional herbalists will refer you to your GP or hospital doctor or possibly other health practitioners, where appropriate.

 

Page updated on 12th February 2019

Norman Howard