What is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicine is the use of specific plants to maintain health or treat health issues.
Medicinal plants were used by ancient civilisations (the Ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks) to treat many different ailments, from rashes, burns and wounds, to broken bones and blood poisoning. This gives us thousands of years of knowledge, passed down through the generations, about their efficacy and side effects.
The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is known as the ‘father of medicine’. He is credited with saying ‘let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food’. Hippocrates was known to use different parts of plants to treat patients for their various ailments, and to help bring their bodies back to balance.
Western Herbal Medicine is based on European herbal knowledge. Different parts of plants – berries, flowers, seeds, leaves, bark, or roots - are used to make liquid herbal medicine. There are literally hundreds of different liquid herbal extracts (tinctures). Combinations of these tinctures are used to directly target areas of concern, allowing an individualised and targeted approach to your healthcare needs.
During a consultation, I listen carefully to your concerns and formulate a mix of different liquid herb specifically for you to improve your health, and to help you achieve harmony and balance in your world.
What do herbal medicines do?
Herbal medicines strengthen your body’s physiological functions and recuperative abilities by providing you with active ingredients and essential nutrients that may be depleted due to your current physiological and emotional state. They bring your body back to homoeostasis - a state of balance.
Herbal medicines have active ingredients which can have a therapeutic effect. Many herbal medicines have been studied and some of these active ingredients have been duplicated in laboratories and used in pharmaceuticals. Aspirin is a great example of this.
One of the active ingredients in Willow Bark, salicin, was extracted by French chemists in 1828 to its pure acid state and was called salicylic acid. Acetylsalicylic acid is the active ingredient in aspirin medications.
Interestingly though, Willow Bark contains inactive ingredients that naturally protect the stomach from the stomach complications caused by aspirin.
Quinine, from Cinchona bark, used to treat malaria is another example.
Isn’t nature fascinating??
Evidence and support for herbal medicine
Scientific studies are beginning to confirm the therapeutic benefits of herbal medicines that have been used for centuries. Turmeric is a great example of this. Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine but it is through modern research that we are beginning to understand exactly how turmeric works. There is also a lot of new research on herbs for menopausal symptoms, from hot flushes to anxiety and depression.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the value of traditional medicines, including herbal medicine, and has developed a strategy for harnessing it's "potential contribution...to health, wellness and peoplecentred health care...".
Turmeric plant in flower
 Vasu Karlapudi et al, A Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Study Demonstrates the Clinical Efficacy of a Novel Herbal Formulation for Relieving Joint Discomfort in Human Subjects with Osteoarthritis of Knee, J Med Food 21 (5) 2018, 1–10
 Kashani, L et al, Efficacy of Crocus sativus (saffron) in treatment of major depressive disorder associated with post-menopausal hot flashes: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet 297, 717–724 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00404-018-4655-2
How long does it take for herbal medicines to work?
Herbal remedies work quickly and efficiently, as they are readily absorbed by the body. They are almost immediately absorbed into the mucus membranes in the mouth, stomach and small intestine and get straight into the blood supply, imparting their medicinal properties.
Liquid herbal tinctures are also not reliant on a good functioning gut for absorption, as food and supplements are. If you need a quick response, liquid herbal tinctures are your answer.
It can take up to two weeks before you notice a difference in your symptoms, although some symptoms can improve almost immediately. Some herbal tinctures can have an effect within 10 minutes, but it depends on what herb you are taking and why.
Chamomile, ginger or peppermint tinctures, for example, can relax the stomach and relieve nausea and flatulence very quickly. However, if you are taking a herbal tincture for energy, such as one of the ginsengs or green tea tincture, it could take a week before you notice an increase in your energy levels. Of course, symptoms of chronic conditions take much longer to resolve.
Are herbal medicines safe?
Herbal medicines are like any other medicine, they can be safe but they can also cause problems. You don’t self-prescribe medicine from the pharmacy and you shouldn’t self-prescribe herbal medicine. Herbal medicine should be prescribed for your particular case, in a specific dose.
As an example, chamomile is considered a very safe and highly effective herb. It can be taken in a liquid tincture form or as a tea. But if you are allergic to the Asteraceae, or Daisy family, you could have an adverse reaction to something considered so safe and gentle.
Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Even water can be dangerous if you drink copious amounts of it in one day.
Consult a properly qualified practitioner for safe and sound advice.
Can I use herbal medicines if I’m on prescription drugs?
Herbal medicine can be used in conjunction with medical treatments you may already be undergoing. It's imperative that other treatments and medications are taken into consideration when developing your personal natural treatment protocol. That’s why it’s important that you consult a properly qualified herbalist or naturopath.
Herbal medicines can also provide complementary treatment to ongoing pharmaceutical treatments for many different health conditions.
Can’t I just use herbs myself?
Well, sort of… sometimes. (See the information above out the safety of herbal medicine.) But to get the most benefit from herbs, it is best to consult someone who knows about herbal medicine and can put together an individual formula that will work best for you. A properly qualified herbalist will ask if you are on any other medications, have any allergies, and address your individual situation.
There are herbs available in tablets from chemists, however, like anything, you get what you pay for. The cheaper ones generally contain poor quality herbs and/or not enough of the herb to have a therapeutic benefit. The liquid herbal medicines, dispensed by herbalists, are also more quickly absorbed by the body than tablets or capsules.
I use good quality liquid herbal medicines made in Australia under strict conditions, that are available to practitioners only, and are ethically and sustainably sourced.
How can you tell if a practitioner is properly qualified?
A properly qualified practitioner must have Professional Indemnity and Personal Liability insurance. They will likely also belong to an accredited association such as the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS), Naturopathic & Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA), and Australian Natural Therapies Association (ANTA). They should also have a Diploma or Advanced Diploma stating their qualifications.
Unfortunately, due to our current regulations in Australia, anyone can claim they are a Herbalist, Naturopath, or Nutritionist without the proper education behind them. It is advisable to check they have proper qualifications prior to making an appointment with them.
Note: This content is provided for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical/health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, please consult a suitably qualified healthcare professional.