What is herbal medicine?

mortar&pestle_wood Herbal medicine is the art and science of using plants to support human health. It is a system of healing in which medicinal plants and natural protocols are used in the prevention or treatment of acute and chronic diseases, and in the maintenance of optimum health and well-being. Rather than simply substituting herbs for prescription drugs, herbal medicine works from a different paradigm entirely. Herbal medical care aims to rebalance the body as a whole and treat the cause as well as addressing the symptoms quickly and gently. Herbs are complex living medicines with multiple actions, crossing body systems in their impact. A current high-profile example is St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): effective for mild-to-moderate depression, it is not simply a plant version of an antidepressant (although it does have SSRI-like and MAOI-like actions). St John’s wort is also an effective wound healer, and a potently antiviral herb.   Herbal medicine practice may be based on “scientific” evidence of constituent actions (eg Tumeric, with thousands of studies on Curcumin pointing to its anti-inflammatory and anticancer action). It may also be based on history of use and clinical effectiveness (eg traditional indigenous use of herbs around the world, as well as herbal medicine in older medical frameworks including Ayurveda (6000 years) and Traditional Chinese Medicine (5000 years).   Herbal medicine has a history of over 100 000 years of recorded continuous use, with distinct herbal traditions and philosophies in particular countries and regions. Consistently, herbal medical philosophy centres on treating the whole person, taking into account the full context of a person’s life in assessing their health. The holistic approach includes seeking and treating the cause, and always operating from the principle that our bodies have an inherent ability to establish, maintain, and restore health. Practitioners choose treatments that work to restore and support the powerful and innate capacity of your body, mind, and spirit to heal and to prevent further disease from occurring.   Herbal medicine is a distinct modality. While excellent and extensive training exists for herbalists in Canada (see http://www.herbalists.on.ca/education.html for a partial list), external regulation and licensing is not available for Herbalists in Canada. Herbal medicine is practiced in different forms by Naturopathic Doctors (NDs), Doctors of Chinese Medicine (D TCM), Chinese herbalists, Ayurvedic medicine practitioners, Western Herbalists, Medical Herbalists, Clinical Herbalists, and traditional medicine practitioners from every corner of the world.   For more information please see http://www.herbalists.on.ca/index.html and http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/   Mahalia Freed is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, Reiki Master and BodyTalk Practitioner in Toronto. Herbal medicine is an important part of her practice at www.drmahaliafreed.com.