Medical Herbalism Demystified

Medical Herbalism Demystified

If I wasn’t a Medical Herbalist I’d be really confused about the difference between a Medical Herbalist and someone who knows lots about herbs.  Many people know about the healing properties of herbs and how to use them for simple, self limiting complaints.  Some GPs, pharmacists, health food shop assistants, gardeners, amateur experts, avid readers and those who have undertaken short term study all might have a sound understanding of herbs and their individual actions in the body.  Most people with a knowledge of herbs can tell you that Echinacea is good for helping the immune system deal with colds, that Elderflowers are anti-catarrhal and therefore help with hayfever and the sniffles, and that Garlic has a reputation for helping just about everything ;o) ! It’s pretty common knowledge among many that Sage is used to rub on stings, that Thyme tea might help coughs and Chamomile is calming and restoring to the digestive system.

I myself hold workshops to make sure we all know what herbs to pick from the wild, our gardens and the kitchen to use for simple, self limiting complaints. Amongst other things, we make ointments together, Comfrey and Marigold for healing, and we learn how to knock up Rosehip syrup to make sure you get lots of vitamin C throughout the winter months.

Why the need for a Medical Herbalist?

Well. I’m all for people using ‘herbal first aid’ and trying infusions and single tinctures to see if that might help.  In fact, if I think that’s all that’s necessary I’m likely to suggest you try it before booking an appointment.  However, herbal medicine really comes into its own for more complex, long standing and difficult conditions.

What makes a qualified Medical Herbalist different then?

We study for 4 years, and have a Batchelor of Science degree.  It is compulsory to undertake 150 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 am I doing in my consultation?

Firstly I’m taking 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 indepth 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 its 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 bodies 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! How wonderful!

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist

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Snuffles and Sneezes!

Snuffles and Sneezes!

Do you seem to have year round hay fever? Wake up with that ‘all bunged up’ feeling? Are you constantly blowing your nose or fed up with sneezing all the time?

I see many people in my clinic who have been told they have to live with Rhinitis, meaning generalised inflammation of the upper respiratory channels. Most often this is put down to an unidentified ‘allergy’ which is causing inflammation! Whatever the cause, as a sufferer, you will know how irritating it can be.

Sometimes dietary changes can help. Whether there is an environmental allergen involved or not, identifying food intolerance can often lessen the load on the body if certain foods are eliminated from the diet. Dairy products and sugar are common mucus forming foods that can irritate any problems involving phlegm.

Diet may not be a problem at all, or may only be part of the whole picture. A detailed consultation with a professional herbalist is often helpful to piece together the symptoms and case history to identify patterns that you might not have noticed.

In terms of self help pure essential oil of tea tree (anti-septic) and eucalyptus smithii (decongestant) might be helpful to blocked sinuses if applied topically. Dilute a couple of drops of each in 25mls of carrier oil and massage into the painful areas. Elderflowers are anti-catarrhal, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic so can provide relief from a runny nose and sneezing whether allergy is implicated or not. These are often available in health food shops and best made into a tea from the dried flowers. You might be lucky and find a combination herbal tea with added eyebright and/or plantain – both these herbs also have anti-catarrhal effects and support the upper respiratory system in general.

Widely available nettle and chamomile possess anti-allergic properties so, whilst having no direct anti-catarrhal action may help if allergy is a feature.

Echinacea or elderberry may help as immune system support but it’s always best to seek professional advice if infection is present or the problem is persistent. Recurrent infection of the sinuses can be extremely painful and would call for more detailed help involving full consultation with a herbalist.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist

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Herbal Corner – The Winter Chills!

When it’s freezing outside, so how can we combat those winter chills?  Well, there are some things we can do that don’t involve taking herbs at all.  Firstly, when you go outside wrap up warm; putting a scarf around your neck to cover your nose and mouth will help to filter the cold air and shelter your respiratory tract from the wind.  Many years ago, before the days of electricity and gas, our sleep patterns were more in line with the day and night time hours.  It’s during the season of long nights and short days that we need more sleep. When our body is resting it helps repair itself, sleep is indeed a great healer!

Drinking hot water with lemon and honey added can give your immune system a boost; a slice of fresh, or pinch of dried ginger added is tasty and helpful to boot!!  Using plenty of garlic and other hot spices helps prevent the body from getting too cold.  Try ginger tea or use it in cooking along with other heating spices such as cinnamon, black pepper and chilli. So, the best thing to do if you feel yourself coming down with something is to eat something as hot (spicy heat not just temperature heat) as your taste allows – chilli or curry perhaps and make sure you get lots of sleep. Echinacea spp (purple coneflower) is well known these days for helping to boost the immune system.  It certainly does do that, supporting the body to do what it needs to do to fight winter infections and viruses.  As well as helping prevent infection, Echinacea may reduce the duration too!!  Another helpful herb is Sambucus nigra fructus (elder berries).  These rich berries also have antioxidant properties and have been proven to support the immune system and help fight the flu virus.

You might also be interested in my previous blog post Winter Herbs for some other great tips how to stay healthy in the winter.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need more information, and remember, seek professional advice from a Medical Herbalist if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any medication.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist

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