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


Tackling Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) – The Herbalists Approach

Tackling Hypertension - The Herbalist ApproachThe NHS claim that as many as 30% of the population have a blood pressure reading above what is currently considered normal.  This reading reflects the level of pressure blood vessel walls are subjected to; the theory being the higher the level the more demand is put on ones heart and circulatory system.

There are some herbs with a common reputation for use in hypertension – the use of hawthorn, valerian and garlic is well documented.  As a herbalist, I believe hypertension develops differently in each person; what contributes in one person will not be the same as another and so their prescription of herbs will be different too.  Blood vessel health is important so I might use blueberry or yarrow; kidney function is often implicated so I may choose a diuretic – dandelion leaf, celery seed and/or limeflower.  Often my  consultation reveals the nervous system and adrenals need attention, using supportive herbs such as oats, borage, valerian, limeflower, and skullcap may contribute to lowering blood pressure here.  If tension is an issue anti-spasmodics like cramp bark is often added for its effects on smooth muscle.  As we age our bodies become less able to cope with stresses and strains and hypertension can be one manifestation of this, including a heart supporting herb like hawthorn or rose is almost always indicated in these cases – traditionally, these herbs were referred to as cordials and were common place a couple of generations back!   Attention to diet can also help the body cope with age related hypertension.  Keep caffeine and alcohol to an abosolute minimum, same with salt (or try pink Himalayan salt instead), avoid processed foods, eat plenty of wholegrains and be careful with full fat dairy products.

Whatever method you use to control blood pressure, its vitally important to ensure you are regularly monitored by regular trips to your Medical Herbalist, GP, or practice nurse. Those with existing medical conditions or taking pharmaceuticals should always take advice from a Medical Herbalist before taking any herbal medicines. Do contact me for no obligation advice!

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist


Winter Herbs

Many of us grow herbs in our garden and only use them for cooking purposes – which is great, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to know which you can safely use to help common and simple ailments? I thought I’d share some information about things that you may find useful in these cold, winter months! Please do remember that the suggestions I make are intended as guidelines only and should not substitute medical advice, if in doubt then please contact your chosen health professional.

Many people wouldn’t class Allium cepa (onion) and Allium sativum (garlic) as herbs, but any plant substance that has medicinal value is classified as such by Medical Herbalists. Onion and garlic, belonging to the onion family, share some common properties useful at this time of year; both are expectorant and antibacterial, helpful for stubborn chesty coughs. A traditional recipe for winter coughs can be made by steeping sliced onion in honey for 48 hours in the fridge. Half a dozen garlic cloves can be added for extra potency if you don’t mind the smell!! The syrup is ready to use after 24 hours but best to leave for the full 48 before you strain it into a sterile bottle. Although not strictly a herb, the honey has its own soothing action to the chest and throat and has anti bacterial action too! The syrup can be kept refrigerated for a couple of weeks and a teaspoon taken up to 6 times daily. As garlic and onion both have hypoglycaemic actions and properties to support the circulatory system, a teaspoon or so taken daily can be a good all round tonic too.

Berries from the Sambucus nigra (elder) tree have been used traditionally at this time of year. Elderberries are proven to be active against the flu virus, are nutritive, have immune modulating properties and are diaphoretic (induce sweating). This can be helpful for chills and fevers. They are anti-viral, anti-oxidant and have been used by herbalists to treat winter coughs, colds and, of course the flu! You can collect your own berries (if you are confident with identification), juice and freeze them to keep a stock at hand. Otherwise bought juice or tincture can be used. Elderberry preparations can be made more palatable (they are sometimes fairly tart!) by adding some warming spices. Heating herbs such as Cinnamomum zeylanicum (cinnamon), Eugenia caryophyllus (cloves), Eletarria cardamomum (cardamom) and Zingiber officinalis (ginger) are all useful for warming up the body to fight the effects of a winter cold. They have the added advantage of being carminative to the digestion too. Try a tasty decoction (simmered infusion) of these warming spices using fruit juice and a little elderberry – you may be surprised, it’s like a non-alcoholic mulled wine – and its good for you too!!!

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist