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


New Term Challenges

New Term Challenges

A Medical Herbalist’s approach to this seasons’ childhood problems

The summer (what we had of it this year!) is over, autumn is nearly here and our children are returning to school.  Some will be just getting used to starting school, and the parents of these children may be new to the common complaints and ailments associated with lots of children mixing together. How do we deal with head lice, coughs and sneezes, warts and verrucas without resorting to pharmaceutical drugs?

Pediculosis capitas, otherwise known as head lice, are common amongst primary school children, especially those with long hair.  The lice are transmitted from head to head contact and the females lay their eggs (nits) close to the hair shaft.  A balm containing natural insect repellents and insecticides will help destroy living lice without the use of chemicals. Examples of such oils would be Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Lavendula officinalis (lavender), Pelargonium graveolens (geranium) and Eucalyptus spp. (eucalyptus).  It is important not to use essential oils undiluted so always seek professional advice on appropriate preparations.  Regularly rinsing the hair with a cold infusion of Picrasma excelsa cortex (quassia bark) may also act as a deterrent to re-infestation.

Coughs and colds are an inevitable part of a child’s first years at school.  The immune system is still developing and it can seem that some children have an endless cold, cough or runny nose.  Whilst the immune system needs to deal with these bugs so that it gets plenty of practice, herbal medicine can help it on its way, making it more efficient and stronger.  Many people already use Echinacea spp. (purple coneflower) which is a proven support for the immune system. Medical Herbalists know that there are many other suitable alternatives available, protecting the most overused herbs like Echinacea from becoming endangered.  Both the flowers and berries of the native Sambucus nigra (elder) tree are useful.  Elderflowers are diaphoretic (induce heat dispersion via sweating), immune stimulant, anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal so can be useful for high temperatures, infections, colds and sneezes.  Elderberries have been proven to be effective against the flu virus!  A gentle tasty syrup, made from Thymus vulgaris (thyme) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) with its expectorant and soothing properties may help ease a tickly cough.  Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) also has these properties and immune enhancing action too.

We all want our children to learn to swim, but young, or compromised immune systems may lead to verrucas from frequent visits to the swimming pool.  Verrucas are caused by the same papova virus that causes warts and an efficient immune system will deal with the problem itself.  Stubborn, or multiple outbreaks are much better treated under consultation with a fully qualified Medical Herbalist, who can create an individual prescription of herbs aimed at supporting the immune system, considering the patient’s unique medical history/family history/symptoms/diet etc. Simpler cases may respond to frequent use of an emulsion made from Thuja occidentalis (arbor-vitae) which is anti-viral and has a long tradition of use against warts and verrucas.  Similarly, the latex of Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) contains a protein dissolving enzyme which breaks down warts.  Greater celandine, however, is only available through a qualified Medical Herbalist.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist



The Medicinal Garden

Medicinal GardenIsn’t it wonderful to wander around at this time of year and see the beautiful fragrant plants on display in the gardens and countryside?  The nurseries, garden centres, DIY shops and even the supermarkets have a good range of fresh herbs and flowers in full bloom.

Whilst many people know the culinary uses of commonly sold fresh herbs I thought it would be good this month to talk about their medicinal qualities too.  A word of warning though, do please ensure you have the specific variety to which I am referring – simply check the labels just to make certain.

In the 1500s parsley (petroselinum crispum) was introduced into Britain as a renowned diuretic, digestive tonic and menstrual flow stimulator.  Nowadays, Medical Herbalists still use it in these ways for their patients.  Its also a very nutritive herb containing marked amounts of Vitamin C and Iron.

Sage (Salvia officinalis purpurascens/rubia) has many uses making it an excellent herb to have to hand.  Take a few fresh leaves and rub directly onto bites and stings as a quick anti-inflammatory first aid treatment.  Make an infusion and use hot or cold – its antiseptic and astringent qualities may help as a gargle/mouthwash for throat and gum problems.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another tasty common garden herb with medicinal actions.  Its antiseptic and astringent properties make it a suitable accompaniment or alternative to sage in problems associated with the mouth and throat.  Thyme is particularly renowned for its antiseptic, antispasmodic and expectorant properties explaining its use in coughs and other problems related to the lungs and respiratory system.  It also has an anti-fungal action which may help such things as athlete’s foot, ringworm and thrush.

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) is recognisable to most of us and smells brilliant fresh!!  Many people are surprised to hear it has medicinal value beyond its reputation for helping sleep.  It is definitely worth trying the flowers infused as a tea, its taste is delicate and has a number of actions beneficial to health.  The essential oil that gives lavender is wonderful scent has antiseptic, antibacterial and analgesic properties.  Fresh flowers are calming to the nerves and are antispasmodic, helping with spasm and tension, both muscular and in the digestive system.

Finally Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – a hardy woody herb with characteristic fragrant spiky leaves.  Rosemary has antidepressant properties, is a circulatory stimulant and nerve tonic which means an infusion can be quite uplifting to the spirits.  A pleasant tasting and caffeine free alternative to coffee perhaps?  Its essential oil is carminative and antispasmodic, useful qualities again for digestive or muscular pain and spasm.  Traditionally speaking, a rosemary infusion is used externally to help hair growth – understood maybe by its ability to improve circulation to the head and scalp.  This may also explain its use for memory and concentration.  Overall, it makes a pleasant drink hot, cold or luke warm – especially if you are feeling in need of uplifting and restoring.

As with all herbal remedies please be sensible.  2 – 3 cups of an infusion per day using a teaspoon of herb should be sufficient for most peoples needs.  If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any other medication then please take advice from a Medical Herbalist prior to taking any remedies.  Should you have any questions, or require a private one to one consultation then please do contact me.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist