Herbal Medicine

Herbal MedicineHerbal Medicine – or phytotherapy – is the treatment of disease using plant preparations – a practice relied on by around 80% of the world’s population to this day, according to the World Health Organisation.  Herbal remedies are the oldest forms of medicine and their use in treating ailments is supported by scientific research.  Practitioners combine knowledge and training in medical sciences with an understanding of the chemical composition of plants, botanical sciences and traditional practice, to treat patients.

Unlike pharmaceutical medicines – which, although often based on plants, are reduced to single chemicals – herbal medicines use extracts from the whole plant, meaning that the constituents are balanced.  This provides the patient with nutritional and immunological benefits which pharmaceuticals generally lack – in other words, herbal medicine provides a holistic solution to a condition.

Whilst the practice of herbal medicine is based on centuries of empirical evidence, modern clinical evidence is increasing in both quality and quantity in support of the traditional use of plants in herbal medicine. 

Society in the twentyfirst century is increasingly looking towards more natural, sustainable and healthy lifestyle choices.  We tend to do more exercise, are more conscious of what we eat and drink and where it is sourced, we are increasingly better informed about and sensitive to our environment, and are exploring more balanced ways in which to lead our lives.  It makes sense then, in an age where we seek to increase the natural foods in our diet, that we should explore the possibilities of natural medicine.

What can Herbal Medicine treat?

Generally speaking, a herbal medicine practitioner would treat the majority of the conditions that you would expect to consult a regular GP for.  In particular, herbal medicine is used to treat the following conditions:

  • Digestive problems – Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); indigestion, heart burn, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, ulcers, colitis, liver problems, IBD, dysbiosis of the gut.
  • Circulatory problems – high/low blood pressure, varicose veins, angina, poor circulation, swollen ankles, palpitations, oedema.
  • Hormonal problems – PMS, period pain, menopause, irregular cycle, endometriosis, fibroids, cysts, infertility (male and female).
  • Urinary problems – cystitis (acute or recurrent), irritable bladder, prostate problems, thrush.
  • Respiratory problems – bronchitis, colds, asthma, sinusitis, hay fever, coughs, recurrent infection, sore throats.
  • Skin problems – psoriasis, fungal infections, acne, eczema.
  • Stress-related problems - insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress, headaches, ME/chronic fatigue, feeling run-down.
  • Many other issues, including allergies/sensitivities, arthritis, gout, muscle pain, PMR, fibromyalgia, children’s illnesses, pregnancy-related problems, ante/post natal care, mastitis

A qualified herbalist is also trained to recognise when to refer a patient to their doctor or other practitioner when appropriate.

How does Herbal Medicine work?

Herbal medicines act to nourish and sustain the body, restoring function to weakened tissue and organs, and encouraging the body to heal itself.  Most medicine, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, is derived from plant matter but, unlike pharmaceutical drugs which contain isolated chemicals, herbal medicine uses extracts from the whole plant.  These active extracts thus contain hundreds of active constituents, meaning that the medicine is balanced and moderated – resulting in fewer side effects and a holistic remedy.

What treatment can I expect?

Herbalists use similar diagnostic skills to your GP.  However, a herbal practitioner will take a more holistic view of the patient’s condition, taking into account not only current symptoms but also medical history, general health, nutrition and the current state of body and mind.  The aim here is to establish and resolve the underlying cause of the patient’s problem, rather than to solely treat the individual symptoms.  That is a herbalists main principle – a herbalist will view their patient’s clinical picture as a study of a web of interlocking relationships rather than a quest for single cause and a single cure for a single ailment.

Follow-up consultations may be required and may include adjustment to the prescription.

Following the consultation, a unique prescription consisting of a combination of plants, specific to the patient’s requirements, is blended.  This is usually in the form of a liquid tincture, but may also take the form of decoctions, infusions, creams, oils, tablets, poultices, macerates, syrups and inhalations – for internal or external use as appropriate.

Can I take Herbal Medicine alongside other drugs?

Generally speaking, most forms of herbal medicine can be used alongside other forms of treatment.  However, a qualified herbalist will advise the patient and their doctor regarding any potential contraindications and/or interaction with pharmaceutical medication.

What experience does a Herbalist have to treat my illness?

A qualified herbalist is trained over three or four years in medical sciences, including anatomy, physiology, diet and nutrition, pharmology, pathology and clinical medicine (including 500 hours of clinical training) – as well as in botany and herbal therapeutics.  The herbalist would then typically qualify with a BSc in Phytotherapy. 

Trained practitioners may belong to one or both of two professional bodies:  CPP – College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy or NIMH - National Institute of Medical Herbalists

All members of both organisations are fully insured, undergo continual professional development, adhere to a strict code of ethics and to the highest standards of practice.

Isobel Ravden is fully qualified, with a BSc in Phytotherapy from the University of Wales, and is a member of the CPP.

How much does it cost?

The following costs are provided as an indication rather than being definitive – fees will vary depending on consultation time and type of medicine prescribed.

Herbal Medicine  
First Consultation 
Follow-up Consultation from £20 for 20 minutes
Drop in / Health Check £15
Prescription (per week) from £7 (medicines priced individually)

The main benefits of Herbal Medicine are as follows:

  • A wide range of treatments can be used internally and externally.
  • The chances of negative side-effects are greatly reduced.
  • The patient is treated holistically – lifestyle, nutrition, medical history, physical and mental health are all taken into account.
  • Herbal medicine has existed for centuries – with each culture independently using similar actions from indigenous plants - so patients can be assured of the research and practice behind it, as well as having proof of its success.
  • A properly qualified herbalist can advise on interaction, contraindications, diet and lifestyle.