Strictly, "herbaceous" plants lack a woody stem
and die down at the end of the growing season, or forever
if the plant is an annual. However, herbalism cannot be adequately defined in terms of a specific botanical
group of plants that is used for medicinal purposes because the scope of "herbal" treatments and supplements is sometimes extended to include
the use of other plant or plant-like matter such as lichens,
fungi, roots and vegetables are outside what may
formally be called as "herbs".
is therefore often considered rather loosely
in terms of plants and other naturally occurring growing
species that are useful to mankind - but - "herbal" treatments or remedies are sometimes even extended to include other natural materials such as bee products and even shells and minerals. (Pharmacognosy is the correct term for the the study of all medicines derived from natural sources.)
Medicinal Uses of Herbalism
Herbalists' specialist knowledge of the properties of plants
- Which part(s) of the plant(s) to use.
Different parts (root, bark, leaf, fruit, flower)
have different properties.
- The dosage that should be given.
- For how long, and in what quantities
the remedy should be administered.
- The form in which the preparation
should be administered (e.g. orally, as creams/poultices).
These may include complex issues to be considered with
respect to the individual recipient and his/her condition. A combination of plant species may be appropriate and may involve specialist
knowledge to select and formulate.
The use of a single plant
species is known as a "simple".
Appropriate herbs, prepared and administered correctly
may help with a wide range of problems.
History of Herbalism
In the early stages of human history many aspects of life
such as diet, clothing, and broader cultural development
utilized increasing knowledge of plants, wild fruits, trees,
and flora generally. Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the relationships between people and plants and is still considered an effective way to discover possible future medicines.
The use of plants for medicinal purposes was recognised
in India over 2000 years ago. There are also ancient
Chinese records of the use of herbal remedies. The
Greek historian 'Pliny the Elder' said that the
Greeks produced both written and pictorial records of herbal
treatments as early as the 1st Century BC. The Byzantines
(in modern day Turkey) produced similar records in c. 500
AD. From the Middle Ages (ca 1100-1450) onwards numerous
European scholars documented and illustrated a wide
variety of plants together with accounts of their medical
benefits. Knowledge of the uses and effects of plants grew rapidly.
Awareness of their remedial properties for a variety of
health conditions, of their hallucinatory properties, of
their soporific and stimulating effects, and so on, encouraged
the emergence of professional "experts" and a
widespread interest that has continued to the present day.
During the centuries of global exploration, colonial expansion,
increasing trade, and improved communications (C16th - C19th),
numerous "new" plants were added to those known
The dominance of urban/industrial society
(especially in Europe and North America) of the last two
hundred years, together with increasing formalization of scientific knowledge coincided with a decline in use of some traditional remedies and the medical use of natural herbs generally. Increased availability of modern synthetic pharmaceutical products also contributed to obscuring the importance
and contributions of herbal treatments. For more information see the history of herbalism.
Herbal remedies are increasingly available from many sources such as dispensing chemists (which are called "pharmacies" or "drugstores" in
North America). This is part of a general trend of increasing
interest in more "natural"
approaches to health and wellness. In Europe, North America and elsewhere herbal remedies are increasingly
used to treat mild conditions and as dietary supplements that are widely considered to be ecologically friendly and less likely to lead to undesirable side-effects
associated with chemically-constructed synthetic products.
In addition to the increasing revival of interest in herbal treatments in developed countries, the use of herbs to treat disease is still widespread in non-industrialized societies where, in many cases, it was not displaced by modern pharmaceutical drugs to as great an extent as in more economically developed countries. In many parts of the world, including large areas of Asia and Africa, herbal medicines are often more affordable than modern pharmaceuticals and are commonly used for at least some aspects of primary health care.
What does a Herbalist Consultation / Treatment involve?
As with all medicines, there are circumstances in which
specific herbal preparations should not be used (that is,
are "contraindicated") for particular individuals.
Also as with other substances, some herbal preparations
can cause allergic reactions in some people. Herbalists
take these, and other considerations, into account when
recommending remedies for individuals.
Further Information about Herbalism
General information is available from:
- National Institute of Medical Herbalists
- National Herbalists Association of
- New Zealand Association of Medical