Herbalism is part of an ancient tradition of healing using plants which extends back to the annals of time. It must surely be the original form of treatment for disease based on an understanding of local plants and the appropriate climate for growing them. Herbalists must learn many skills, including the cultivation of herbs, preparation of herbal medications, disease diagnosis and dispensing herbal medication.
Herbalism must be as old as the hills. The use of plant-based medicine is documented in all the oldest known texts and ancient herbals. It taps into the most ancient sources of wisdom- often held by women who traditionally were the physicians in a community. Herbal medicine is an important component of traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine. In Europe, plant healers travelled enormous distances across the continent and came to the UK and Wales (Myddfai) in particular to collect their healing herbs. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries use herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care because pharmaceuticals are prohibitively expensive. Herbal medicines can be grown from seed or gathered from nature for little or no cost.
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Herbals give instructions on the part of the plant to use and the best means of preparing it. Herbal remedies come in all shapes and sizes as water-based preparations, infusions, decoctions and syrups to be ingested, poultices and compresses to apply and enemas and pessaries to insert. They can also be made into tinctures in alcohol and diluted or made into creams, lotions, ointments and pills. In order to practice herbalism holistically it is necessary to understand three basic principles which were written by Galen (1st century AD) and translated by Nicholas Culpeper in 1652:
(1) Understand the affinity of the herb to a pattern of disease,
(2) Understand the affinity of the herb to an organ or system, and
(3) Understand the affinity of the herb to the basic pattern of self-governance in the organism (from centre to circumference).
Herbal remedies help with all ailments that don’t require surgical intervention. They are also supportive pre and post-operations. The vulneraries, in particular, are excellent at wound healing. They can be very powerful and shouldn’t be combined with conventional medicine without seeking advice. Medical herbalists are trained in synergetic relationships of herbs and pharmaceuticals.
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) is the United Kingdom’s leading professional body and voluntary regulator of herbal practitioners.
The BHMA is an open association of mainstream healthcare professionals, CAM Practitioners and members of the public who want to adopt a more holistic approach in their own life and work.