WHAT IS HERBALISM?
May food be your medicine and medicine - your food.
There are no incurable diseases - only the lack of desire.
There are no non-healing herbs - only the lack of knowledge.
-(Attributed to Avicenna and Chinese medicinal texts)
What Is It?
A plant that is used as a medicine is referred to as a herb, the Latin word herba, the Old French erbe, and a derivation of Middle English herbe. It can be pronounced with or without the initial h-sound.
Originally, the term herb only applied to non-woody plants. Later, it came to be used to refer to any part of any plant used for flavoring or medicine. In the field of complementary and alternative health care, it is now used to mean any plant, in whole or in part, having nutritional and/or medicinal value. Individual or combined parts of the plant tha may used include: seed, fruit, bark, flower, leaf, stem, or root/rhizome.
Herbalism, or phytotherapy, is the use of plant to support the natural healing ability of the body. Several types of herbal medicine systems are in use today -- including Ayurvedic, Chinese, European, Native American, and Western herbalism. Even though each system uses different morphologies, terms and herbs, each of these systems treat the body holistically, using the energy of plants to work in synergy with the natural energy in each individual, in order to help the body heal itself.
As a remedy, a plant may be used alone (known as a simple), or in combination, working synergistically to enhance each herb's properties. There are multiple ways to dispense herbs: aromatics, decoctions, infusions (hot or cold), juices, liniments, lotions, medicated oils, pills (tablets or capsules), poultices and fomentations, powders, salves and ointments, syrups, teas, tinctures or extracts (alcohol or glycerol bases), and whole herbs (dried or fresh). The choice of form by the herbalist takes into consideration the nature of the imbalance and the method to best take full advantage of the healing attributes of the specific herb. To increase effectiveness, herbs may be used both internally and externally.
For How Long Have People Been Practicing It?
Plants have always been the primary source of medicine people.
The earliest Vedic texts, dating from 1500-1200 BC, contained descriptions of various maladies, cures involving prayers, and herbal remedies.
Medicinal plants are mentioned in the Bible, and various herb are mentioned throughout.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth....
And God said, Behold, have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth,
and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man.
The earliest written records of Egyptian herbal practices are found in the Ebers Papyrus (16th century BC), which contains over 800 prescriptions and recipes. Herodotus claims that the pyramid builders consumed large quantities of garlic and onions in order to aid their endurance.
Hundreds of herbs and their uses were common to ancient India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. As Barbara Griggs points out (James Duke, Green Pharmacy, 1997) "the drug inventories of the three great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and India show such remarkable similarities that there was obviously a continual exchange of discovery and information among the professionals."
Hippocrates (460-377 BC), practiced a system of holistic medicine focusing his treatments on the person rather than the disease. Considered the father of medicine, he attempted to weed out various aspects of superstition in the application of herbs for healing as well as to document methods of pathology, diagnosis, treatment, and medical ethics. Plato continued: " to heal even an eye, one must heal the head, and indeed the whole body."
The earliest Chinese herbal was the Shen Nong Pen T'sao Jing or Emperor Shen Nong's Classic Herbal, published in 200 BC and containing 365 herbs. The earliest known and most important document of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the Huang-ti Nei-ching or The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, written in the 3rd century BC.
The two most important medical figures of Rome were Dioscorides and Galen. Dioscorides' most significant contribution was the five botanical books entitled De Materia Medica, which became the foundation for all subsequent materia medicas for the next 1600 years throughout Europe. About 80% of Dioscorides' materia medica consisted of plant medicines. Galen, who lived around 130 AD, authored over 400 works, his most important being De Simplicibus. Galen described the European humoural system which prevailed throughout the middle ages.
The early Christian church discouraged the formal practice of medicine, encouraging instead the use of faith healing. It attempted to destroy the ancient knowledge of herbs and natural medicine, but, thankfully, the monasteries preserved in manuscripts and in their gardens the healing prescriptions.
During the Middle Ages, 400 to 1500's AD, two medical figures of the Muslim Empire made significant contributions to medicine. Rhazes, (late 800's and early 900's) wrote the first accurate descriptions of measles and smallpox. Avicenna (late 900's and early 1000's) wrote a grand medical encyclopedia called Canon of Medicine, which influenced medicine for over 600 years. During the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, many important herbals appeared, detailing the use of plants as medicines. Four of the greatest English Renaissance herbalists were William Turner, John Gerard and John Parkinson, and Nicolas Culpepper.
In response to the a system of medical practice in the United States that included the use of toxic substances, Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) was driven to create an herbal system based on Native American herbal remedies and sweat baths. His major tenet was "every man as his own doctor". Another group of herbal physicians was started in the 1830s by Wooster Beach, MD (1794-1868), the Reformed Botanic movement (or the "American System of Medicine"). Eventually Beach's movement became known as Eclectic Medicine. It introduced many herbs into common use and allowed physicians to select therapies from other medical areas such as Allopathy, Homeopathy, and Hydrotherapy. It ended in the 1930's. Current practitioners may use any or a combination of the above methods.
What Are The Benefits of It?
Phytotherapy has physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. It can be used with everyone - from infants to pregnant women to the elderly.
Each herb contains many constituents and a combination of properties. Most essential oils are antiseptic; many are also antiviral, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antidepressant, expectorant, diuretic, digestive, stimulant, or relaxant, for example.
Phytotherapy can benefit the following conditions, among others (just a few examples are given for each):
What Can I Expect In a Session With You?
Prior to our initial meeting, you will be given an assessment form requesting you to detail your current medical history and lifestyle. This will provide me with the information necessary to select the appropriate herbs and other modalities for the maximum therapeutic benefit.
The first session usually lasts one-and-a-half hours. After we review the contents of your assessment, we will focus on your healing goals for this visit. We will determine your needs and preferences, and I will recommend a holistic plan (including dietary and lifestyle changes), and, if appropriate, I will create an Individualized Blend for you to reach your healing goals.
Because herbal medicines are slower acting than pharmaceuticals, you will be asked to return for a follow-up in two to four weeks. Follow-up sessions usually last from 30 to 60 minutes.