What is Herbal Medicine?

‘Herbal medicine’ is the therapeutic use of plant preparations to prevent disease, enhance health and alleviate suffering.

Herbal medicine is also known as ‘plant medicine’ or ‘phyto-medicine’. It is the traditional medicine of all cultures and remains the most widely used system of medicine in the world today.

Herbal medicine expertise is grounded in empirical knowledge that has been transferred over generations. This centuries old knowledge is now validated by evidence-based standards, modern science confirms that medicinal plants help to reduce stress, improve sleep, enhance stamina, and aid digestion, immunity and detoxification. It is therefore no surprise, that plant medicine has been used continuously as mainstream medicines and household remedies across all times and all cultures to help people live a healthier life.

Medicinal Flowers in a Teacup by Jacqueline Brown

Modern Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine as practiced today is a blend of traditional herbal knowledge and modern medical science. With the best of both worlds, patients can benefit from the combined knowledge and wisdom of both these approaches by visiting a medical herbalist.
Medicinal plants contain nourishing nutrients (naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, trace elements) as well as unique phytochemicals that effectively re-balance and strengthen human physiology. They are quite different from modern vitamin pills which will cover a nutritional gap but don’t have the additional deeper and long-term benefits that herbs have.

In New Zealand, plant medicine was taught at medical schools well into the middle of the 20th century. Prior to the recent advent of synthetic drugs in the late 19th century, physicians used safe and effective plant medicines to heal their patients. It’s encouraging to see that there is a renaissance happening in medicine where plant medicines are coming back into mainstream use.

In developing countries, 70-95% of people still rely on traditional medicine as their primary form of health care (World Health Organisation). A large percentage of modern drugs originate or are still made from plants and plant derivatives.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) by J_Brown
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) by J. Brown

What does a Medical Herbalist do?

A medical herbalist has a strong focus on working with people to alleviate their symptoms as well as to correct underlying physiological imbalances such as stress related issues, fatigue, immune deficiencies, insomnia, digestive and reproductive problems. Many health issues can be addressed naturally and early on so that they don’t get out of hand. We use mainly medicinal herbs and sometimes add nutritional supplements if indicated. As part of the treatment plant we might suggest lifestyle choices that support optimum health. Interestingly, most people using natural healthcare are not against conventional medicines per se and use them in emergencies or when there is no other option available but prefer to seek out natural methods as the first line of treatment. To learn more about what medical herbalists do, please visit our What is a Medical Herbalist page.