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Herbal medicine is every civilisation’s ‘original’ medicine, and is the foundation on which modern allopathic medicine is built. It’s also known as medical herbalism, clinical herbalism, herbology, botanical medicine and (more recently) phytotherapy. Using plants to as medicine is a practice which predates written history, and every civilisation and culture has had it’s own form of herbal therapy, from Ayurveda in India to traditional Chinese medicine and western herbalism.


At least 7,000 medical compounds in the modern pharmacopoeia are derived from plants, and many modern drugs are synthesised from botanical compounds. Many modern drugs such as Digoxin (a synthetic heart medication developed from foxgloves) and Quinine, which was developed from compounds found in cinchona bark and is used to treat malaria, are synthetic versions of the active compounds found in various plants.


One of the biggest differences between herbal medicine and conventional modern allopathic drugs is that herbalists tend to use the whole plant, or a part of the whole plant (such as leaves, roots or flowers), whereas modern drugs tend to be based on isolating specific compounds or substances. Herbalists do not do this because they believe that the plant is a natural balance of many different substances, and that the balance is there for a reason and should be maintained.


Herbal medicine comes in many different forms, including:


* Teas, which may also be known as tisanes or infusions. These can be sold either loose or in tea bags

* Tablets or Capsules

* Creams, ointments and other topical preparations

* Tinctures or glycerites - these are made by steeping plant material in alcohol (for tinctures) or glycerine (for glycerites) which acts as a solvent to draw out the active ingredients. 

Herbal medicine is available over the counter from herbalist/apothecary shops, as well as in many health food shops, pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores. It is also available from herbalists, many of whom make their own remedies for their patients.


Many people make the mistake of thinking that, because something is natural, it is safe. This simply isn’t true. Nicotine, opium, ricin, cyanide and strychnine are all naturally-occurring substances in plants, but all can be fatal, in some cases in very small quantities. The same care must be taken with herbal medicines as it is with all other medication to follow the instructions on the label or from the herbal practitioner, not to exceed the stated dose and to store in its original packaging out of reach of children.


For more information, please see the links below:


Advice on herbal medicine usage from the British Herbal Medicine Association on the safe use of herbal medicine

Find a herbal practitioner via the National Institute of Medical Herbalists

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