What is an Herbalist? & other FAQs

*The information on this page is reposted from the American Herbalist Guild’s website.*

WHAT IS AN HERB?
Medicinally, an herb is any plant or plant part used for its therapeutic value. Yet, many of the world’s herbal traditions also include mineral and animal substances as “herbal medicines”.

WHAT IS HERBAL MEDICINE?
Herbal medicine is the art and science of using herbs for promoting health and preventing and treating illness. It has persisted as the world’s primary form of medicine since the beginning of time, with a written history more than 5000 years old. While the use of herbs in America has been overshadowed by dependence on modern medications the last 100 years, 75% of the world’s population still rely primarily upon traditional healing practices, most of which is herbal medicine.

HOW ARE HERBS DIFFERENT FROM PHARMACEUTICALS?
Most pharmaceutical drugs are single chemical entities that are highly refined and purified and are often synthesized. In 1987 about 85% of modern drugs were originally derived from plants. Currently, only about 15% of drugs are derived from plants. In contrast, herbal medicines are prepared from living or dried plants and contain hundreds to thousands of interrelated compounds. Science is beginning to demonstrate that the safety and effectiveness of herbs is often related to the synergy of its many constituents.

HOW IS HERBAL MEDICINE DIFFERENT FROM CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE?
The primary focus of the herbalist is to treat people as individuals irrespective of the disease or condition they have, and to stimulate their innate healing power through the use of such interventions as herbs, diet, and lifestyle. The primary focus of conventional physicians is to attack diseases using strong chemicals that are difficult for the body to process, or through the removal of organs. Not only does this ignore the unique makeup of the individual, but many patients under conventional care suffer from side effects that are as bad as the condition being treated. The philosophical difference between herbalists and conventional physicians has profound significance.

WHAT IS AN HERBALIST?
Herbalists are people who dedicate their lives to working with medicinal plants. They include native healers, scientists, naturopaths, holistic medical doctors, researchers, writers, herbal pharmacists, medicine makers, wild crafters, harvesters, and herbal farmers to name a few. While herbalists are quite varied, the common love and respect for life, especially the relationship between plants and humans, unites them. Persons specializing in the therapeutic use of plants may be medical herbalists, traditional herbalists, acupuncturists, midwives, naturopathic physicians, or even one’s own grandmother.

HOW CAN HERBS AND HERBAL MEDICINE HELP ME?
Herbs can offer you a wide range of safe and effective therapeutic agents that you can use as an integral part of your own health care program. They can be used in three essential ways:

  1. to prevent disease
  2. to treat disease
  3. to maximize one’s health potential

Herbs are also used for the symptomatic relief of minor ailments.

HOW CAN I KNOW IF A PARTICULAR HERB WILL WORK FOR ME?
Medicine is an art, not just a science. No one can predict which herb will work best for every individual in all situations. This can only come with educated self-experimentation and experience or by seeking the assistance of those who are knowledgeable in clinical herbal medicine. The simpler the condition, the easier it is to find a solution. The more complicated the condition, the greater the need there is to seek expert advice.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR HERBS TO BE EFFECTIVE?
The success of herbal treatment always depends upon a variety of factors including how long the condition has existed, the severity of the condition, the dosage and mode of administration of the herb(s), and how diligently treatment plans are followed. It can be as short as 60 seconds when using a spoonful of herbal bitters for gas and bloating after a heavy meal; 20 minutes when soaking in a bath with rosemary tea for a headache; days when using tonics to build energy; or months to correct long-standing gynecological imbalances. Difficult chronic conditions can often take years to reverse.

HOW SAFE ARE HERBS?
It depends on the herbs. Most herbs sold as dietary supplements are very safe. When used appropriately, the majority of herbs used by practitioners have no adverse side effects. A review of the traditional and scientific literature worldwide demonstrates that serious side effects from the use of herbal medicines are rare. According to Norman Farnsworth: “Based on published reports, side effects or toxic reactions associated with herbal medicines in any form are rare. In fact, of all classes of substances reported to cause toxicities of sufficient magnitude to be reported in the United States, plants are the least problematic.”

HOW DO HERBALISTS PRACTICE?
Herbalists can practice either as primary health care providers or adjunctive health care consultants. Most visits to an herbalist begin with a consultation about your past and current health history, your dietary and lifestyle practices, or other factors related to your health issue. The herbalist, with your involvement, should develop an integrated herbal program that addresses your specific health needs and concerns. You should be treated as a whole person, not as a disease.