An Introduction to Herbal Medicine... 




General information and Safety

Herbs have been used for thousands of years to heal illnesses. Herbal Medicine is often viewed as an unusual way to treat disease, but in fact is used by over 80% of the world's population as a way to treat illness.There are often questions over the safety of herbs. You should always use herbs with care.  Do not take herbs without knowledge of the safe doses to use.


Having said that the "trials" of herbs have lastesd hundreds of years with notes passed down regarding side effects and safe doses. Although these "trials" have been conducted in a very different way to modern synthetic drugs, none-the-less they form an important and valid reference point for safety of use. In some respects, because hundreds of years have been spent gathering this information the information on herbal medicine may be more reliable than the modern synthetic drug trials.



Will I get any side effects from taking herbs?

Although herbs must always be taken with care, and may cause ill effects if taken to excess, they are generally noted as having fewer side effects than modern synthetic drugs.


One of the reasons herbs have very few side effects is that the active constituents in the herb (the ingredients that make the herb work therapeutically for you), often act as a buffer to each other; this means that your body is less likely to experience extreme reactions so your body moves further towards balance.


The herb Valerian has been used since Hippocratic times as a non-addictive, non-toxic tranquillizer. Compare this to benzodiazepine drugs that have a strong likelihood of drug dependency.


Another example is of dandelion, a truly wonderful herb with many uses. One of the uses is to act as a diuretic, so rids the body of excess fluid. Modern synthetic diuretics have a side effect of depleting the body of potassium, so extra potassium is needed. However, with dandelion, the herb itself contains potassium so excess potassium is not lost from the body.


Will herbal medicicine be effective in helping my health problems?

The effectiveness of herbs has also been well documented over hundreds of years. Recent research into herbal medicine shows significant benefits. The cost of this research poses a problem, as there are limited funds to run such studies, so the amount of research is small in comparison to the research undertaken by the big pharmaceutical companies.


In modern day society the effectiveness of herbal medicine is being rediscovered by thousands of people. Much household use and knowledge of herbs had been lost. Now many people are becoming reluctant to overly rely on synthetic drugs and are once again finding herbs help them to regain health and vitality.


Tonic Effect

One of the great effects of herbs is that one herb can have many different uses. Because you will always be treated holistically in Naturopathy one herb can be used to treat different organs of the body. It not only has an effect on a particular organ or system of the body, but also acts often as a tonic to that part of the body, so easing your symptoms AND strengthening your weaker areas. For example the calming sedative effect of Valerian, which may be chosen if your are feeling anxious or stressed, will not only calm you, but also strengthen your nervous system so you are less likely to feel anxious in the future.    


Synergistic Effect

Some herbs work very well when taken alone (as a "simple"). Some herbs should not be taken alone in some conditions. The majority of herbs work best taken with other herbs, that is the interaction of the herbs with each other causes them all to work better for your body. This is called the synergistic effect. On the other hand there are herbs that do not work at all well together and the combination decreases the effectiveness of each herb.


Herbal Teas, Tinctures, Liquid Extracts.

Herbs can be used in a number of different forms.


Herbal teas are the simplest form. A herbal tea made from fresh herbs is a warming gentle medicine. However, teas often do not keep very well and the active constituents (the ingredients in the herbs that make it work therapeutically) can become depleted over time. Also not all the active constituents in some herbs can be extracted by water.


An effective way of extracting the active constituents in herbs is by using alcohol or glycerites.


Herbal tinctures and Liquid extracts are made by using alcohol of a certain strength (different strengths and ratios are used for different herbs) to extract the active ingredients of that particular herb.  Liquid extracts use a higher ratio of herb to alcohol is used, so it is a stronger medicine.


Herbal Glycerites are made by using glycerine to extract the active constituents. They are more effective than water in getting the useful ingredients out of the herbs, but are not appropriate to use with many herbs, as they do not dissolve resinous or oily material as well as alcohol does. They are easier to take for many people though, especially where alcohol may cause irritation.


Herbal Capsules and Tablets Many people like the idea and simplicity of taking herbs in tablet or capsule form. The source of the tablets is an important consideration. It is necessary to know exactly how much of the active constituents in the herb are present. There are some companies that will sell herbal tablets made of mainly fillers not herb! Also when the herb is present, it is important to know how fresh the herb was when it was put into tablet form, and, how much of the useful ingredients are still there. Although it is possible to make tablets from powders the source of the power is still vitally important. I always recommend reputable companies for herbal tablets and capsules.


A disadvantage of an herbal tablet is that it is difficult to choose a selection of remedies that will help that individual at that time. By using herbal tinctures or Fluid Extracts it is easy to combine whatever remedies that are unique to your needs.


Contact Bay Health Clinic today to find out more about how herbal medicine might help you regain your health and vitality, or to book a consultation with one of our Naturopaths. Where indicated, they will also prepare tailored herbal medicines and recommend supplements to help you feel your best.  Call 07 571 3226 or email us:


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