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Western Herbal Medicine

Many plant extracts contain powerful active ingredients; they may, for example, have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory or anti-viral properties but they are used by herbalists in a different way from the way doctors use conventional drugs

Herbalist mixing up herbs
Herbs aim to restore the body's natural state of balance to aid the healing process

In other words, they are not designed simply to alleviate symptoms but also to restore the body's natural state of balance so that it can deal with the underlying cause of the symptoms.

This effect is achieved by careful selection of the appropriate remedies, bearing in mind not only the important active ingredients but also the plant's secondary components, which play a role in the healing process.

Consulting a herbalist

The fact that herbalism is a holistic therapy means that a practitioner will need a great deal of information before deciding how to treat a particular individual. It is very likely that, as well as prescribing remedies, the herbalist will give you advice about a healthy diet and any other lifestyle changes that may be needed to improve your general wellbeing.

It is important to tell a herbalist who is treating you about any other medication you are currently taking, whether on prescription or bought over the counter, as some remedies may interact with orthodox medicines.

Equally important, you should make sure that any doctor treating you knows that you are already taking or are intending to take a particular herbal remedy. If you decide to treat yourself rather than consult a trained herbalist, it is a wise precaution to consult your GP if you have a long-standing condition and/or are currently taking any medication prescribed by him or her.

Take with care

Just because a remedy is herbal, does not mean it cannot have strong effects - in fact many of our strongest poisons come from plants. There have been a number of alerts about the safety of herbal medicines recently.

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, which represents 550 qualified herbalists, has expressed its concern at the quality of some over-the-counter herbal remedies, pointing out that they may contain the wrong balance of ingredients or higher concentrations of chemical extracts.

Find a herbalist

National Institute of Medical Herbalists

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.