Herbal formulas are one of the oldest and most widespread forms of medicine. Herbal remedies history is centred mostly on the ancient Greeks, who were strongly influenced by Middle Eastern and Egyptian civilisations. However, it also has roots in the indigenous practices of ancient Roman traditions, and the British Isles.
Greek physicians, including Hippocrates, were thought to have used herbal medicine in their practices around 400 BC. This was partly because he and his followers were among the first to consider a system that separated religious practice from medicine. They insisted that sickness originated in the physical body, rather than being caused by punishment from the Gods or spiritual illness.
For many centuries, there was not a distinct separation between the practice of medicine and the use of herbs. Instead, primary remedies included surgery, considering diet and using animal and plant-derived medicines. However, it is thought that like other Greek physicians, Hippocrates based his views of plant use on the knowledge and practice handed down from ancient Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian healing systems.
Herbal medicine history is often assumed to be equivalent to the history of medicine in Europe, which often unconsciously involves herbalism as well. However, what we often call Western medicine has deep roots in the traditional healing systems of Asia and Africa. Many unique theories also exist because the use of plants in healing is intrinsic to human cultures, and rich individual traditions of herbalism exist in every part of the world.
In terms of the herbs used, there is a great deal of overlap between Western and Chinese herbal medicine. For example, astragalus is a flowering Chinese plant that is fundamental to Chinese herbal medicine, and it gained popularity in the West in the 1980s.
The main difference between the two herbal medicines is the philosophy. A key element of Chinese herbalism is the existence of Qi (energy) in the human body. A smooth flow indicates good health, whereas diseases are usually related to a blockage in certain parts of the body.
It is also believed that aspects of a person’s mental health — including anxiety, stress and happiness — can positively or negatively affect the functions of internal organs. This is why acupuncture is often used in Chinese herbal medicine. The meridians in acupuncture are the pathways of energy through the body that connect the body’s surface to its internal organs.
The impact of the environment on health is another important feature of Chinese herbal medicine. This theory asserts that a person’s health is closely associated with their environment, such as their working or living conditions. Examples include people suffering neck pain due to computer usage, humidity causing discomfort or sluggishness, and people with arthritis suffering more pain on cold days.
Practitioners of Chinese herbalism also prefer herbal formulas where the herbs work together synergistically to treat the root cause of imbalance and the various patterns of disease in the body. Traditionally, Western Herbal Medicine treats symptoms based on a single remedy or herb.
A Western Herbal Medicine therapist in Australia requires formal qualifications to practise. Many of these can be gained through university qualifications or professional associations.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
Once you’ve found a potential therapist, it is worth asking them the following questions to ensure they are credible and a good fit for you.