The Definitive Guide To Western Herbal Medicine


History of Western Herbal Medicine

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.

What is the difference between Western Herbal Medicine and Chinese Herbal Medicine?

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.

How to choose a Western Herbal Medicine therapist

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:

  • Qualifications: Associations like ANTA offer accreditation in Western Herbal Medicine and training through a variety of Registered Training Organisations. The Australian Traditional-Medicine Society ‘minimum education standards’ offer course work that equates to an Advanced Diploma and involves clinical training and the study of science-based subjects. Some universities also offer courses including a Bachelor of Health Science (Western Herbal Medicine) and an Advanced Diploma of Western Herbal Therapeutics.
  • Expertise: Your therapist should complete an assessment before you undergo any treatment, including assessing your medical history, your habits, and your health needs to obtain a holistic view of your health.
  • Current knowledge: Check whether your herbal medicine therapist is well-versed in recent research. Make sure your chosen therapist is up-to-date with the latest techniques and practices.
  • Safety: There is a wide body of research supporting the safety and effectiveness of many herbs, however, you should speak to your doctor and herbal medicine therapist about the potential side effects of any herbal preparations.
  • Cleanliness: Ensure your herbal medicine therapist’s treatment room is clean and presented professionally.

Questions to ask your Western Herbal Medicine therapist

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.

  • Do you abide by the current industry regulations? Professional organisations like ANTA govern the majority of natural therapy practitioners. We are committed to the delivery of public safety, quality health care and promoting informed choices in Western Herbal Medicine with our Scope and Standards of Practice.
  • Do you have any industry memberships? A membership with a bona fide association like ours is a good indicator of the quality of the therapy and treatments you are likely to receive. We have strict membership and qualifications criteria, a Professional Code of Ethics that members must abide by, a formal complaint handling process, and a policy on Professional Indemnity Insurance.
  • How long did you study for? This depends on the study your therapist has undertaken and can range from courses that run for a few weeks to formal university qualifications that can take up to three years to complete.
  • Are the medicines you recommend regulated? The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is a federal government department that regulates all medicines in Australia, including complementary medicines. Under Australian law, every complementary medicine is assessed for the quality and safety of its ingredients, but not always for their efficacy. However, complementary medicines that are deemed ‘high risk’ are generally assessed for efficacy, and this is done by looking at data from clinical trials supplied by the manufacturer.