What is Herbal Medicine and How Can It Help Me?
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For centuries, herbalists have used herbs to soothe ailments, improve health, and contribute to a legacy of knowledge that has connected healers through time. Herbalism is a practice that has supported healthcare professionals and transformed lives of herbalists and people everywhere, but what exactly is it?
What is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicine, also called herbalism and herbal studies, is the study and practice of using plants therapeutically. You may have also heard herbal medicine called traditional medicine or pharmacognosy; however, pharmacognosy technically means ‘the knowledge of medicinal plant preparations and extracts,’ and it is commonly used in the context of medicinal drugs derived from plants.
In the U.S., herbal practitioners often use herbs to supplement their integrative health and wellness practice such as in chiropractic work, midwifery, or acupuncture. Herbalists also work as herbal educators, herbal consultants, herbal writers, naturopaths, and Registered Aromatherapists. Master herbalists can develop and market their own herbal products—such as fresh or dried herb, teas, and tinctures—for wholesale use or client practice. Herbal studies training is just the beginning of so many exciting potential careers.
How has herbal medicine been used in the past?
Herbal medicine has an extensive history—at least 3,000 years of active use across the world. According to Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, up to 90% of the population in Africa and over 50% of the Indian population still rely on the accumulated knowledge of herbal medicine to meet their primary healthcare needs; in China traditional medicine accounts for around 40% of healthcare.
Historically, herbalists champion a philosophy of wellness that takes into account a personal’s holistic needs—spiritual, emotional, and physical—in addition to their personal levels of stress and other external factors that have an impact on health. Community influences can also impact health. Examples of community influences include environmental issues that result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies, local pollutants, and socioeconomic factors. Understanding the impact of these factors and a person’s individual needs informs how an herbalist approaches client care.
What’s the difference between herbal hobbyists and trained professionals?
For the herbal hobbyist or do-it-yourself enthusiast, these resources can provide enough education to help you learn how to grow, identify, and harvest herbs for therapeutic use.
Herb buffs who want to incorporate herbal studies into their holistic health and wellness practice, begin a consulting or writing career, or formulate their own herbal natural products for others should learn through an accredited program, such as ACHS’s Diploma in Herbal Studies – Master Herbalist, Graduate Certificate in Herbal Medicine, or Master of Science in Herbal Medicine . These programs guide students through everything that you need to know about herbal medicine’s history and current use, the body’s structure and function in a healthy state, and principles of synergistic action between different herbs.
The knowledge that you can gain from a structured, quality program prepares you both in herbal medicine knowledge and career opportunities for the future, including information about important professional organizations like the American Herbalists Guild, which you may want to join.
Master herbalists also have the ability to take continuing education courses, expanding their knowledge of phytochemical structures, herbal monographs, analytical methods, and so much more so that your mastery of herbal medicine continues to grow with you throughout your career.
 Wachtel-Galor, S., & Benzie, I.F.F. (2011). Herbal medicine: an introduction to its history, usage, regulation, current trends, and research needs. In: Benzie, I.F.F, & Wachtel-Galor. S. (Eds.). Herbal medicine: biomolecular and clinical aspects (2nd ed). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92773/
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.