Herbal Medicine: What is it?

Using herbs as both medicine and food has most likely been around as long as humankind. Even today scientists are discovering that many animals choose to incorporate different plant life into their diets when they are feeling ill.  The more that we observe the more that we find that most animal life understands the inherent worth of plants not only as food sources but also to cure ailments. Some philosophers, interestingly, have even postulated that our ability to become conscious as humans had to do with our relationship to plants and that ingesting certain plants helped to change the inherent structures of our brain and our neuronal pathways in order to achieve this.

The earliest written history served to preserve the culture’s most important knowledge. Plants that were used medicinally were carefully described and drawn in order to pass the information down to new generations. We find in books that are over 3,000 years old descriptions and explanations of the use of plant medicines. This is an ancient tradition found in every culture’s written history that we have found and preserved to date. And in those cultures whom did not have a written history but a strong oral history, we have also found that, similarly, they used plants as medicine and passed down the knowledge and information of their uses through stories and other oral teachings.

History shows a passage from reliance on our intuitive nature to a western scientific disbelief of all that is invisible to our five senses.  Our modern scientific thought chose to disbelieve those more gentle allies in the plant world and instead chose to adopt more poisonous substances in medicine such as mercury and more drastic measures such as surgery. It is unfortunate that these traditional therapies have became politically so fractionated because there is obviously room for and a need for both western scientific pharmaceuticals and surgery as well as traditional medical therapies.

Western scientific medicine is best at preventing loss of life but not necessarily at prolonging a life that is robust and vital and worth really living. As we refocus our gaze we begin to understand the inherent worth in utilizing more then one form of medicine to achieve our goals. Botanical medicine, nutritional medicine, energetic medicine, emotional and spiritual medicine are all traditional forms of medicine that our ancestors all utilized for thousands of years prior to pharmaceuticals and surgery. Many of us can even trace our family line back to grandmothers and grandfathers who were midwives, herbalists and healers. It is a part of our heritage and an honoring of our ancestors that we realign with our senses, our intuitive self and begin to utilize the medicine that we were born to be a part of, a communion of plant and human.

Modern herbalists are trained by attending schools that are taught by professional herbalists. The training for those herbalists who are serious about becoming practitioners themselves can typically last anywhere from two to four years or more. Many of the programs offered in the U.S. also include clinical training where the student herbalist is allowed to observe the professional herbalist treating clients and they can be allowed to begin treating clients and prescribing herbal medicines themselves.  There are many schools in the U.S., Britian and Australia which currently train herbalists and have many well-known and respected herbalists teaching for them.

There is currently no state licensure for herbalists. However, there is a national body of herbalists called The American Herbalists Guild. The Guild is a peer-reviewed organization. There are several types of membership, including professional and student membership. Those who seek professional membership have to go through a lengthy process of questions and reviewing by other members before they are allowed professional membership status. Those who have obtained professional membership status typically will use the letters AHG (American Herbalist Guild) or RH (Registered Herbalist) after their name. Currently, this is one of the only nationally recognized groups for finding a professional herbalist. Please visit the American Herbalist Guild website for more information.

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