Herbal medicine is the only form of medical treatment that has been used by every culture on earth throughout history. Each culture developed its own unique herbal remedies using available indigenous plant species. Today, we live in a global village and can draw on the traditions of many of these cultures. There is no doubt that this can be of tremendous benefit, but it can be confusing, too. How do you go about choosing a herbalist when you can choose between so modalities? One way to start is to look at a few of the more common types of herbal medicine that are available in Australia today
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complete medical system that includes acupuncture, acupressure, herbal remedies and other forms of treatment. All of them are based on the same ancient Taoist principles of balancing Yin and Yang. These two words are difficult to translate into English, but basically represent the polar opposites that give rise to and maintain life. When these two forces are in balance, the life force (Qi) remains strong and we are in a state of health. When one of them is stronger than the other, the body becomes unhealthy.
Indian Ayurvedic Medicine
Ayurvedic medicine dates back at least 5000 years. The word “ayur” means “life”, while “veda” translates as “science.” Thus, ayurveda is the “science of life.” Like TCM, Ayurvedic medicine is considered an alternative or complementary form of medicine in the West, but for thousands of years was the only form of medicine available in India. Like TCM, Ayurveda is based on balancing the life forces, but instead of the two opposite energies of Yin and Yang, works with the elemental energies of vata (air), pittha (fire and water) and kapha (water and earth).
Traditional Western Herbal Medicine
As is true throughout the world, our Western herbal medical tradition has ancient roots. It can be argued that until the 20th century, all Westerner pharmacology was basically herbal medicine, since researchers focused on finding plant-based treatments for illness. Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine” wrote the famous lines, “Let your foods be your medicines, and your medicines your food” back in about 400 BC.
Choosing a Herbalist
All of these herbal traditions have long and distinguished histories. Which one should you choose? That will depend on a couple of factors:
- Which one resonates with you and your lifestyle? If you practice yoga, you may want to try Ayurvedic medicine. If you like Tai Chi, TCM may appeal to you. If you feel more in tune with our Western traditions, then you may feel drawn to a herbalist from a Western tradition.
- What are you seeking treatment for? Some herbalists, such as many aromatherapists, use herbs as part of a general wellness treatment. Others have herbal remedies for specific maladies. For example, there are many homeopathic treatments for specific ailments.
As part of a holistic approach to health, many practitioners combine herbal medicine with massage and other treatments. It is always better to consult with a trained herbalist rather than self-prescribe herbal remedies. Some of these remedies can interact negatively with other medications and the purity and dosages of the herbs need to be taken into consideration, as well.