There are more than two thousand herbs in use in European traditional herbal medicine so how do you know whether a herb is really the right one when there are so many to choose from?

Herbs can take time to be effective and one of the basic things you have to consider is how long you continue to use a herb before trying another or consulting a professional practitioner. In traditional herbal medicine we work on the premise that for each year you have had a condition it will take one month for it to begin to be healed using herbs. That also means the longer you leave it the harder it is to get well.

It is obvious that most acute conditions like a common cold should heal more quickly than more chronic conditions such as arthritis. However, a chronic condition such as ME may set in following a respiratory infection or arthritis may be acute, mild and short-lived if it is treated at the onset. So there are variables in every field and each case should be looked at individually.

With most conditions I use the basic rule that I want to see changes within one month of using a herb or herbal formula. Most of the time, improvements are seen much faster. The changes may be small, such as improved sleeping patterns or better digestion, or may appear more significant such as increased mobility or perhaps relief from symptoms of anxiety or depression. Some body systems, such as the endocrine system in women, take longer to show up healing changes. This is because the endocrine system works more slowly on monthly cycles and I would expect to wait from three to six months to notice any real changes in the hormonal system of female clients.

herbal teaIf you are on any medication, if you are pregnant or attempting to get pregnant, if you have any chronic disease symptoms, if you need help defining your illness or choosing the right herbs for your health condition consult a professional medical herbalist. Self- diagnosis is never easy; if a medical herbalist is not available then consult a GP or other professional healthcare advisor so you can have a better idea of what you are dealing with and how to approach it effectively.

In February 2011 the government announced that Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners were to be registered and regulated in the same way that nurses and doctors are.  This means that the public can be sure that a registered Medical Herbalist has the appropriate training and a professional qualification. The register I would recommend you try to find a local professional herbalist is the National Institute of Medical Herbalists when to contact a medical herbalist.

A Cautionary Note

When you are using herbs for any purpose it is always worth bearing in mind that they are powerful biochemical medicines. As long as you use the appropriate dosage and avoid using herbs which are contraindicated for a particular condition, or medication, they are extremely safe. Please also be aware that essential oils are very concentrated and should not be ingested at all unless directed by a medical herbalist.

Please check any herb’s contraindication before using it unless you are familiar with its use already.

Caffeine-free-tea-while-pregnant-sudocremThis precaution is especially pertinent during pregnancy and breastfeeding as herbs which affect the mother will be passed on to the child via the placenta or breast milk. Sometimes this is beneficial, for example, using Fennel seed for colic in babies is extremely effective if the mother adds Fennel tea to her diet and the power of the herb is passed on to the baby via the breast milk.

However, sometimes avoidance of certain herbs is advisable. For example, some herbs like Sage, Wormwood and Thyme have a high percentage of a chemical called ketones in their make-up, which can act as a nerve tonic in low dose but as a nerve toxin in excess. Care should be taken with such herbs; they can be ingested in food but they should not be used at a higher, medicinal dosage.

Very rarely a person may have allergic reactions to or intolerances of some individual herbs in the same way as others have allergic hayfever, eczema (here is my recommendation for this case) or react to some foodstuffs. If this occurs consult a medical professional and stop using the herb concerned.

If you are ever in doubt please check my book, or another respected publication, or indeed with a Medical Herbalist registered with NIMH, for clarification on the individual guidelines for each herb. And remember, as long as you follow those guidelines you will be safe and effective in using herbs.

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