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What is Modern Herbal Medicine?

Medical Herbalism or Phytotherapy as it’s also known, is the therapeutic use of the medicinal properties of specific plant materials.

Medicinal herbs (or simply herbs) include everything from parts of small plants, shrubs and even trees and include leaves, flowers, stems, roots, bark, fruits, amongst others.

Medicinal herbs have specific and often well-defined effects on human bodily functions. Consider how chillies or coffee stimulate or chamomile and lavender calm.

Why is Herbal Medicine Confused with Homeopathy?

I don’t know.  They both begin with an “H” – yet they are very different though often confused.

Herbal medicine, in the form of extracts, teas or powders, delivers treatments with measurable pharmacologically active constituents present, sometimes at very concentrated dosages. Many of these treatments have been used for millennia.

Homeopathy as a discipline was developed in the early 19th century using herbs, minerals and other substances in doses where, due to dilution, there remains no trace of the original agent used.

So, How Does Herbal Medicine Work?

Medicinal plants have what are called “active constituents” – these naturally occurring biochemicals can bring about change to how the human body works.

Many well-known herbs have been explored for what was seen as “the key active” which was then isolated to make pharmaceutical drugs (even as early as the Victorian era). These include aspirin (from meadowsweet & willow bark), digoxin (from foxgloves) and ephedrine (from Ma huang or Ephedra). Isolating these “actives” can produce side effects far stronger than if the whole herb extract was used.

Herbalists believe it the complexity of medicinal plants working together that bring balance into the complexity of human biology and affecting the disease process. And, importantly, the complexity of herbs help to protect from side effects found when actives are used in isolation.

Many herbalists see medicinal herbs as gently supporting agents enabling the body to heal itself through improved function e.g. better circulation, better absorbing nutrients, better waste elimination and balance to stress symptoms.


How Does an Appointment and Treatment from Benn Look?

The initial 90 minute consultation focusses on your current health and factors affecting your wellbeing together with your lifestyle and your past health.

Following the consultation, you will be prescribed herbal medicines, available in a variety of forms – liquid extracts, teas, capsules, creams and oils – tailored specifically to you and your case. You’ll also be given advice regarding lifestyle choices, diet and nutrition, as appropriate.

Typical follow-up appointments will be an hour long and medicine and advice adjusted as required.

How Long Will the Treatment Take?

Treatment duration varies depending on a series of factors:

  • how complex the health issues are
  • how well you respond to treatment
  • how long you’ve had the problems – recent onset symptoms tend to respond quickly whilst chronic or long-standing issues may take months to clear.

What Can Herbal Medicine Treat?

Benn’s approach is to focus on the patient in a wholistic manner – i.e. is “patient centred” – not disease-centred. Each person is unique and their symptoms receive an individualised treatment protocol.

Below is a list of specific conditions known to respond to herbal treatments:

  • functional dyspepsia (indigestion)
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • pre-menstrual tension
  • migraine
  • osteoarthritis symptoms
  • depression
  • some acute infections (e.g. sinusitis)
  • common cold
  • uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections
  • influenza

Remember, as Benn’s approach is patient centred, other conditions can and do respond to herbal treatment, please call and ask if herbal medicine can help you and your health.

What Evidence is There That Herbs Work?

There’s plenty of historical use showing efficacy – to such an extent that herbs have been studied and modern pharmaceutical drugs produced as a result of historical use which include aspirin and digoxin.

Clinical trials tend to focus on isolated chemicals extracted from herbs but, increasingly, whole herb trials are proving herbs to be medically effective. For instance: St. John’s Wort was found to be – in a double blind placebo controlled trial – to be more effective in mild to moderate depression than the conventional treatment it was compared to.

What About Using Herbs with Conventional Drugs?

Very simply – some conventional drugs cannot be taken with some herbs due to interacting with each other.

Benn is trained to know which herbs to avoid using alongside certain drugs and will prescribe appropriate herbs as treatment that’s safe with any other medicines you’re taking.

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