WHAT IS PHYTOTHERAPY?Phytotherapy is modern herbal medicine at its best. It applies scientific research and the highest professional standards to the practice of herbal medicine. It takes its name from the word used in other parts of Europe, where plants continue to be provided by doctors and pharmacists as ‘phytomedicines’. Phytotherapists use herbs from around the world, but particularly the British, European and North American herbal traditions. They choose the most effective herbs from the best quality sources. Phytotherapy encourages and adapts to a recent worldwide growth in scientific information on plant drugs and their effective and safe use. The methods used to evaluate herbal medicines are similar to those used by orthodox medicine. Yet, a herb contains many active ingredients unlike the single chemical in a drug, and may have several actions to support the body’s health.
THE HISTORY OF PHYTOTHERAPYPhytotherapy is based on the oldest and most universal system of medicine. Every early civilisation used plants as their main source of medicine, and most of the world’s population still rely on them today. Around a quarter of all pharmaceutical drugs currently prescribed by doctors were originally derived from plants. In the United Kingdom, early ‘medical’ herbalists emerged from traditional healers of the countryside in the 18th and 19th centuries and laid the foundation for the modern phytotherapist.
HOW DOES PHYTOTHERAPY WORK?In phytotherapy, plant medicines are selected mainly to stimulate or strengthen the body’s normal functions, and so help the body heal itself. Unlike orthodox drugs that have a single ingredient, plant medicines contain many ingredients and may have several simultaneous therapeutic actions in the body. The phytotherapist approaches each patient as a unique individual in making a diagnosis and assessing his or her needs. Any herbal medicine prescribed may be a combination of plants chosen for the therapeutic actions required to treat that individual.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A CONSULTATION?During the first consultation, the practitioner assesses the person as a whole. A detailed medical history will be taken, including emotional state, lifestyle, diet and any other underlying causes, rather than focusing only on the symptoms or disease. If appropriate, you may be advised also to see a doctor or other qualified practitioner. Simple investigations such as blood pressure readings or physical examination may be done. Further tests may be advised via your GP or independent laboratory. The findings will help make a diagnosis from which an individual management plan and course of treatment might be proposed. The practitioner will discuss this with you, along with any dietary and lifestyle changes.
IN WHAT FORM DO I TAKE THE HERBAL MEDICINE?At the end of the consultation, a herbal prescription may be prepared in the attached dispensary. The medicine can be in the form of a tincture, tea, capsule, powder or tablet, and a lotion or cream for topical use.
CAN HERBS BE TAKEN ALONGSIDE MY DOCTOR’S PRESCRIPTION?Practitioners are trained to work with doctors’ prescriptions, so your herbal medicines will be chosen to avoid interaction with any current medication. Follow-up appointments at regular intervals will be made to monitor your progress and adjust either your management plan or herbal prescription.
IS PHYTOTHERAPY SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?Herbal medicine is appropriate for babies and children as it is a gentle form of medicine that supports their developing body systems.