Consider this scenario. You've had some troubling symptoms for some time but your doctor doesn't seem concerned. You would like to understand a bit more about why you don't feel quite yourself anymore. Perhaps you have tried some vitamins, probiotics or other supplements but you are aware that you may just be wasting your money buying things that are not what you need. A herbal consultation can help bring clarity.
Visiting a herbal practitioner is not the same as an appointment with your conventional doctor or medical practitioner. For instance, herbalists are not classed as health care professionals. Herbalists can not prescribe allopathic medication. Instead their aim is to promote vibrant health, improve quality of life and energy levels. They do this using herbs that improve the functioning of your body's processes, bringing balance and harmony.
There are different forms of herbal medicine and herbal practitioners. You may know of traditional Chinese herbal medicine or the Ayurvedic system of medicine. We also have our own traditional form of medicine in the western world. Western herbal medicine has its roots in western folklore but also integrates a modern scientific understanding of how herbal medicines work. Western herbal medicine is mainly plant-based, although sometimes animal products such as propolis or honey might be recommended.
However, western herbalists do also use herbs from other traditions, such as Chinese Medicine. This is because sometimes these herbs grow all over the world and form part of both traditions. Or, because western herbal dispensaries include some Chinese herbs since scientific research shows their efficacy and history of safe treatment.
This article will explain how to choose a herbalist and what to expect during a western herbal medicine appointment.
How to find a good herbalist
Herbalists have a long history of healing people and are integral to many cultures. Even today when we have conventional medicine, alternative medicine such as herbalism is able to help many people improve their health. Herbal medicine is primarily a restorative therapy with a holistic approach to health.
If you are looking for a qualified herbalist who will guide you in your quest for wellness, you should know that herbalists are not one size fits all. Herbalist training varies quite a lot. Some herbalists have studied to degree level and have many hours of supervised clinical training. Yet, it is also possible to be a herbalist in the UK, with no formal qualifications at all. So, at the very least you should check that your chosen herbalist is a member of a professional herbalist organisation, such as the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH).
Members of organisations such as NIMH have thorough training in medicinal plants and clinical skills. Importantly, qualified practitioners are bound by professional standards and codes of conduct, undergo continuous professional development and have insurance to practice.
You will also find some herbalists specialise in particular health topics. For instance, some are experts in women's health care, digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, skin health or psychological issues such as anxiety. While others have medical training or experience in other areas of healthcare such as nutrition, acupuncture or massage. Different areas and levels of expertise, training and experience can make a big difference to what a practitioner is able to recommend for you.
How to prepare for your herbal consultation
As a medical herbalist, I see patients frequently who are looking for a safe and effective way to improve their health. And they are often surprised to learn how far herbal remedies can help them. Here is how to prepare for your herbal medicine consultation and get the most out of it.
If you have a complex medical history it is a good idea to write down your major health issues in chronological order. Include on this list any medical diagnosis you have had, and any prescribed medication you have taken and whether it helped you or not. If you have tried any herbal products in the past this can also be useful information. Make a note if you had any negative side effects from any treatment.
It is also worthwhile gathering together any results of lab tests or health checks you may have had. I usually ask to see a consecutive three-day food diary before the initial consultation too.
What to bring with you
When you visit your herbalist for your initial session, you can expect a long chat about your health history. Sometimes this is the first time you will have spoken to someone at length about what troubles you. Compared to allopathic medicine a herbal medicine consultation will be much more in-depth. Your herbalist will want to find clues such as potential triggers or underlying causes of your health issues. Understanding your constitution, dietary preferences and lifestyle will help the herbal practitioner to choose the most effective solutions. Herbal preparations can be potent medicine because they work by promoting health and improving the function of your body.
It's a great idea to bring a list of questions. The herbalist will ask about your medical and dietary history, lifestyle and general health, your current medications. You should have plenty of time to discuss any current health concerns.
Having your chronological list will help save time and this will mean more time for the creation of the most effective treatment plan.
The basic steps of a consultation with a herbalist
Many people have no idea what to expect during a consultation with a herbalist. Herbal medicine is a holistic treatment. So, the herbalist will be looking at your health as a whole. Considering your body, mind and spirit, interacting as one.
Here are some of the basic steps during a herbal consultation...
The initial consultation involves the gathering of all the relevant information that the herbalist needs. This may include appropriate clinical examination, and perhaps ordering of relevant lab tests, depending on the training and knowledge of the practitioner.
There should be a discussion about the important decisions about any suggested treatment program. For instance, in a consultation where I am learning more about your health, we will discuss what your goals are and the best possible approach to achieve them. I will then create a bespoke herbal program for you that will help you achieve your health goals.
To effectively help their patients or clients, herbalists need to be able to answer questions, provide information and communicate the options available for achieving their health goals.
A good herbalist will be able to help you better understand your health concerns, and how they may be related to your diet, environment, lifestyle, and health history.
After the herbal consultation
Most herbalists will be able to recommend or supply many herbal products. These medicinal products may be single herbs but most likely will be a bespoke mixture of herbs. This may be in the form of liquid extracts such as herbal tinctures, or dry extracts such as dried, loose herbal tea, herbal extract capsules or tablets. You may also be recommended herbal cream, oil or gel as appropriate.
Depending on training and experience herbalists can also provide dietary and lifestyle advice. For instance, your herbalist might recommend a weight loss programme, gentle stretching or refer you for another treatment such as acupuncture.
I believe that food forms an essential foundation for improving health, so a herbal treatment plan from me often includes personalised diet advice.
How much does a consultation cost?
The consultation fee that herbalists charge can vary a great deal. Often it will depend on their skill and experience. The initial consultation usually costs more than a follow-up appointment because there is more time involved.
Usually, the herbalist will ask you to return for a follow-up session about 2-3 weeks later. This is to make sure of the medicinal effects and progress are what is expected. Make any necessary adjustments to treatment such as changing the proportions of herbs in the liquid tincture.
Depending on the reason for your visit, you may need to see the herbalist for just one extra session. Or, for more complex health problems you might need to see the herbalist over a period of 3-6 months, or even longer. Your herbalist should be able to explain what is expected and how many extra sessions might be necessary.