Definition and Overview

An herbal medicine consultation is an appointment with a herbalist, a person who specialises in the use of herbs and other medicinal plants for the treatment, prevention and management of diseases and other conditions.

Also known as herbalism or herbology, herbal medicine is a field that deals with the use of plants and their many parts, including roots, leaves, flowers and extracts to treat a wide variety of conditions. The herb may be taken alone or in combination with other plants to help them become more potent.

Herbalism has a very long medicinal history that started around 3000 BC in China as evidenced by various published old manuscripts and medical-related literature. Aside from the Chinese, herbalism also became popular among Greeks, Egyptians, and even Native Americans.

The practice of herbal medicine is based on the principle that in order to cure a person, treatment should be targeted on the underlying cause rather than the signs and symptoms. For this reason, herbalism often goes together with other natural therapies including diet modification, enhancement of physical activity, yoga and tai chi, among others.

Although herbalism remains to be an unregulated industry in many countries, many organisations now help standardise the field. Thus, often, a herbalist needs to be registered in the organisation or has to reach the group’s standards through a certification process like an exam.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Herbal medicine consultation may be recommended for those people who are interested in natural medicine, which include:

  • Individuals who have already gone through conventional treatment but didn’t like the side effects or the symptoms have only gotten worse
  • Individuals who do not believe in conventional medicine
  • Individuals who have exhausted all conventional treatment options and still have not achieved the desired results
    A consultation is also necessary if the patient wishes to use herbal medicine in conjunction with conventional treatment. A herbalist can determine possible contraindications (which may render either or neither of the treatments helpful for the patient) and ensure that the combination does not introduce other symptoms or conditions. A consultation is also in order if the patient experiences new symptoms or side effects of the treatment. For example, overdosing on aloe vera may lead to loose bowel movement or diarrhea.

A patient may consult another herbalist for a second opinion. This usually occurs if the patient and the previous herbalist don’t have a good working relationship, the initial herbal treatment didn’t work, or the patient doesn’t fully trust the herbalist’s initial recommendation.

How Does the Procedure Work?

A patient who wishes to see a herbalist can first conduct his research online or request the assistance of a national association for herbalists. Often, these groups have a comprehensive list that may be searchable based on their area of practice.

Once the patient has found his herbalist, he then sets up an appointment. These days, herbalists can provide face-to-face consultations, by phone or e-mail, or through video conferencing. If the method is not face-to-face, the patient will be required to send his medical records and other related information to the herbalist, usually through e-mail or fax, prior to the consultation.

If it’s face-to-face, the patient arrives at the clinic where a staff will provide him hand out forms that will be sent later on to the herbalist along with the patient's medical records.

During the consultation, the herbalist will:

  • Analyse the medical records provided as well as the patient’s lifestyle, environment, family medical history, habits, activity and occupation
  • Interview the patient about the signs and symptoms, especially those that are related to the factors mentioned above
  • Ascertain the possible cause of the condition
  • Prescribe herbal medications that can best address the condition
  • Schedule follow-up appointments to monitor the results of the treatment
    The herbal prescription is then taken to the herbal pharmacy where a pharmacist will be in charge of mixing extracts and other plants to create the herbalist’s prescribed medication.

A herbal consultation may last for at least 30 minutes and may require at least two additional sessions. However, if the condition is chronic or severe, more consultations may be necessary.

Possible Risks and Complications

Certain herbs may prove to be dangerous or not ideal for certain types of people such as mothers-to-be, breastfeeding moms, children and seniors. Healthy persons, meanwhile, may develop allergic reactions and other side effects due to the combination of herbal medications or its interaction with conventional medicine.

There is also a possibility that herbal prescription, just like conventional medicine, does not yield the expected results, leaving the patient frustrated. Also, the lack of stringent regulations on herbalism may discourage other patients from seeking more help or following orders from herbalists.

References:

  • Jordan S, Cunningham D, Marles R. Assessment of herbal medicinal products: Challenges, and opportunities to increase the knowledge base for safety assessment. Toxicology Appl Pharmacol. March 2010;243(2):198-216. PMID: 20018204 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20018204.

  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Using Dietary Supplements Wisely. nccih.nih.gov/health/supplements/wiseuse.htm.

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