Can I take herbal medicine with prescription medication?

Many people who take herbal medicine also take prescription medications and there are usually no problems with this. However, there is the possibility that herbal remedies may interact with or affect the body’s response to conventional drugs (‘herb-drug interactions’). For example, there has been quite a bit of publicity about St. John’s Wort affecting the metabolism of several prescription drugs and this can be a particular risk for health is the blood concentration of the conventional drug has to remain within a narrow range, such as for digoxin and warfarin. Qualified herbalists are trained to prescribe safely alongside conventional drugs. If you are being treated by your GP, a herbalist will aim to work with them to achieve the best combined treatment for you.

What is the difference between herbal medicine and homeopathy?

Many people think that herbal medicine and homeopathy are the same thing. However, although they both have an holistic approach to healing, homeopathy uses extremely low or negligible concentrations of physical plant material in preparations and activity is due to the plant ‘essence’ or ‘spirit’. Herbal medicine uses very concentrated extracts of whole plants and the chemicals that make up the extracts are responsible for actions in the body, although this does not preclude other mechanisms.

How long does Herbal treatment continue for?

Herbal Medicine does not generally act as quickly as conventional medicine, as herbs act to help the body restore its health naturally. After about 1 month of treatment, most people report improvement, although many people notice improvements more quickly. For chronic conditions however responses can take longer. As a rule of thumb, it may take a month’s treatment for every year the person has had the condition for improvement to be seen. As a person’s health improves, the medicine can often be reduced and withdrawn. The herbal mix may also be changed as treatment progresses, either to enhance effectiveness or take new developments into consideration.

How often are follow-up consultations?

I usually advise a follow-up consultation or chat after 2-4 weeks to check if the medicine is OK to take, to discuss early signs of change, whether any changes are necessary and address anything else that may have not been missed in the first consultation. From then on, contact is as needed, either in person, or by phone, email or text. I find that the best results are achieved when I am kept regularly updated on progress so that the treatment can be carefully adjusted as needed.

What happens during a Consultation?

A first consultation generally lasts from 1-2 hours. It is quite extensive and in-depth and will consist of a discussion about the presenting complaint, your medical history, conventional medications, diet, lifestyle and the state of your general health. A physical examination may also be appropriate. This enables the herbalist to get a detailed account of you as a person and the best way to help you.

What form is herbal medicine prescribed in?
The majority of prescriptions prepared by a herbalist are whole herb extracts in alcoholic tincture form. In other words they are the active parts of the plant that have been dissolved in alcohol for a prolonged period and then the liquid is filtered off. Other forms of preparations such as teas, capsules and creams may also be prescribed.
What do herbal medicines contain?

Herbal preparations are made from the whole plant or a part of the whole plant (e.g. root or leaves) not isolated constituents. Herbalists believe that much of the benefit obtained from herbs is due to the balanced action of the many compounds that make up the individual plant. For example, dandelion leaf is used as a diuretic, however, whereas some conventional diuretics can lead to low potassium levels, dandelion is rich in potassium therefore sustaining potassium in the body.

Is Herbal Medicine safe?
Treatment by a qualified Western Medical Herbalist is extremely safe. Most herbs used have very low toxicity however there are some herbs for which there is the risk of toxicity. Qualified herbalists are trained in the use of these ‘restricted’ herbs for which doses are strictly limited. The safety of herbal medicine is demonstrated by the low insurance costs for Western Medical Herbalists – insurance companies calculate risks very carefully!
How does a Medical Herbalist use herbs to treat illness?

Herbal medicine treats the ‘whole person’ rather than the ‘illness’ and treatments are individually tailored according to the person’s needs. Herbal treatment does more than attempting to relieve symptoms and aims to address the underlying causes of illness and help the body to heal itself. So herbal extracts are used to strengthen and re-balance the body’s natural healing and well-being processes.