Herbalism and Naturopathy Explained

A Naturopath is someone who uses a selection of natural complementary therapies, and usually includes herbal medicine as well as one or more of the other therapies such as aromatherapy, even acupunture and Reiki.

As people turn to complementary health in order to avoid the doctor’s waiting lists, and also because of the wider interest in natural remedies in recent years, naturopaths have become more diverse and in demand. The spectrum of therapies that are becoming available is growing all the time, and most practice a good selection, with herbalism being one of the backbones of the naturopath’s repertoire.

What is Herbalism?

Herbalism or herbal medicine does what it says on the tin, and a practitioner will use all or part of a range of plants to treat ailments and restore a natural balance. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian records contain references to refer to herbal medicine, and so herbs have been the basis for medicines since well before scientists started to develop the modern drugs we rely on today. medical practice. They are still an important element in folk medicine around the world.

Most scientists happily accept that herbal remedies can be effective, and you only have to look to Digoxin, for example, to see where modern medicine and ancient herbal cures meet., Digoxin is a drug used to treat heart failure, and is an artificial form of digitalis, a compound of the foxglove plant. In herbal medicine, foxglove has long been a remedy for heart problems.

What are Herbal Remedies Best For?

Herbs and natural remedies are available for pretty much any condition you can imagine, but are most commonly prescribed for chronic conditions like like migraine and arthritis. Herbs can also be useful for sufferers of:

  • pespiratory problems
  • problems with the circulation
  • digestive disorders
  • skin conditions
  • depression
  • sleeplessness
  • cystitis
  • PMS and menopausal problems.

Is There any Evidence for Herbal Remedies?

Yes, there’s plenty of evidence. There haven’t been many clinical trials as the major drug companies don’t seem to have much interest in herbal remedies – they can’t be patented! But there have been studies in medical journals which have proved that herbs work for some common conditions. The herbs that have been found to be the most useful are:

  • St John’s Wort for mild to moderate depression – it’s said to be as effective as some antidepressants (British Medical Journal 1996, 1999, 2000)
  • Saw palmetto – it was found to reduce the symptoms of some prostate problems (Journal of the American Medical Association 1998)
  • Ginkgo biloba – this herb has been shown to help circulation and delay memory loss in elderly people.
  • Ginger – it helped to relieve nausea after surgery (British Journal of Anaesthesia 2000)
  • Garlic – this common herbal remedy lowers blood cholesterol and fat levels, as well as helping to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Agnus castus – this useful herb relieves the symptoms of PMS
  • Black cohosh – this remedy helps to reduce menopausal hot flushes.
  • Butterbur – this relieved the symptoms of hayfever (British Medical Journal 2002.)

What Should I be Aware of Before Using Herbal Remedies?

When you visit a herbalist, make sure that you tell them if you’re already taking any drugs or supplements.

You also need to tell a herbalist beforehand if you are pregnant, or if you have any heart disease, high blood pressure problems or glaucoma.

Some herbal remedies can interfere with drugs, so ask a pharmacist or herbalist for advice on any interactions, especially if you are self treating with any of the remedies available over the counter.

Don’t stop taking any prescribed medication without speaking to your doctor first, and always go to the GP if you have any new symptoms.

Finding a Herbalist or Naturopath

Herbal medicine was named as one of the big five top-rated therapies by a House of Lords’ Select Committeee, and The European Herbal Practitioners Association is in the process of trying to make herbal medicine a legally regulated profession. Until then, you can consult the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, who have an online database of approved practitioners.


With naturopaths, although they will use herbal remedies, the range of natural therapies that they can use alongside them varies widely, so if you are going to try acupuncture for example, make sure that the naturopath is registered with the relevant professional association, and you can go ahead with confidence.

Mother Nature has many remedies and tricks up her sleeve, and harnessing those for our own good is something that a naturopath or herbalist is trained to do.

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