In Australia, as in many other parts of the world, herbal medicine is practiced by a range of health professionals, most notably professional herbalists and naturopaths. In the case of professional herbalists, these practitioners specialise in herbal medicine and have generally received formal training in science and herbalism. Professional herbalists of the 20th century combine rich herbal traditions with modern scientific knowledge. Recent scientific research has often confirmed the traditional uses of herbs as well as discovering new uses.
Naturopaths practice herbal medicine as part of their general use of natural and complementary medicine which also includes homeopathy, nutrition and tactile therapies. The majority of herbs used in herbal medicine in Australia are natives of Europe or America. Usually the herbs are prescribed in liquid form as tinctures or infusions, i.e. herbs steeped in water. The tinctures are prepared in an alcohol and water solute, and provide concentrated doses of the medicinal part of the plant.
Various parts of plants are employed for their medicinal action. In the case of Lemon Balm the medicine is prepared from the leaves. However, in the case of Echinacea the medicine is prepared from the root stock. Herbal medicines impart many different flavours. They range from being sweetly pleasant and aromatic as in the case of Lemon Balm, to being pungent, bitter and 'earthy' tasting as in the case of Echinacea. Herb medicines exert several well-understood actions and provide benefit to a range of commonly experienced ailments.
The professional practice of herbal medicine is particularly suited to the treatment of chronic disorders such as recurrent headaches, arthritis, skin disorders, allergies, digestive problems, menstrual conditions or emotional conditions related to stress, anxiety and depression. Effective treatment is sometimes slow, taking many weeks in some cases, but is usually accompanied by an improved sense of well-being.
"In the last twenty years, the scientific study of the properties of herbs has increased tremendously and the future will undoubtedly reveal previously unknown healing properties in plants." (Readers Digest, Magic and Medicine of Plants, 1994). This has certainly come true.
Updated: 09 July 2012