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herbal medicine: beginnings

foundation herbalist training study + notes: year one

Herbal medicine: ingesting / utilising our plant allies, to support human / animal health, well-being & healing Phytotherapy: curing with plants Herbal medicine is holistic + systemic, treating the whole person/system within which we are aiming for balance and alignment. Supporting an organism as a whole, or a specific system within an organism (the digestive system for example), as well as improving overall health can also target specific issues a person may be having that may be outcomes of a system being out of balance. For example a dry skin rash could indicate an imbalance in our nervous system, a bodies response to stress: we can support the rash with external cream etc, but we also want to reduce stress and support the nervous system to feel soothed and resilient. Plants support resilience in bodies. Different plants contain different compounds e.g vitamins, minerals mucilage, tannins, saponins etc. They also contain compounds that are medicinally active - which might not be present in food - which is why using herbs has a different impact from solely eating a balanced diet.

herbal actions

Herbal actions are the ways in which herbs work on the body. Below is a herbal prescription analysed for herbal actions:

what is a medical herbalist?

a medical herbalist is an assesor of: * Past * Present * Future *

  1. what is the historical + folk use of these plants? is this still relevant today?

  2. Constituents - what compounds are present in these herbs and what affect do they have?

  3. how safe are these plants? how effective are they?

  4. how does the body best absorb this plant?

  5. how does this plant interact with pharmaceutical drugs?

  6. continued assessment and monitoring of treatment

  7. when to stop or continue a medicine

Evidence based medicine likes to take things apart and study them as individualised components, discounting a whole system. There are a lot of problems with this approach most obviously its disparity with the complexities of real life (which works as a whole system). Empirical knowledge relies on practical observation and experimentation with a situation, which is a method more readily applied in herbalism. How the compounds of an individual plant work together, or how they work in combination with other plants is known as synergy, Antagonism is also possible, where plants work against each other. The Core principles of western herbal practice:

  1. A person-centred not disease-centred approach.

  2. Importance is placed on an understanding of the background to a person’s condition.

  3. Treatment is directed at the potentially multifactorial causes of the condition not just the symptoms.

  4. An assessment of vitality, upon which treatment is based.

  5. An assessment of ‘constitution’ upon which treatment is based.

  6. Treatment is driven by the importance placed upon signs and symptoms rather than purely a named diagnosis.

  7. Lifestyle and nutritional factors are recognized as significant both in the causes of disease and on treatment outcomes.

  8. The relationship between patient and practitioner is seen as important, particularly trust and positivism.

  9. Whole plant medicines are used, synergy is recognised, valued and utilised.

References: Heartwood FC unit 1, book 3.


Hildegard of Bingen

(a historical and well known herbalist: research)

Name: Hildegard of Bingen

Dates: 1098 – 1179

“Certain herbs grow in the air. These are light and rich of nature for the digestion so that they make one who has eaten them healthy. These are assimilated into a persons hair, since it is rich and of the air too.”

Biography: Hildegard was born in 1098, the 10th child to a wealthy family. She was pledged to the church at a young age and at 15 was sent to a Benedictine Abbey. From a very young age she experienced spiritual visions, and in her midlife awakening at the age of 42, she was instructed by God to document her visions, which she did so in Scivias (see images below). After becoming headmistress of the nuns at Disibodenberg, she set out to separate the convent from the monastery. They moved to Rupersburg, where she became Abbess, and then later founded a second convent in Eibingen. From 1141 - 1170 she wrote a series of books and works, both theological and medicinal. She was also a composer, song writer and poet. She died on the 17th of September 1179, aged 81.

Contribution to corpus of knowledge:She wrote two books about medicine: Physica and Causae et Curae (causes & cures). Both books were based on natural healing, and she used a system working with the humours, and the four elements: hot, cold, wet, dry, or earth, air, fire and water. The balance of elements in a person determined their health, and therefore knowing the balance of elements in each plant could determine the effect of the plant on the person who ate them. Hildegard believe that our ‘bodily juices’ mirrored the elements of the world around us. Her approach was holistic and individual to each person.

To me, these images from Scivias speak of the wholeness, healing and cyclical nature that is necessary for the life, growth and maintenance of any living being or system, I wonder how these visions inspired her work on herbal medicine.



Hildegard Von Bingen's Herbal: Natural Healing Through Plants from the Medieval Classic Physics

Healthy Hildegard:

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