Herbal medicine is perhaps a misnomer because it is not just herbs but the fruits, roots, seeds and leaves of a wide range of plants that make up the herbalist’s extensive pharmacopoeia. Herbal medicine uses plants to promote optimum health and to prevent and treat disease. It is founded on the principle of using the whole plant (not isolated constituents) to treat the whole person. Its aim is to create deep and lasting health improvements in a safe, gentle but effective way working with the body’s own innate healing capacities to strengthen and balance. It is safe for everyone from the very young to the elderly.

It is the oldest form of medicine known, with the Ebers Papyrus dating from the time of the Egyptian pharaohs (c.1550BC), it included more than 700 prescriptions containing plants including garlic, linseed, juniper, myrrh, figs and fennel. Even earlier texts were written by the Assyro-Babylonians, but its origins go much further back into prehistory and our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It is still the most widely practised form of medicine worldwide with over 80% of the world’s population still relying on herbs. Some of the very plants used today e.g. St John’s Wort were dispensed by the father of medicine, Hippocrates. The Egyptian text Other great names from the past including Aristotle, Dioscorides, Avicenna and Galen, were herbalists. Indeed it was not until the 1930s with the advent of drugs like antibiotics and corticosteriods that the study of plants and botany was dropped from the undergraduate curriculum of some medical schools. Modern herbal medicine combines the traditional wisdom gained over countless generations with evidence-based scientific research to provide the best possible solution for each individual patient.

Many of today's drugs were originally sourced from plants however drug companies often extracted just one of the pharmacological constituents present whereas herbalists believe in the synergy of the whole plant. A good example is Dandelion leaf, a potent diuretic. Unlike many diuretic drugs it does not work by irritating the kidneys (hence the need for annual kidney function tests for those on such drugs) and, because it naturally contains potassium, the body is not depleted in this vital mineral, a common side effect of diuretic use. Because herbalists believe in using the whole plant, unlike many over the counter herbal preparations, the herbs we use undergo very little processing and no adulteration. Heat can destroy delicate oils, so herbs are dried naturally, chopped and then macerated in a mix of water and alcohol for about 14 days. During that time they are turned and mixed before being strained and the resultant liquid forms a tincture. The water and alcohol dissolve all the active chemicals in the plant, and the alcohol preserves the mix. These tinctures can be mixed to form individual prescriptions to meet the precise requirements of the patient. Herbs are also infused in oils which can be used to make creams and ointments.

The practice of modern western herbal medicine is known as phytotherapy, as it an approach based on a combination of contemporary scientific evidence based study of herbs, traditional herbal texts and clinical experience.