Types of Herbal Medicine Practices

Plants have been used for centuries to treat illnesses and health conditions and are one of the oldest forms of medicine. From the Chinese to the Egyptians to the Native Americans, herbal medicine has been used all over the world and is still used today.

What is Herbal Medicine?

Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine or phytomedicine, refers to using a plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes.1

The use of plants as medicine has been around since the dawn of man there are many different ways to practice herbal medicine. There are three main types of herbal medicine practiced today;  Traditional Western Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine. These are the three we will be discussed but every culture has a different way of using plants for medicine and religious ceremonies. Native Americans have their own practices that can differ between tribes and regions as do many other cultures. The introduction of witchcraft and religion has also changed the way plants are utilized. Here are the three most common herbal medicinal practices used today.

Traditional Western Herbal Medicine (WHM)

Western Herbal Medicine can be traced back to the herbal traditions of the Greeks, Romans, and inhabitants of the British Isles. In North America, a lot of herbal medicine has been derived from Native American lore and traditions. Today’s WHM is based on traditional herbal uses as well as modern scientific methods. Those who practice WHM are often trained through traditional and non-traditional methods such as apprenticeships, schools, or self-study. What is covered varies from program to program but most will cover the traditional uses of herbs, basic medical sciences of biochemistry, nutrition, diagnosis, and prescription.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicine that has evolved over thousands of years to use herbal medicines as well as mind and body practices to treat and prevent illnesses. Herbal medicine used in TCM is often administered as plant extracts, teas, capsules, and powders. Body practices often include acupuncture, massage, Tai chi, and qi gong.
The ancient beliefs that TCM was based on includes:

  • The human body is a miniature version of the larger, surrounding universe.
  • Harmony between two opposing yet complementary forces, called yin and yang, supports health, and disease results from an imbalance between these forces.
  • Five elements—fire, earth, wood, metal, and water—symbolically represent all phenomena, including the stages of human life, and explain the functioning of the body and how it changes during disease.
  • Qi, a vital energy that flows through the body, performs multiple functions in maintaining health2

The idea of harmony and balance is very important in TCM. This idea is applied to all aspects of life, not just illnesses, including what we eat, how much we exercise,  how we handle stress, and how we interact with people and the world around us.
TCM practitioners go through extensive training theory, practice, herbal therapy, and acupuncture. They’re an estimated 14,000 practitioners in the U.S.

Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine (Ayurveda)

Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine originated in India and is even older than Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The term “Ayurveda” combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge).3

Ayurvedic Medicine was originally passed down by word of mouth but first written accounts of this practice are recorded in the four sacred texts called the Vedas.
The key concepts of Ayurvedic Medicine are:

  • Universal interconnectedness (among people, their health, and the universe)
  • Prakriti-the body’s constitution
  • Dosha-life forces
  • Dincharya-daily routines
  • Ritucharya-Seasonal routines

Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners will prescribe herbal medicine, specific diets, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Turmeric is a very common herb in Ayurvedic Medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties.
It can take 12 years or even more to become an Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner but it is not licensed in the U.S. However, some practitioners are licensed in other fields including midwifery or massage.

For more information feel free to check out the resource links below and never hesitate to do research on your own!

1 Herbal medicine-University of Maryland Medical Center
2 Traditional Chinese Medicine: In Depth
3 Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth
Herbal Medicine Fundamentals
What Is Western Herbal Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine-University of Minnesota
Ayurvedic Medicine-University of Minnesota 

Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor, veterinarian, dietician, or health expert. Licensing is not available in the United States for an herbalist to practice herbal medicine.  If you wish to have advice on a medical problem, please consult a doctor. Every person is different and I cannot guarantee that any information provided will work for everyone.  You are responsible for your own health and any decision to alter your health is your own choice. Please consult a doctor before making any serious health changes.

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