Becoming a Medical Herbalist

Like most people in Africa, I was exposed to herbal medicine from a very young age. I remember the malaria concoction made with local palm wine, the horribly bitter one made with Dogoyaro(Neem leaves), the novelty of the freshly picked chewing stick we used when we returned to our native town of Ijebu Igbo for the new year - the list goes on. These first hand experiences have stayed with me throughout my adult life. I never trusted allopathic (orthodox) drugs and would only use multivitamins and supplements, especially the fizzy vitamin C my mother used to dole out, because they were 'sweet'. By the time I was living on my own, I had acquired the reputation of being 'herby' to family and friends alike. I would eat garlic cloves like sweets and would eventually convert my whole family many years later to do same. I was hesitant about tap water and more so after I had been to a sewage treatment centre in East Anglia as a Science student and saw what was being removed and recycled as drinking water in England! I have been drinking 'natural mineral/spring water since the early 80s and would know if I am offered anything different in an instant.

The mysterious and exciting world of herbs has had me hooked for years. One can not fail to be astonished by the power of these simple, familiar and often humble plants. They are the primary source of food for every form of life; they were here before the creation of man and are abundantly available in many forms for our food and as our medicine. Plants absorb minerals from the soil or sea and make them easy for us humans to assimilate - all the tissue salts and all blood components are contained in a higher or lesser degree in the vegetable life of the earth and the sea; they absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale and give out oxygen we need for our very existence; they combine carbon with oxygen and hydrogen to produce the various forms of sugars and starches that make up our foods - carbohydrates. The plant world is indeed the link between the animal and the mineral kingdom.

Every vegetable that grows on the earth contains potassium, a mineral crucial for life -without which the heart, kidneys and other organs would not function normally; also every vegetable that grows in the sea contains iodine which is a precursor for making our thyroid hormone, our metabolism regulator. Many of the plants used in traditional herbal medicine are valuable because of their high content of vitamins and minerals. Dandelion, Yellow dock, Burdock and our own Sorghum bicolor (poroporo in Yoruba) leaf sheath, are all rich in essential minerals especially in the iron needed for good blood circulation and have been used in blood-cleansing herbal mixes for centuries, while nettles which is rich in iron, silicon and potassium is traditionally used as a remedy for anaemia, as is Sorghum leaf. Corn silk, the styles (stigma) thrown away with the chaff from our corn, is rich in potassium and traditionally used to enhance renal functions, to facilitate the elimination of water from the kidneys, and used as an adjunct in weight loss diets as well as in preventing bed wetting (enuresis).

Who would think the humble corn silk which is discarded would have so many beneficial uses which also includes it's use as an anti-shine natural cosmetic face powder - a 12g Corn Silk powder sells for around £6 in London. Constant uses of garlic, onions, thyme, sweet basil, bitter leaf, spinach and the various fruits, seeds and nuts we are especially blessed with, would definitely keep opportunistic diseases away.

Take for example, garlic, my favourite antimicrobial and antihypertensive. Consumed regularly, will keep many infections, infestations, colds, coughs, at bay; reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, eliminate intestinal worms, tone up the heart and the digestive system and has been traditionally used for various respiratory problems and some even laud its anti-tumour virtue. The external uses are much more. Those on anticoagulant therapy (taking Warfarin, Dabigatran, Apixaban etc) must beware though as garlic will cause a greater than desired effect. I have used garlic in many of my anti-hypertensive and anticoagulant mixes to very good effect.

Modern science has empowered us to use chemical analysis in proving the veracity of traditional herbal knowledge. We now know about the constituents of many plants and how we can use these to treat most imbalances within the human body. The use of plant derived 'herbal' medicines has been around for centuries and my main aim of starting this blogs is to encourage the increase in the use of herbal medicine safely and correctly. I would not recommend self treatment without the right knowledge but as a form of first aid, I hope many can benefit greatly.

I am a trained Western Medical Herbal practitioner and would endeavour to answer your questions as fully as I can. Those I deem would be beneficial to most of us, would be published with actual names withheld. Over the months, I will be writing about simple herbal remedies for common aches and pains which afflict us at one time or the other. These articles however are not intended as the absolute guide to the diagnoses and treatments of major illnesses and acute infectious diseases, especially in children, which should be referred to a professional medical herbal practitioner without any delay. The following symptoms, even though we have herbal remedies that could alleviate pain and discomfort in some serious problem, could indicate a medical emergency for which professional advice and medical diagnosis should be sought without delay: blood in urine, stools or sputum; drastic weight loss; persistent headache; mild but persistent fever, recurring pains in the stomach, bowels or anywhere else; persistent fatigue; chronic coughing or indigestion; vaginal bleeding between period or after the menopause.

Many herbal medicine can be taken in conjunction with allopathic drugs but there are incidences of herb-drug reaction like the garlic example I mentioned above hence the need to consult a fully qualified medical herbal practitioner before you embark on any drug and herb combinations. It is also important to take herbal medicine on an empty stomach, except when contra-indicated, as this assures the better assimilation of the active constituents in the plants which may be slowed or impeded by enzymatic action when taken with meals. The Herbal Consultation A medical herbalist will take a full consultation lasting over an hour which will include the history of your presenting condition (time of first onset, circumstance, precipitating/ameliorating factors, associated manifestations etc); your previous medical history (childhood illnesses, other illnesses/accidents/ hospitalisation for any reason,allergies, etc); past and present drug history; immunisations; family history and diseases; lifestyle and diet and a full system enquiry for the system(s) affected. For example if your main presenting condition is back pain, then a musculoskeletal system enquiry and even a full urinary one may be indicated depending on the answers to the initial enquiry. From the full consultation the medical herbalist may decide to conduct a non intrusive physical examination or suggest some diagnostic tests - blood, urine, liver function etc.

A working diagnosis is arrived at, after an extensive differential one i.e if your symptoms are pins and needles (paraesthesia in medical terms), through questioning, physical examination and deductive reasoning the medical herbalist could rule out trapped nerves, drug or alcohol abuse and may order blood/urine tests to eliminate diabetes and thyroid problems. S/he may also decide to check your reflexes and pain responses to eliminate a problem within the nervous system. The working diagnosis may be paraesthesia related to physical exercise but this may change after all the results are collated. You will be prescribed a personalised herbal mix which will be made from scratch - tinctures, teas, cream or pessaries based on your presenting condition and advised on lifestyle and nutritional changes.

You can send any question and requests for appointments to

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