Learning Discoveries Psychological Services
Rosemary Boon
Registered Psychologist
M.A.(Psych), Grad. Dip. Ed. Studies (Sch.Counsel), Grad. Dip. Ed., B.Sc., MAPS, MACNEM

Sydney (+61 2) 9637 9998
Sydney (+61 2) 9637 8799



P.O. Box 47
Harris Park NSW 2150

Herbal Medicine
an introduction…………

Gregory J. de Montfort, March, 2006


NOTE: This article is for your information only.
For detailed advice about the use of herbs for particular conditions,
please contact your health care professional for a consultation.


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Background / The Concept of Vitalism / Herbal Medicine is Complementary to Allopathic Medicine /
Principles and Practice / Herbs Are Foods / Methods of Preparation / The Holistic Approach at LDPS / References / Herbal Links

A Brief Background of Herbal Medicine

From the earliest times man has revered and utilised plants - both as food and as medicine. In fact, 60,000 years ago in Iraq, Neanderthal man had knowledge of medicinal plants and even buried them with their dead. Herbal medicine is the oldest form of therapy practised by mankind1..

The vast majority of people in the world today still rely on their materia medica (a body of knowledge of medicinal plants and other materials) for their everyday health care needs. Traditional herbal medicine is empirical in nature. In other words what didn't work was discarded and of those herbs that did - their effects were noted, and the knowledge handed down.

People who use traditional remedies may not understand the scientific rationale behind their medicines, but they know from personal experience that some medicinal plants can be highly effective at therapeutic doses2.. Since we have a better understanding today of how, biochemically speaking the body functions, we are also in a better position to appreciate the healing power of plants and their potential as multi-functional chemical entities for treating complicated health conditions.

Following is a brief time line of some recorded important events and practitioners in the history of Western herbal medicine to last century:-

The Concept of Vitalism

Vitalism is the theory that animal functions are dependent upon a special form of energy or force, the vital force, distinct from the physical forces. As it relates to the practice of herbalism, it refers to the use of the whole herb (or particular part of the herb. viz. seeds, rhyzome, leaves, flowers, stems etc.) and not it's separated chemical constituents. The energies and vitality contained within the whole herb are thought to be complete and in balance, therefore compatible with ingestion by man whereas the separated drug or so called 'active principle' in isolation as evidenced by unwanted side effects is not.

Herbal Medicine is Complementary to Allopathic Medicine

The main difference between traditional herbal medicine and administration of a modern pharmaceutical drug lies in the fact that herbal medicinal philosophy regards that medications (herbs) be chosen to restore the person's vital balance. Thus aiding the body in healing itself and not just suppressing symptoms of disease. Simply suppressing the symptoms effectively suppresses the vital force of the patient which can be detrimental to allostasis in the long term.

The advantage of traditional herbal medicines is in their capacity to :-

- supply restorative, reconstructive forces not available to the person because of inherent or acquired defects;

- arouse vital integrity and/or eliminate obstructive conditions;

- assist in countering the effects of previous medication.

The disadvantage of traditional herbal medicines is that they work more slowly than the more aggressive pharmaceutical and surgical medicine. Today, most of the population wants a quick fix and are thus 'happy' to be cut open and are perhaps oblivious to the origin of the side effects of long term use of pharmaceutical medication until the harm is done.

Herbal medicine cannot replace modern allopathic medicine, especially in acute and emergency conditions, but it is certainly complementary. In self-terminating illness and particularly in chronic conditions, correct use of herbs can excel in reducing and relieving symptoms, maintaining health and improving quality of life in a cost-effective and relatively side-effect free way.

It should be noted that everyone on the planet is allergic to something - and this includes certain herbs, foods and chemicals. Additionally certain herbs can be contraindicated in particular conditions or may interact with prescribed pharmaceutical medications. Therefore, complete disclosure on your part is necessary and cross-consultation between your herbalist and doctor needs to take place. Self-treatment without expert knowledge and guidance is ill-advised.

The main difference between traditional herbalism and modern phytotherapy is that traditional herbalism focuses on the use of the whole herb, whereas phytotherapy looks more at the chemistry or the active principles of the herb in order to better explain to the scientific community its actions. 


Detoxification is the removal of blockages (toxins) to the vital energy flow of the body via the various channels of elimination such as the circulatory system, lungs, skin (sweat glands), the liver, bowel and kidneys. Depurative herbs are chosen in accordance with the evaluation of the patient to achieve this.

Most of the body's primary detoxification is done through the liver in which fat-soluble waste products from the tissues are converted by various processes known as PHASE I and PHASE II detoxification, (conjugation, sulphation, demethylation, oxidation or reduction) into water soluble materials suitable for excretion via the kidneys.

Simply put, detoxification is the removal of harmful or toxic substances from the body.

A toxin is a noxious or poisonous substance that is formed or elaborated either as an integral part of the cell or tissue, as an extracellular product (exotoxin), or as a combination of the two, during the metabolism and growth of certain microorganisms and some higher plant and animal species.

The origin of the word toxin is from the Greek - toxikon - which means poison.
Therefore, a toxin is any substance which is poisonous to the body.

Toxic elements can be either autogenous, endogenous (from within the body) or exogenous (from outside the body) and can accumulate in tissues over time causing many common, chronic ailments.

Michael McIntyre's approach to the treatment of chronic conditions with herbal remedies as detailed in his book "Herbal Medicine for Everyone", is generally accepted by practising herbalists and is as follows:-

"Slow and gently does it"! Evaluate the patient fully before undertaking a regime of herbal treatment. ---- A patient exhibiting signs of chronic illness will generally have a lower vitality than that of a 'healthy' patient. Therefore, it is wise to avoid further stressing the body, aiming to support it first by use of suitable tonic, organ herbs such as cornsilk (Zea mays), clivers (Galium aparine). For the liver, the use of specific liver remedies such as dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and barberry bark (Berberis vulgaris).

Circulation needs to be assessed - restoratives used may include lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), hawthorn ( Crataegus oxyacanthoides) for the heart; ginger (Zingeber officinale), prickly ash ( Xanthoxylum americanum) and bayberry bark (Myrica cerifera) for arterial circulation; and golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis) for the venous circulation. Gastrointestinal tonics such as gentian root (Gentiana lutea) and nervine tonics like skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and wild oats (Avena sativa).

In the detoxification stage, use the depuratives or 'alteratives' such as burdock (Arctium lappa), figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), blue flag ( Iris versicolour), and yellow dock (Rumex crispus).

It will be necessary to evaluate the function of each of the body's systems in turn providing stimulating or relaxing remedies as may be needed at each stage of treatment. Therefore only a qualified and experienced herbailst should attempt to treat such conditions.

Generally, your herbalist will address one or all of the following in your herbal treatment programme:-

 Improve digestion to decrease food reactivity and improve nutritional absorption

 Improve diet

 Heal the gut wall

 Protect, cool and decongest the liver

 Aid detoxification

 Enhance cognition

 Support HPA axis

 Support parents/carers

 Balance body circuitry

 Herbal strategies can have general or specific effects on aspects of cognition, viz: Attention and concentration; Learning and Memory; Language; Perception; Executive Functions; Emotion and personality.
Specific herbs are used to balance according to the person's history, presentation/symptomatics and findings of the assessment procedure.

Herbs are Foods

The statement that herbs are foods is valid in the context that herbs are made up of many bioavailable constituents and are unique in being both a stimulus to the body (and/or specific organs), as well as providing nutrients (or food) for tired cells.

Chlorophyll is a major constituent of all plants and promotes rejuvenation of old red blood cells as well as new blood cell growth. It is a powerful antioxidant as well as being magnesium rich. Additionally, chlorophyll improves the function of the kidneys and accelerates clearance of toxins from the liver.

Herbs may be prepared for prescription in the following ways:-

a. Capsules are the gelatine encapsulated, powdered herb and are considered to provide a convenient way of using herbs, especially where taste is a problem, or where it is desired to provide a mucilaginous, astringent or other direct action to the gut wall.

Capsules are an inappropriate method of delivery where taste is important. (e.g. in the delivery of the bitter tonics).

They may be seen as "typically American" in their market appeal.

b. Infusions/decoctions are the processes chosen when the active principles of the crude drug are readily soluble in water.

Infusions are appropriate for the leaves, flowers and non-woody stems, the technique being to steep material in hot water for a specified period of time and then to strain off the liquid. Infusions may be cold (at room temperature), or hot and either strong or weak at need.

The decoction method is more suited to the woody material such as barks and roots, except when finely powdered, and involves boiling the material in water for some time.

c. Tablets in the past, tablets were used when the required dosage was small and were prepared by mixing the tincture of the herb with the amount required of lactose powder to make a stiff paste and then pressed in a mould and simply left to dry.

Today, tablets are usually based on the powdered, concentrated extract of the herb and capable of delivery of up to four to five times more than that of the dried herb. (ie a small tablet can embody a large amount of the herb).

Additionally, the incipient or base substances used are seen to not only bind the tablet, but to assist in assimilation and targeting of the tablet's action to a specific purpose.

d. Tinctures are alcoholic solutions of the so called active principles or properties of the plant material. All official BHP tinctures are made with an alcoholic solution or pure alcohol of at least 45% and have a product/drug ratio of 4:1. They may be made with the fresh or dried plant, and processes include maceration and percolation.

Tinctures may be used as a single treatment and are particularly suited to the mid-range and powerful remedy classes, they may also be used in a compound formulation of say five herbs.

e. Fluid extracts are the concentrated alcoholic or aqueous extracts of herbal material, in which the product/drug ratio is officially 1:1, that is - they are more concentrated than herbal infusions, decoctions or tinctures.

Fluid extracts are prepared by methods of maceration and percolation.

An advantage of fluid extracts is their bioavailability - as they are already in liquid form, they are more readily absorbed into the blood stream and hence tissues, and thus their effects may be faster acting than other forms or preparations.

Thomas Edison once said "The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease". I believe herbs are, and should be a vital part of the human diet - particularly as a food aiding the prevention of disease.

The Wholistic Approach at LDPS
At Learning Discoveries, our approach looks at guiding and educating the person in their own innate capacities to attain balance and wellbeing in their lives.

After a thorough history, consultation with previous treating specialists and further assessment which may include a QEEG, an individualised programme will be devised aimed at restoring balance to the nervous system, mind and body.

These may include a combination of any of the following:- (re-)education and Counselling, Diet and Nutrition, Biofeedback and/or Neurofeedback Training, Heart Rate Variability Training, Herbal Medicine, Bowen Therapy, CranioSacral Therapy, Meditation, Breathwork and Movement Exercises, SCENAR Therapy10,11..

Consultation is by appointment only, please contact:-

Rosemary Boon
Learning Discoveries Psychological Services

Where mind and body meet……………

Sydney (+61 2) 9637 9998
Sydney (+61 2) 9637 8799



Postal Address:
P.O. Box 47
Harris Park NSW 2150




1. Griggs, B., 1997, Green Pharmacy - The History and Evolution of Western Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.

2. van Wyk, B. and Wyk, M., 2004, Medicinal Plants of The World, Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.

3. Thomson, W., 1976, Herbs That Heal, A&C Black Limited, London

4. McIntyre, M., 1990, Herbal Medicine for Everyone, Middlesex, England.

5. Murray, M.T., 1992, The Healing Power of Herbs, Prima Publishing, Rockling, California

6. Weiss, R. F. and Fintelmann, V., 2000, Herbal Medicine, Thieme, Stuttgart, New York.

7. Spinella, M., 2001, The Psychopharmacology of Herbal Medicine, The MIT Press, London

8. Priest, A.w. and Priest, L.R., 1983, Herbal Medication -A Clinical and Dispensary Hanbook, C.w. Daniel Company. Essex, England

9. British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983, The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth, UK

10. Mills, S. and Bone, K., 2000, Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy - Modern Herbal Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, London, UK.

11. Mills, S. and Bone, K., 2005, The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety, Elsevier Press, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

12. Mills, S. and Bone, K., 2003, A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Elsevier Press, St. Louis, Missouri, USA


Herbal Medicine Links

Charlotte Mutoro - International lecturer, author and registered practitioner of Herbal & Energy Medicine

Medi Herb - Australian manufacturer and supplier of herbal medicines for the Herbal Practitioner - Has an extensive practitioner only section with monographs, research papers, resources etc.

The Australian College of Phytotherapy offers distance education in herbal medicine and degree courses in health science (Herbal Medicine) in association with the University of New England

Southwest School of Botanical Medicine - Michael Moore's informative site including herbal links, illustrations and photographs, texts and manuals for downloading.

National Herbalists Association of Australia - the oldest complementary medicine association in Australia with a wealth of information for the practising herbalist

HerbMed is a searchable database of herbal monographs with the latest scientific research and links to PubMed abstracts of that research

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