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Herbalism is one of the oldest forms of medicine originally used by the ancient civilisations of China, and Egypt around 2500BC. Today it is probably the most commonly practised form of medicine worldwide. A growing number of medical practitioners in the West are now discovering and utilising the benefits of botanicals.
Many medical drugs in common use today are synthetic versions of plant sources. A common example is diosgenin, used to make progesterone for the contraceptive pill. The original source of which is the herb wild yam.
Herbal practitioners, also called herbal pharmacists or herbalists, argue that the processes involved in making synthetic versions destroy the natural vitality and therapeutic value of the plant. They believe that herbal medicine preserves this balance and is therefore more effective.
Herbal medicine can be taken in a number of ways. A qualified medical herbalist will most likely prescribe liquid preparations called tinctures. These are herbal extracts in concentrated form made from individual dried or fresh herbs by steeping them in a mixture of water and alcohol. This acts as both a preservative and a carrier for the active ingredients.
Herbalists may also prescribe tablets, capsules or give you dried herbs to make an “infusion” or herbal tea. Fresh herbs may be applied directly to the skin as a compress or poultice and are often used to heal wounds or soothe injuries to muscles and tendons.