Why come to see a Medical Herbalist?

Medical Herbalist Catriona Gibson

Medical Herbalist Catriona Gibson practises at Woodland Herbs and sees people who are experiencing a broad range of conditions, issues and ailments.  Here she speaks with Nadine McBay about why people come to see a Medical Herbalist.

Why do people come and see a Medical Herbalist?

A lot of the time people come with long term conditions.  They maybe didn’t find the results they wanted with conventional medicines, or sometimes you get people who would rather not use conventional medicines and want to try the alternatives first.  Often the former find that conventional medicines maybe worked for a while and they don’t seem as effective now, or that they don’t like the side effects.  Different combinations of drugs can have different side effects for different people and it may be that this was OK for a while but now they’re fed up of it.

Generally as a Medical Herbalist you work alongside someone’s General Practitioner to make sure what the person is taking herbally doesn’t cause interactions with conventional medicine.  An advantage of someone with a chronic condition seeing a Medical Herbalist is having all the medications looked at fully by someone trained in interactions, as well as having the time to look at things that may have been missed.  Occasionally older people in particular may have been prescribed different things by different practitioners and no one has ever had the chance to sit down and thoroughly look at everything they’re taking.

It wouldn’t be a case of telling people to stop taking anything, it would be more of a case of suggesting that they mention the issue to their doctor next time they see them.

Are there specific benefits of having the hour long consultation with the Medical Herbalist?

Often people don’t mention things to their doctor that they might mention to a herbalist through the course of the hour-long first consultation.  They might feel it’s not important enough during the course of a short consultation or it might be something that’s a little embarrassing.  It could be perhaps issues around going to the toilet, for example.  A lot of doctors realise this too – that often the last thing a person says can be the most important thing.  So there are a few reasons that things can be missed, especially for people with long term conditions: people forget stuff, there’s shorter time, and people can be less comfortable and miss out things intentionally.

Can herbal medicines have any side effects?

Many things can have side effects and herbs can too.   That’s another reason to have a consultation with a qualified herbalist, particularly if the person is sensitive to any form of chemical compounds.  Those people generally know who they are and have had strong reactions before.  Sometimes with herbs there are what’s known as ‘secondary effects’ and what you’re trying to work on is the secondary effects that could be a problem for a particular person.  An example would be herbs for helping women with heavy periods.  Some of these herbs have a drying effect and may cause a little bit of minor constipation in some women.  This is usually fairly easily dealt with by combining with another herb or using another herb entirely if the person has that difficulty.  As a fully trained herbalist, you have the knowledge to be able to warn someone that this may be an issue, and know of alternatives that can be used if it is.

There are a few herbs that have what might be termed as powerful secondary effects and a narrow therapeutic range.  These herbs may be very beneficial in appropriate, controlled doses, but when not used properly they can cause problems.  Some of these herbs are restricted only to qualified herbalist use.  The herbalist is trained to be very careful when prescribing these herbs in terms of how they are used, by whom, and for how long.

Catriona Gibson is a medical herbalist and massage therapist who trained with both the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine and the University of East London. Before becoming a herbalist, Catriona worked for a number of years with people who were homeless and who often had severe, long-standing health problems. Her decision to train as a medical herbalist due to her interest in helping people help themselves and herbalism’s potential to provide a sustainable form of medicine.