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Herbal Fundamentals

These commonly asked questions and their answers have been provided by the American Herbalists Guild, a non-profit educational organization for the furtherance of herbalism.

Q: What is herbal medicine?
A: Herbal medicine is the art and science of using herbs for promoting health and preventing and treating illness. It has a written history more than 5000 years old. While the use of herbs in America has been overshadowed by dependence on modern medications during the last 100 years, 75% of the world’s population still rely primarily upon traditional healing practices, most of which is herbal medicine.

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Q: How are herbs different from pharmaceuticals?
A: Most pharmaceutical drugs are single chemical entities that are highly refined, purified and often synthesized. In 1987 about 85% of modern drugs were originally derived from plants. Currently, only about 15% of drugs are derived from plants. In contrast, herbal medicines are prepared from living or dried plants and contain hundreds to thousands of interrelated compounds. The safety and effectiveness of herbs is often related to the combined efforts and synergy of these compounds.

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Q: How is herbal medicine different from conventional medicine?
A: The philosophical difference between herbalists and conventional physicians has profound significance. The primary focus of the herbalist is to treat people as whole organisms irrespective of the disease or condition they have and to stimulate their innate healing power through the use of herbal, dietary and lifestyle interventions. The primary focus of conventional physicians is to attack diseases using strong chemicals that are difficult for the body to process, or through the removal of organs. This more piecemeal approach ignores the whole and unique makeup of the individual. Many patients under conventional care suffer from side effects that are as bad as the condition being treated.

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Q: What is an herbalist?
A: Herbalists work with medicinal plants. They may be holistic medical doctors, researchers, native healers, scientists, naturopaths, writers, herbal pharmacists, and herbal farmers. They include healers trained in any of the various herbal traditions that have developed worldwide, including Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, and naturopathic medicine. Persons specializing in the therapeutic use of plants may be medical herbalists, acupuncturists, midwives, physicians, or one’s own grandmother.

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Q: How can herbs and herbal medicine help me?
A: Herbs can be used in four essential ways in your health care program:
  1. to prevent disease
  2. to treat disease
  3. to maximize one’s health potential
  4. to relieve the symptoms of minor ailments
Link to "Understanding Herbal Medicine" from the Archive 

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Q: How can I know if a particular herb will work for me?
A: Knowing what will work best in each situation can only come with educated self-experimentation and experience or by seeking the assistance of those who are knowledgeable in clinical herbal medicine. The simpler the condition, the easier it is to find a solution. The more complicated the condition, the greater the need to seek expert advice.

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Q: How safe are herbs?
A: It depends on the herbs. Most herbs sold as dietary supplements are very safe. When used appropriately, the majority of herbs used by practitioners have no adverse side effects. According to Norman Farnsworth of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, “Side effects or toxic reactions associated with herbal medicines in any form are rare. In fact, of all classes of substances reported to cause toxicities of sufficient magnitude to be reported in the United States, plants are the least problematic.” Link to "Legalizing Clinical Herbal Practice" from the  Archives 

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Q: How do herbalists practice?
A: Herbalists practice either as primary health care providers or adjunctive health care consultants. Most visits to the herbalist begin with a consultation about your past and current health history and your dietary and lifestyle practices. The herbalist, with your involvement should develop an integrated herbal program that addresses your specific health needs and concerns. The herbalist approach boils down to this: You should be treated as a whole person, not as a disease.

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Q: What is the American Herbalists Guild (AHG)?
A: The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) was founded in 1989 as a non-profit, educational organization to represent the goals and voices of herbalists. It is the only peer-review organization in the United States for professional herbalists specializing in the medicinal use of plants. Herbalists from any tradition with sufficient education and at least four years of clinical experience, who demonstrate advanced knowledge in the medicinal use of plants and who pass the AHG credentialing process (a careful review by multidiscipli8nary admissions board) receive professional status and the title, Herbalist, AHG. The AHG has a developed code of ethics, continuing education program and specific standards for professional members. The American Herbalists Guild’s roster of professional members includes some of the most respected herbal authorities in the United States and abroad.  
The AHG is the sole authority and source for the compilation of these Q & As. We are grateful for permission to adapt, excerpt and republish here many of the questions and answers complied in their brochure, “Herbal Medicine Fundamentals.” The complete brochure is available at Green Angels Herbs and Healing Arts. Come in and pick up a copy. To order the brochure in quantity and read more about the AHG and its primary goals, follow this link: http://www.americanherbalist.com

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