Herbal self help is great for prevention, minor illnesses and non-serious chronic disease in normally healthy people. But often, disease is more complicated than this. There may be more than one condition, serious or longstanding disease, prescribed orthodox medicine or an uncertain diagnosis. Or you may simply want fast results. Or maybe you just don't have the time to learn about herbs. In these instances I would recommend seeking the help of a medical herbalist. It's the equivalent of the difference between popping into the supermarket to get some painkillers and visiting a GP. Ok, painkillers can have a dramatic effect and this may be all you need – great! But the GP or medical herbalist can physically examine you, order and evaluate investigations, take your medical history, make a diagnosis and prepare an individualised treatment plan and prescription with follow up consultations. In most cases this will have much better prospect of success. In orthodox medicine there is also the inbetween option of getting advice from a pharmacist. There aren't any herbal pharmacies in this country, but some shops selling herbal products do employ trained staff, and these can be a great source of advice. But do check what sort of training they have, as this does vary substantially – from none whatsoever to a university degree and anything in between. Some herbalists also offer mini consultations for uncomplicated cases, these will usually incur a fee but will be much less than a full consultation.
Here are a few tips for choosing a herbalist:
Choose a herbalist who belongs to a reputable professional organisation to ensure a good standard of training. Herbalists currently only have voluntary regulation, not statutory, meaning they are regulated by the professional body they belong to. But there is no requirement for them to join a professional body, so anyone can call themselves a herbalist and set up practice. 'Medical herbalist' is not a protected title. There had been plans to change all this by the government, but don't start me on that ;) The professional bodies are the easiest way to make sure your herbalist is safe and fit to practice. Below is a list of the main ones, they have very high standards for membership, including training to BSc level or equivalent, continuing professional development and a code of ethics:
The professional bodies will all have a list of their practising members and will be happy to give advice and help when looking to find a local practitioner. Or just google and then make checks yourself. Most practitioners will display their qualifications and association membership after their name. BSc obviously stands for bachelor of science, a well-respected university science degree, (Hons) means honours which is an extra level of the degree, and membership of a professional association is expressed by the letter M plus the abbreviation for the association. So MNIMH for example means member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, and MCPP stands for member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy. Phytotherapy is just a fancy word for herbalist, phyto meaning plant in greek. Occasionally you find the letter F, this stands for fellow.
Once you have found a local herbalist, do try and get more information before booking an appointment. Most herbalists have their own website, or at least a page at the center they work at – this is a great source of information, about the herbalist themselves but also often giving a wealth of advice on self help. If you can, try to speak to the practitioner or meet them. It is important for the therapeutic relationship, and therefore the outcome of the treatment, that you chose a practitioner that you connect with and that you feel comfortable with. You can of course always change practitioner at any time during the course of treatment, but as the first consultation is more expensive than the follow ups, it's worth spending a bit of time making enquiries before embarking on treatment. The reason for the higher cost of initial consultations is that they take longer because a full medical history is being taken and written up, this is universal to all medical herbalists.
Professional herbal treatment is not cheap, and is sadly not generally covered on the NHS, although GP surgeries can contract any services they feel would benefit their patients. There are a few options to reduce the costs of herbal consultations. Some private health insurance companies may cover herbal medicine, if you have private health insurance it's always worth asking your insurer. Even if they don't offer it now they may consider offering it in future if they see there is enough interest. The cost of a herbal prescription often compares favourably to an over-the-counter herbal product. The price of over-the-counter herbal tablets and tinctures in particular is often in no relation to their strength and quality, so with a professional prescription you know you'll get a high-quality custom-made product.
Some herbalists offer mini consultations at a lower rate, this might be an option for uncomplicated cases like a flu or cold, or maybe for a bit of extra help if you're stuck with your attempts at self treament.
Low cost herbal treatment is available from the training universities, which are based in Lincoln and London, and this is an excellent way of getting high quality treatment at a low price, as long as you don't mind having a handful of students sit in during your consultation. The consultations are done by students, supervised by an experienced practitioner, so treatment is always safe.