Why Herbal Medicine Doesn’t Work

“Which herb should I take for my headache?”

Questions like this kind of fill me with despair. This isn’t because I don’t know the answer, but because to explain which herb I would recommend usually involves a lengthy discussion about the way herbal medicine works. Without a proper consultation to find out what’s causing the headache in the first place, it’s just not possible to give a one sentence answer.

Most people don’t have time for that. They just want something for their headache.

Herbal Medicine doesn’t work that way.

Herbs v Drugs

Most people (including myself) were brought up with the idea that there’s only one way to treat illness. When we get sick, we treat the disease. We see the doctor to identify what’s wrong, and then we get a “cure” for that ailment. The person with the illness is really of no consequence at all – the main concern is the disease.

Let’s take the example of the headache. Everyone knows that Aspirin can provide relief, so logic would suggest that if Aspirin is good for a headache, anyone with a headache should take Aspirin. Great, no more pain, but it doesn’t provide us with an answer to the question;

What caused the headache in the first place?

By treating your headache as a symptom and completely ignoring the reason why it started, there’s a strong possibility it will come back. There are many reasons why someone might have a headache, from stress and worry to dehydration. But if you try to use herbs like pharmaceutical drugs, you’re failing to address the root cause of the problem. Yes, herbs might work temporarily, (just like the Aspirin) but the reason for your complaint won’t be resolved, making it highly likely that the headache will come back.

The Armchair Expert

There’s another reason why herbs don’t work. I’m talking about Armchair Experts.

Now I’m not saying that people can’t make helpful suggestions when it comes to recommending over the counter products. Not at all. It’s just that labouring under the impression that what works for one person must by definition also work for you, isn’t the best way to get to the root cause of your particular health issue.

Choosing the right remedy involves a little detective work.

Let’s go back to the example of the headache: Do you need something to relieve muscle tension in your neck, or a herb to calm your nerves? What potency should you buy, and are you taking the correct dosage? Which will work faster – a tincture or tablets? Are you taking medication which may reduce the effectiveness of the herbs? How do you guarantee the quality of the products you’re purchasing?

That’s a lot of variables to consider if you’re not in a position to know the answers.

Despite this, many people still apply the “pill for an ill” mentality when purchasing natural remedies, and are surprised when what someone else recommends, doesn’t work for them.

I must admit I do get a bit cross when I hear people saying making bold statements like “Herbal medicine doesn’t work. I’ve tried X, Y & Z and it didn’t help.”

Quel surprise.

Popping down to Holland and Barrett to purchase something that helped George down the pub is in my view a total waste of time and money. The odds of choosing the right product for your unique needs are reasonably low. There’s far more to selecting the right herbs (or indeed combination of herbs) than most people realise, and that’s where a professional can help.

Understanding the subtle properties of plants and matching them to an individual’s needs is a fine art that takes many years to develop. There are literally hundreds of herbs, many of which have similar properties, and choosing the right one can be a minefield if you don’t know where to begin. The properties, taste and therapeutic effects are all equally important, and of course there’s always one variable which can never be removed from the equation – the individual themselves. Throw in the fact that some herbs when combined with others have a synergistic effect – eg. the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts….you can see where I’m going with this….

What I’m really trying to say is that taking a hit and miss approach to what might, or might not work is a costly business, so it pays from the outset to seek the advice of a herbalist who can take the time to create an individual prescription which is far more likely to work.

“The drugs don’t work……..”

However, even with the help of a naturopath, herbalist or other trained professional, no amount of therapy will suffice if you don’t work on the root cause of your health issues yourself.

Herbs for adrenal fatigue won’t work while you continue to burn the candle at both ends. Powders for Irritable Bowel Syndrome will have little effect if you continue to consume a poor diet. It’s easy to blame the herbs if you’re not prepared to first address the habits that (consciously or unconsciously) are contributing to ill health.

Ayurvedic practitioners call this prajnaparadha.  This basically means that you know something is bad for you but you still go ahead and do it anyway. A good practitioner won’t just prescribe an effective herbal formula, but will also help you identify other factors such as diet, stress and your environment etc, that may also be contributing to your condition.

So if you’ve tried herbs and they haven’t worked, please don’t leap to the conclusion that Herbal Medicine is a crock of old **** This is the view taken by the folks who like to give us all a bad reputation and undermine the validity of a trusted tradition which has been the primary health care system for millions of people across the globe since time began. They can’t all be wrong.

No one system of health care is 100% bullet proof, but to say that herbal medicine doesn’t work is really saying that you don’t understand how it works.

However, if you have tried herbs and had little success, or you’re convinced that herbalists are all a bunch of delusional tree huggers whose wishful thinking is nothing more than a placebo – let me know. I like a challenge and I’d like the opportunity to change your mind.

It won’t cost you a bean to arrange a free 10 minute chat. You can get it touch with me here if you’d like to do that. But if you do happen to meet me out and about in the street, please don’t ask me if I have anything for a headache!


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