Herbalism embraces the use of plants to provide botanical remedies for health. The emphasis is usually on building health and restoring balance rather than fighting disease. Most cultures in this world still rely on herbs for health care. Until the 1940's, folk medicine and many family doctors readily accepted plant remedies. As 20th century medical technology advanced, most physicians and American families lost touch with their herbal heritage. Currently, the government's regulatory lockout of natural remedies has crippled natural products research in U.S. universities and hospitals. "Western Herbalism" is still prominent in Europe and is experiencing a growth of popular interest and renewed respect in the United States.
There are currently no standards or licenses for the practice of herbalism in the United States. Herbalists are not yet recognized by law in any state. There is no accreditation available for even the best schools. Many herbalists actively teach and practice therapeutic herbalism none the less. Most believe that their knowledge is important to the community and will be formally acknowledged in the future. In the meantime they have no legal basis to diagnose or prescribe for others and herbal products can be marketed only as food supplements.
Herbalists have a diverse range of interests and skills. For instance, herbs are raised for their beauty, smell, utility and value in cooking. The "Wise Woman" tradition incorporates mysticism and ceremony. For others, wild crafting herbs brings them closer to the earth. There is a growing influence of Native American Indian culture and herbal medicines. Many herbalists study and apply traditional uses and modern applications of therapeutic herbs. Herbs may be understood according to their energetic, nutritional value or biochemical content. Herbalists interested in analytical chemistry might study pharmacognosy to understand the detailed constituents and structure of plants.
Medicinal Herbalists trained and licensed in other countries such as England practice and teach in the United States but without state or national approval. Naturopathic Doctors are trained to use herbs and may be licensed in 13 states to prescribe herbs as part of their medical practice. Both Medicinal Herbalists and Naturopathic Doctors are trained in the same diagnostic skills as allopathic doctors but are taught to use a more holistic range of therapies. Herbal therapies focus on the root causes, more than the symptoms, of degenerative diseases that continue to defy the efforts of technical medical care. Herbal remedies are perceived as less toxic and less expensive than drug, radiation or surgical therapies.
Modern science is being used by drug companies to explore the "active components" of herbs. They hope to patent methods for manufacturing similar chemicals. In the process, they are validating many of the traditional uses of herbs and providing the foundation for modern herbalogy. Recent international studies of medicinal herbs have stimulated renewed interest.
Herbalists believe that there are real benefits to using whole plants instead of highly refined drugs. Instead of always seeking a specific chemical to force specific changes in body function, whole herbs provide a more balanced and synergistic mix of chemical nutrients. The body is expected to use the herb material to perform its own healing. From this perspective, herbs really are food supplements. Except for the strongest herbs, they are essentially accepted as wild vegetables that people should be eating routinely to build health and thus prevent disease. Commercial herbs are "Generally Recognized as Safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Medicinal Herbalists may be comfortable using controversial herbs in controlled doses.
The profession of herbalism appeals to those who want to feel in harmony with the natural order of things and serve others at the same time. The satisfaction of enjoying uncommonly good health and teaching others how to do the same is profoundly rewarding.