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How to effectively prescribe herbal medicine

Written by Rebecca (Bec) Harwood |


Herbs are powerful medicine. They can have huge effects on a client’s health, especially when the right herb is used at the right dosage.

There are some key clues to look for when prescribing the most suited herb, which can enhance their therapeutic activity for individualised treatment. However, once you see these herbs have such incredible impacts on people, it’s hard not to have some favourites.

Finding the right herb

Sometimes it’s not a whole set of herbs, but may only be one or two that really suit the client. Other times, no herb is suitable and the client may only require nutritional or lifestyle assistance. This often comes to light after a detailed consultation is held, where physical, nutritional and emotional health is discussed. The below points always need to be considered when matching herbs with clients to ensure they will receive the full herbal healing effect.

Constitution and sensitivity

Is the client full of vitality, and how strong and steady is their qi, vital force or their inner life energy? How do they hold themselves, how strong is their voice, hair, skin tone, what is their history of illness and how robust are their genetics? Do they react to foods, smells and other people’s energy easily? Are they hot, cold, and what is the energetic temperature of the foods they eat? All of these signs will assist in which herbs to use. For example, they may be able to handle a strong lymphatic herb such as Poke Root, or they may require a gentler lymphatic such as Cleavers. They may even require a lesser intervention for lymphatic drainage such as dry skin brushing. Each of these signs will assist in the strength and dose of the herb.

Emotional and nutritional health

There is not a time in treatment and prescribing that we should forget about two foundations of health – emotions and nutrition. Herbal treatment for emotional health depends on the individual’s situation, and herbs such as lavender, zizyphus, passionflower, and lemon balm are often favourites to use to address emotional healing. And of course, if the client requires dietary changes then these must be considered, as we are not doing Naturopathy justice if we are not being practitioners as teachers in terms of nutritional adjustments. Only prescribing a herbal tincture is allowing us to be influenced by symptomatic Western medicine – not acknowledging the root of the problem. When required, removing and altering dietary choices will also work synergistically with the herbs.

Herbs as food

Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine.” If we are able to encourage the client to use herbs as everyday foods, we are helping to teach accountability, and hopefully encouraging patients to make health a part of their lifestyle. Herbs can be used as flavourings in foods, dressings, and teas.

Favourite herbals

Despite providing holistic and individualised herbal prescriptions each time, I can’t help but have some favourite herbs! The herbs I use in the clinic are heavily influenced by the teachings of Traditional Chinese medicine, such as zizyphus for emotional health, ginger to warm, schisandra for the liver and emotions, as well as astragalus and rehmannia for kidney and adrenal energy. I also use ginger and licorice heavily in teas.

Other herbs that require a mention for their incredible effects time and time again are withania and vervain. Both are beautiful herbs that nourish the adrenals and nervous system, with vervain always encouraging beautiful feminine energy. St Mary’s thistle has been heavily studied for the herb’s protection and regeneration of liver cells, which is always comforting to assure clients. The extensive research is like that completed on vitex for hormonal imbalances. And finally, there is mullein, which is perfect for moistening and nourishing the lungs.

And coming back to emotional health, I always use flower essences in herbal tinctures. Again, we need to address the root of the cause, which is often driven by an emotion.

When herbal medicine is used correctly, it has a powerful healing effect, which is rewarding for the client to feel, and for the practitioner to see.

Rebecca (Bec) Harwood

After graduating from Endeavour College with a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy), Bec Harwood is now a Naturopath who owns her own practice Mother Nature Heals, which operates out of Frisbee Health and Chiropractic in Fulham, Melbourne. At this clinic, Bec works alongside chiropractors, Chinese medicine doctors, acupuncturists, and more, which offers a holistic approach to treating clients.

Bec is passionate about whole healing, including emotional healing and nutrition. After battling serious respiratory and immune conditions for most of her life, Bec's conditions have been entirely healed by natural health practitioners. She hopes to bring this same healing to her clients.

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