European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association
Representing Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Across Europe

Introduction to Herbal Medicine Traditions

There are a variety of herbal traditions currently practised in the UK. The indigenous tradition, in this document referred to as Western herbal medicine has within the last 30 years been joined by those practising within the Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan and Ayurvedic traditions, and more recently still, training courses have been set up in the UK for the specific teaching of these traditions. Currently four different traditions are recognised as distinct groupings within The Herbal Medicine Regulatory Working Group (HMRWG) [click here to view report]. These are Western Herbal Medicine, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Tibetan Medicine and Ayurveda, introduced from the Indian sub-continent. It is understood, however, that both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda are broad systems of medicine that involve practices other than herbalism, such as acupuncture and massage. Tibetan Medicine, too, incorporates massage and also uses moxibustion. Western herbal medicine also often includes massage using herbs and/or essential oils. All these systems of medicine incorporate dietary advice as a normal part of treatment. It is usual for each grouping to contain more than one professional association or register, each with its own origin, flavour and emphasis. It is therefore clear that any attempt to group registers and associations together even under the same traditional heading requires lengthy consultation in itself, and an administrative framework within which each such individual tradition can feel free to express its unique approach to healing and health promotion. Currently, Japanese herbal medicine, known as Kampo, resides within one of the Chinese herbal medicine associations.

Each herbal tradition is based on transmission of centuries of clinical experience passed on by oral teaching, through ancient and modern texts, and informed in modern times through a variety of papers and articles written for journals by practitioners, physicians and pharmacologists interested in this field. It is the skilful use of knowledge and ability acquired through these means that enables a trained practitioner to design a prescription for the individual patient. Traditions vary in their approach to diagnosis and prescription writing but it is a general feature of herbal practice that prescriptions are written to suit the individual patient rather than to treat a specific disease classified from an orthodox western medical standpoint. In doing this, the practitioner takes account of the patient's presenting signs and symptoms as well as constitutional and other factors.