Many of the drugs in today’s market have their origins in botanical medicine. Although mankind has relied on herbs to cure its ills for thousands of years, botanical medicines fell out of favor with the advent of the pharmaceutical industry. Today, herbal medicine is experiencing an upsurge in interest as consumers realize the relative safety and efficacy of botanicals in terms of disease prevention, health maintenance and the treatment of specific disorders.
“Herbal medicine” is a very broad term that covers a lot of territory. Traditional Western medicine studies perhaps 100 different herbs, with 50 that are commonly used in practice. Eastern traditions include Aryuvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine (TCM). Students of oriental medicine learn the many energetic characteristics of more than 400 different herbs. An oriental medical practitioner integrates herbs into a total treatment strategy to rebalance their patient’s chi or “qi” energy in order to restore health.
Western botanicals are generally prepared as standardized extracts of the root, rhizome, flower, leaf, stem, berries, and seeds of each individual botanical plant. They may be dispensed in bottles with capsules, gels, tablets, as alcohol or hydroalcohol extracts and teas, which may either be in the form of infusions or decoctions, as well as compresses and poultices.
Traditional Chinese herbal prescriptions may be patent medicines that are also prepackaged as pills, tablets or elixirs. More commonly, however, the herbs are purchased loose and scooped from large bins or drawers and mixed by trained oriental medical specialists. The herbs are combined into a patient’s specific prescription and given to the patient in specially measured paper bundles or bags. The patient receives simple instructions on how to prepare his or her herbs at home, which usually involves steeping or boiling the loose herbs in water and drinking the medicinal tea at several intervals during the day.
Because botanicals are a potent healing modality, and because patients are seeking experts in herbal medicine, those planning a career as a health care provider should seek out schools with a solid curriculum in the major branches of herbal medicine. Also, health providers need to learn important interactions between herbal medicine and prescription drugs, so that they can prevent any possible interactions that might affect their treatment.
Back in 1992 when National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) was named “National College of Chiropractic,” the institution began teaching an elective course in western botanical medicine. The course was very popular and was added it to the chiropractic curriculum since chiropractic physicians can and do utilize botanicals in their practice for improving the health of their patients. Fifteen years later, National University has expanded its degree offerings, and the course is now attended by both chiropractic (DC) and naturopathic (ND) students.
With the advent of its Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Program, NUHS added a higher-level course titled “Advanced Botanical Prescribing,” which is required for its ND students and optional for DC students. The school also added several courses on traditional Chinese herbs for its acupuncture (MSAc) and oriental medical degree (MSOM) students, which can be taken as electives by DC and ND students. It also offers all students a course in pharmacology where students study pharmaceutical agents and learn important interactions between drugs, as well as interactions between drugs and food or drugs and herbal medicines.
“This is one advantage of a campus devoted to integrative medicine,” says NUHS President Dr. James Winterstein. “By taking advantage of each other’s expertise in a sub-specialty such as herbal medicine, students from all of our various professional disciplines can benefit. DCs and NDs can learn from the oriental medical faculty and the acupuncture and oriental medicine students can also get a background in western herbal medicine.”
Another cousin to herbal medicine is the study of Homeopathy. Homeopathic remedies are prescribed under a different and very specialized protocol of diagnoses and treatment principles, but are based on small doses of herbal compounds keyed to a patient’s symptoms and designed to help the body heal itself. “The study of homeopathy is rigorous and it takes a long time before one can reach a standard of excellence in practice,” says Dr. Daniel Richardson, chair of the nutrition and biochemical therapeutics discipline at National. National offers five sequential courses in its homeopathy curriculum.
But Richardson, who has a PhD in pharmacology, explains that botanical medicine works better if it is part of an overall health care plan. “It is rare that we here at NUHS simply talk about only botanical medicine in any course. We emphasize diet, supplements, lifestyle modifications, and do not rely simply on a ‘quick fix’ with any biochemical agent.”
Richardson is especially proud that National maintains three herbal dispensaries in its campus clinic, including a fully stocked oriental herbal dispensary. “Our students and patients can access these herbs right here and learn how to prepare prescriptions for our patients. The dispensaries are the result of a lot of hard work and determination by Fraser Smith, ND, assistant dean for naturopathic medicine and his naturopathic faculty, as well as Dr. Yihyun Kwon, assistant dean for acupuncture and oriental medicine and his AOM faculty. They are responsible for the dispensaries, which were built through our excellent maintenance and facilities program directed by Tom Rohner.”
“We are proud that we offer so much in the realm of herbal medicine at NUHS,” says Dr. Richardson. “In the future, we are confident that our students will begin their practice with a holistic approach to wellness – part of which includes botanical medicine.”