Once viewed as the preserve of the alternative, the healing properties of herbs have now gained widespread public acceptance.
Names such as Slippery Elm, St John's Wort and Siberian Ginseng are commonplace and there's a strong demand for their beneficial effects.
Galway GP Dilis Clare not only runs a thriving herbal medicine practise and is a leading authority on herbal medicine in Europe –she's about to publish the first in a series of books on herbal medicine, and plans to launch a training Academy of Herbal Medicine in January.
For Clare, it all started with a few pots of herbs and a North London garden measuring 30ft by 50ft.
Clare, who grew up in Dublin, was working in London as a GP in her thirties when she started gardening as a hobby.
"We had an average-sized back garden in north London, and after work, I'd do a bit of gardening – I found it relaxing," she recalls.
Yet, every time she came back from the local garden centre, she says, she found that she'd somehow bought a few pots of herbs to plant: "I found that every time I came from the garden centre these herbs would have just "jumped" into my basket, so although I'd no plans to grow a herb garden, I eventually had one.
"It all grew out of that."
Synchronicity can account for a lot, and, as it happened, around that time Clare was starting to become frustrated with the limitations of the pharmaceutical drugs she was prescribing.
Patients were complaining that they weren't getting sufficient relief from conventional medications supposed to treat everything from IBS to sinusitis, insomnia, migraine and anxiety.
"One day I was in the garden when I wondered if some of the plants did anything useful. I wondered if I was surrounded by possible solutions to someone's problem."
She did some research, and discovered a degree course in herbal medicine at the Middlesex University, just a stone's throw from her practice. She enrolled, and the rest is history.
"While I was studying for the degree in herbal medicine, I opened a herbal medicine clinic at my general practice in north London and started to integrate herbal medicine into the practice."
She sought and got training in clinical herbal medicine from "four of the top herbalists in the UK", while also taking clinical training in herbal medicine as part of her degree course.
"I learned about herbs and their properties and realised that herbal medicine is a whole form of medicine, which stands alone.
"It's a system of medicine in and of itself," she says.
Herbal medicine can help with everything from acne and digestion issues to skin problems, IBS, stress, anxiety, chronic fatigue, PMS, and the symptoms of the menopause can benefit from the use of herbs.
Yet, says Clare now, she still didn't really believe it:
"I was the most sceptical of anyone. I really didn't believe the herbs worked."
It was only in her second year of treating patients with the plants that she began to accept there was something to it.
"I started noticing people coming back to me saying they felt better – and in significant numbers."
After completing her course, she returned to Ireland in 1999 to set up a practice.
"One of the wonderful things about herbal medicine was that it gave me a focused reason to return to Ireland," she recalls.
"I had a very good job in London, but I was homesick and I moved to Galway and set up an integrated practice.
"The whole thing just took off – I was incredulous at the popularity of herbal medicine here."
"Some herbs are very gentle and have a very nourishing and gentle effective action, such as peppermint, chamomile and elderflower – they can be used by nearly everyone."
But there's a lot of knowledge and expertise involved in herbal medicine, she says – and proper regulation is important.
Some herbs are only for use by practitioners, she explains, while the use of other plants is banned – even by experienced practitioners.
"The use of some herbs requires knowledge, and you need to be cautious about using them, for example black cohosh.
"There are herbs that should only be used for medicinal problems, and these herbs need to be used in a knowledge-based way – you need to know what you're doing.
"Herbs should be regulated to ensure good manufacturing practice that covers traceability, toxicology, verification and microbiology – that's the regulation that is needed."
She's strongly opposed to the making of what she calls "unsubstantiated claims for curing anything," saying her work is about nourishing and support, and is wellness-based, rather than focused on curing disease.
There's a scientific basis for the use of herbs but, she acknowledges, the evidence is very limited, primarily, she believes, because of a lack of funding for research.
Yet these days, her work as a doctor is almost all about herbal medicines.
"After working with herbs in general practice for 14 years, I have a herbal 'bag' of medicine and a 'pharmaceutical' bag – but now, about 95pc of my practice is from the herbal medicine bag.
"It's often integrated with drugs that people are already established on – for example, somebody who is on tablets for high blood pressure might come to me with digestion problems.
"I'd help that person with their digestive problem by using a blend of herbs and lifestyle advice.
"I had one patient with very severe heartburn who was on the total maximum of all drugs.
"He couldn't drive for longer than 30 minutes because of his indigestion – his heartburn would be so bad.
"This man is now on one-third of the drugs he used to take and can drive for two-and-a-half hours.
"I looked at his diet and used slippery elm and a lot of digestive herbs, herbs for the liver and herbs that are calming to the nervous system, as well as adaptogen herbs which are herbs that help us manage chronic stress, such as Siberian Ginseng.
At least one-third of issues/problems can be resolved by small lifestyle changes, Clare believes.
"I gradually began to put together blends of herbs because people were asking for something that required a mix, such as sinusitis or digestive problems," she explains.
When necessary, she gets firm with slackers who just want an easy route to health.
"If people aren't prepared to change their lifestyle, I tell them not to waste their money and my time."
These days, she works alongside other alternative health practitioners. The clinic runs a healthy heart programme, a digestive programme, a skin clinic, a fertility and a sleep clinic.
Now in her late fifties, Clare plans to spend the coming years teaching and writing.
"I'm currently setting up an Academy of Herbal Medicine – it will be an online course starting in January 2014, she explains. And she has just completed a book on osteoarthritis, the first of a planned series, 'The Doctor Herbalist'.
She's never had any regrets about her sudden shift to an alternative system of medicine.
"It's like being Miss Marple – every patient is different. Every patient is a story and I get to use all my brain cells, ingenuity and wit and sense of humour."
*Dr Dilis Clare will be one of a number of experts featured at the Over 50s/Back to our Past show at the RDS from October 18 to 20.