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Why herbs are good medicine


Plant power: herbalist Christine McQuillan making a herbal mix (Photo by Ronan Lang)

Plant power: herbalist Christine McQuillan making a herbal mix (Photo by Ronan Lang)

Plant power: herbalist Christine McQuillan making a herbal mix (Photo by Ronan Lang)

As long as the earth has been inhabited by man, we have used plants to cure all sorts of ailments and enhance the body's functioning.

The earliest records of medicinal plant usage date back to the Assyro-Babylonians and the Egyptians around 1550BC.

Later, the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the father of modern medicine, Hippo-crates, developed systems of medicine using herbs.

Today it is said that 25pc of prescription drugs and 60pc of over-the-counter medication are produced from plant elements. For example, aspirin is derived from willow bark and morphine from opium poppy.

"A plant, being a perfection expression of nature, represents balance," says master herbalist Christine McQuillan. "For deep, thorough healing to take place in a body, it requires the combination of elements as found in plants as they are found in naturally in the wild."

Christine has studied herbs and their healing properties for almost a decade and now runs the Herbal Clinic on Wicklow Street in the city centre.

Herbalism looks at the whole person to treat the underlying cause, she says, and does this using a three-pronged approach.

First of all, the body needs to be cleansed and eliminate toxins. After this, herbs are used to stimulate the body's self-healing powers and remove the underlying cause of illness. Then the herbs are used to nourish and tone all the organs and systems of the body from the inside out.

But before this process begins, she identifies where the imbalances are occurring. She does a very thorough consultation covering your medical, diet and lifestyle history, followed by an iridology consultation.

She shows you in an image of your iris where your issues are manifesting.

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She then prescribes and prepares individually tailored herbal remedies. I leave with a concoction of organic liquid herbs sourced from the UK as nowhere in Ireland produces them and instructions to take 5mls three times a day in water.

Although not the most pleasant of tastes, I've had worse and within a few days I notice emotions bubbling to the surface and a definite improvement in my eyesight. I notice that when I eat sugar, the effect of the herbs is diminished.

Depending on the condition, herbalism can approach things differently than Western medicine, says Christine. For example, if someone has a fever, herbalism would encourage them to sweat the illness out quickly with yarrow, cayenne pepper while wrapping a cold towel around the feet in contrast to the western approach of taking down the temperature with drugs and consequently driving the sickness deeper.

But not having had a real issue that needed addressing, Siobhan from Co Meath's story is far more reflective of what herbs can do. With a history of an underactive thyroid gland, thanks to reflexology she had gone from a size 16 to a size 8 but nothing would alleviate the recurring kidney infections she has been plagued with for over two years.

"I was at the end of my tether with the infections. I kept taking antibiotics that would clear the infection at the time but it would always return and then a friend suggested I try herbalism, so I did.

"Like anyone with kidney problems, my skin was grey and dehydrated and I was drained of energy. Christine gave me a bottle with several herbs including Siberian ginseng, dandelion and wa ursi to take 5mls three times a day.

"Within four days, my energy had improved and my skin started to glow -- I couldn't believe it."

Siobhan's verdict:

"I went with a kidney infection but I feel my whole immune system has been boosted and my thyroid has benefited from this natural, gentle yet powerful treatment. I wouldn't take any other route now and highly recommend it."

An initial consultation with Christine McQuillan costs €60, while a follow-up costs €40. Phone Christine at

086 4030801.


Herbalism: How does it work?

The Facts:

Beyond our use of them in cooking, herbs have been used as a potent form of medicine for centuries by the Chinese, Native Americans and Shamans, to name a few.

Alongside advances in medical science, they still remain one of the most widely prescribed remedies throughout the world and have proved to be an effective treatment for a variety of acute and chronic conditions.

Statistics say they are used safely and successfully by 80pc of the world's population today. In the UK alone over £40m a year is spent on over-the-counter herbal products.

Remedies include bottled tinctures, fresh, dried or powdered plant elements, herbal infusions, teas, compresses, poultices and ointments.

The effect of the herbs differ, but the general purpose is to improve and strengthen the overall functioning of a particular organ or system.

The Evidence:

Herbs are used for a variety of ailments including digestive problems including IBS, skin complaints, asthma, chronic fatigue, urinary and gynaecological problems, premenstrual and menopausal syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and migraine. The best known clinical trials regarding herbalism have been on the effectiveness of St John's Wort in treating mild to moderate depression.

Other studies show echinacea to be effective on boosting the immune system. In the EU, all herbal medicines must have a proven track record of safety. As herbs can be toxic ,it is essential to consult a qualified medical herbalist.

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