A Practical Guide to Complementary Therapies

 

Herbal therapies

Herbal therapies use medically active substances harvested from plants. These therapies may be made from any part of the plant but are most commonly made from leaves, roots, seeds or flowers. Depending on the herb, they can be taken in pill or liquid form, inhaled or applied to the skin.

Herbal therapies are part of virtually every medical tradition. Many drugs now used by conventional Western doctors originated as herbal medicines. Practitioners involved in traditional healing systems use herbs extensively. So do herbalists, who practise outside these systems. A European healing tradition, sometimes called the "wise woman" tradition, also focuses primarily on herbal healing.

Herbal medicines are often promoted as a gentle and non-toxic approach to good health. This does not mean herbal therapies never cause side effects or allergic reactions or that they never interact with other pharmaceutical and herbal treatments. Learn enough about any herbal therapy you’re thinking about taking to ensure that the dose is safe and effective. Learn about possible side effects and watch for signs of drug interactions. It is also important to inform your doctor, pharmacist and complementary therapist about all of the medications and health products you are taking—prescription and non-prescription—including herbs and supplements.

Herbal therapies are available at herbal and health food stores and, increasingly, are being sold in drug stores and grocery stores. However, we encourage you to get as much detailed information as you can about any treatment that you’re considering. Consider consulting a qualified herbalist who has experience working with people with HIV.

Herbalists are not regulated in any province or territory, but some provincially regulated professionals, such as naturopaths and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, have extensive training in herbal medicine. The Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners requires its members to complete three years of full-time study. Some institutions and associations differentiate between clinical herbal therapists and consultant herbal therapists: the former generally have more years of training and experience.