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Over the past 20 years Western herbal medicine (WHM) has developed a great depth of understanding on how a plant’s biologically active components improve health outcomes and relieve symptoms for many conditions. WHM treatment incorporates a health analysis based upon the body systems, and uses natural herbs in the form of tablets, fluid extracts, powders and teas made from the whole plant or its components, to assist the body’s innate healing process. It benefits chronic conditions and works alongside acute and chronic prescribed medications where necessary.

Research into WHM as a modality is limited, although many individual substances have been studied. Researchers in 2016 developed edible ginger-derived nanoparticles they believe may be effective medicine for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Fed to lab mice, the particles efficiently targeted the colon, and were absorbed mainly by cells in the intestinal lining, where IBD inflammation occurs. The particles reduced acute colitis and prevented chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer, and enhanced intestinal repair by boosting survival and proliferation of the cells that line the colon.

“The minimum qualification required is a bachelor degree,” says Andrew Hamilton, Executive Officer, Naturopaths & Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA) (http://www.nhaa.org.au). “To ensure the highest levels of education and training for the profession, the NHAA also has in place educational standards and a Course Accreditation System. They’re regularly reviewed and ensure practitioners meet appropriate standards for eligibility to join the NHAA as a practising member. Prospective students need to find out which subjects are compulsory to be completed on campus, rather than interactive online, so you can make realistic plans around employment and geographic considerations. Also, read widely and become informed about current industry news and trends by joining the relevant professional associations as a student member at discounted rates.”

“As a health science degree, the foundation subjects centre on the basic medical sciences,” adds Natalie Cook, NHAA President. “This can be a shock to students anxious to learn about herbal medicine, healing and working in clinical studies. Don’t be concerned if you didn’t do much science in high school, as most courses have bridging subjects, extra tutorials and various support systems in place to help students through. And remember: you don’t need to achieve a high distinction to pass the subject.”

“The courses include subjects aimed at how to set up, run and promote your business, understanding the industry, its legal environment and so on,” says Jennie Driscoll, NHAA Director. “These provide a good foundation for starting out, and the networks and support groups developed during your studies will create an invaluable community of learning after graduation.” And what qualities make a good Western herbalist? “An enquiring mind, eye for detail, excellent communication skills, professionalism, the ability to think laterally and creatively, an excellent memory and organisation skills, hunger for knowledge and passion for the work,” says Hamilton. “A good practitioner is ethical and authentic, knows how to create a safe and nurturing environment, does not judge, has patience, and can see below the surface,” says Cook. “There are many ways of applying the skills and knowledge learned during your studies, with a variety of career options, including clinical practice, research, policy development, sales, marketing, lecturing, product development, technical writing, quality control, further study,” says Driscoll. “So options exist for all personality types, from introvert to extrovert.”