Medical Herbalism Models

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A diagnostic model, with information on use of warming and cooling herbs, and use of tonics.

Given that equilibrium is the desired outcome of medical herbalism, this is a balance model from which to diagnose and treat.

In the Hot/Cold model, it is considered that imbalance is in either a 'hot' or 'cold' condition. This is important because, for example, a headache may be rooted in either condition, which means the treatment will differ. This is contrary to the view that every headache responds to the same treatment.

First, the features of someone in a Hot condition. Hot conditions are characterized by over-activity. These are of the circulatory system, the digestive and waste system, cardiac features, and metabolism. When diagnosing, look for colour. For example, redness in the skin or, typically, under the fingernails, indicate Hot condition. People in Hot condition seek out cold things, like cold water, cool environments, less clothing and cool compress - like in a hot condition headache, eg migraine. Patients are overactive, nervous, or fidgety, maybe thrashing about in bed. They have sensations of heat and burning and may have a raised temperature. Headache will be relieved by cold compress.

Hot conditions require cooling herbs in order to prevent escalation of symptoms like perspiration, pain (spasm), digestive over activity. In other words, to halt excess from the system.

Hyperthyroidism is an example of over activity on a cellular level. Anxiety demonstrates over activity manifesting mentally.

In good health, we experience some hot condition upon exertion (rapid pulse, feeling flushed etc) but here our bodies naturally regain balance. In a Hot condition, we use cooling herbs (eg chamomile; feverfew) to restore balance when the body is not managing alone. That is, assisting the body in it's own recovery.

In Cold condition we see 'loss of flow'. 'Flow' can be expressed as 'chi', 'vitality', or metabolism. For example, a sluggish metabolic condition would be a cold one because of the feature of slowing down. One would seek to stimulating the flow with warming herbs- like cayenne or cinnamon - to restore equilibrium. Of course, if no improvement is seen, I would refer a patient to an orthodox medical practitioner. These treatment are NOT intended to replace orthodox medical treatment, but to work alongside it.

Problems with blood efficiency are seen in COLD condition, - key words are sluggishness and inefficient activity. Also, stiffening and pain in the joints, - arthralgia or even arthritis.

In nature, everything slows down, even to dormancy, in the winter. This is a good way to view Cold condition, and not appropriate for normal health. A literal example is hypothermia, which can result in death.

Symptoms that indicate Cold condition are pale skin, or with blueish or gray tones, congestion, catarrh, stagnation in digestive system, fatigue, signs of circulation problems in the hands, painful joints, and of course, feeling cold. Always observe the behavior of the patient too, and listen to speech as that can be indicative.

Some illnesses exhibit both Hot and Cold condition. For example, the common cold is a cold condition, but features a fever. With experience a judgment can be made about the root condition, and whether or not to include Tonics in the treatment.


Ok, so I said some things about hot and cold herbal medicines, before on my 'Zebrah' account, now I'll say some words about another group. This group is herbs which are known as Tonics.

These herbs have a number of characteristics which act upon the body by way of toning, balancing, invigorating, and, restoring function of a specific organ, or system, (like endocrine), or the whole being.

Those which restore are called 'restoratives' , a good example would be Kelp. Kelp contains iodine which works to balance the thyroid gland, which affects the metabolism of all the cells in the body, being part of the endocrine system.

Alongside the ' hot/cold' model, hormonal tonics work on the precise that part (like a gland) of the endocrine system can become over- or under-active. Thus, hormonal tonics are used to address an imbalance and consequentially restore correct functioning,

Another example of applying use of tonics, is the use of aphrodisiacs. There is debate that a substance exists which can directly stimulate a sexual urge, but certainly the genitals themselves can be affected, as can be the mind. In an aphrodisiac, we are really looking to heighten sensuality and to put the body in peak condition in order to achieve this

For example, a relaxant might assist, if stress is a contributing factor in poor sexual relations. If tiredness is the cause, then a good nerve tonic like the restorative Damian may make someone more willing in amorous scenarios. (Damian does make a very nice smoke too ^^)

In tonics, we should definitely look at stress hormones. Herbs that work on the stress response are called adaptogens. These remedies help to restore an adequate stress response. An inadequate stress response leads to the exhaustion of stress hormones, like cortesoids, from the adrenal gland, and thus a loss of adaptability from the body. This is considered one of the causes of chronic disease. Ginseng is an example of an adaptogen, and, easily enough, so is garlic!

Again with the idea of restoring equilibrium to achieve optimum health, there is a group of tonics called harmonizers. Harmonizers use a rather homeopathic stance by addressing what, possibly emotional, condition, created the imbalance in the first place. Harmonizers are similar to adaptogens, with adaptogens coming from a more medical (see 'phytotherapy'), and harmonizers coming from a more holistic, premise. The function is pretty much the same. It is the practitioners job to decide which is more relevant in an individual case, - plus one can use both approaches at the same time.


Here is a brief history on blood purifiers , - remedies which were known as cleansing herbs.. .

In medieval times in Europe, the diet was very poor during the winter months, due to to the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, and because meat was preserved by being heavily salted. When the early spring arrived, the first plants began to grow. These plants were known as beneficial weeds. It was discovered that they removed toxins from the body, and that they replaced depleted vitamins and minerals. They also acted as mild diuretics, - one of the processes sought in what we now call blood purifiers.

As well as diuretics, qualities of the group of herbs called blood purifiers are laxatives, (bowel cleansers); cholagogues ( bile stimulates); expectorants ( loosening phlegm), and diaphoretics (inducing sweating). Blood purifiers work mainly in chronic disease, like M.E., psoriasis, and nervous disorders.

With the groups of herbs I have introduced you to, - restoratives, blood purifiers, harmonizers etc, you can use the internet to search for which herbs fit into these groups of tonics. Feel free to ask me if you would like any help with your research. I'm still studying, but I may be able to help. :)


Added to on Aug 21, 2012
Last edited on Feb 02, 2019
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