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  • Writer's pictureShelly Hoekstra

Herbal Medicine & Its Respective Modalities: Aromatherapy, Homeopathy, & Dietary Supplements

Herbal medicine uses the therapeutic properties of plants and plant extracts for the purpose of healing and to promote general wellness. Archeological evidence of this ancient medicinal tradition can be found dating back as early as 60,000 years ago (written record 5,000 years ago). Early man was dependent on rudimentary botanicals for treating every illness.

Colorful herbed filled bowls

Many ancient cultures have roots in herbal medicine, including Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Iraqis (Mesopotamia), Chinese, Indian, African, Native American, and Indigenous Australian cultures. Today, 75% of the world’s population uses herbal medicine, and more than 50,000 plant species make up this expansive alternative healing modality.

Herbal medicine can help improve most illnesses affecting the body systems. Some of these conditions include:

  • Allergies, asthma

  • Eczema, psoriasis, acne

  • Stress

  • Headaches, migraine

  • Insomnia

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Colds, flu

  • Premenstrual syndrome, menopausal symptoms

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer, colitis, indigestion, heartburn

  • Angina, high blood pressure

  • Ulcers

  • Cancer

Common Medicinal Herb examples:

  • Echinacea

  • Ginseng

  • Ginko biloba

  • Elderberry

  • St. John's wort

  • Ginger

  • Valerian

Aromatherapy is a subdivision of herbal medicine that can be used on its own. Homeopathy and dietary supplements are options that may also be plant based but not necessarily.


Aromatic essential oils are made from plants and are used medicinally to improve health and general wellness for the mind, body, and soul. This modality dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures. Aromatherapy functions via sense of smell and skin absorption. Essential oil options include diffusers, bath additives, room spritzers, and body oils and lotions. It takes a large amount of plant matter to create small amounts of essential oil, making quality medicinal grade oils a bit costly.

Common Essential Oil examples:

  • Lavender

  • Peppermint

  • Frankincense

  • Sweet Orange

  • Bergamot

  • Tea Tree

  • Ylang Ylang

One compelling study on the effects of essential oils was speared by two nurses, Tonya McBride and Teresa Sturges, from the emergency department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Their staff often struggled with stress management and fatigue due to the nature of the environment and work schedules. With the support of a wellness committee, a research model was designed to examine the effects of therapeutic grade essential oils on stress reduction and increased energy levels within a hospital work environment. The results were remarkable.

  • Prior to the use of essential oils, 41% of staff felt work-related stress very often. This decreased to a mere 3% following the diffusion of the oils.

  • Feelings of being overwhelmed transformed from 25% prior to application to 2% after application.

  • Feeling properly equipped to handle work related stressors improved from 13% to 58%.

  • Staff views of energy levels increased from 33% to 77%.

  • 84% of the department strongly agreed that the use of medicinal grade essential oils aided in a positive work environment. The nurses recommend citrus scented essential oils.

Homeopathic Medicine

Homeopathy is a whole medical system that uses small doses of plants, minerals, and snake venom to induce the healing process, allowing the body to heal itself. This alternative modality was developed in the 1700’s in Germany. It is based on the fundamental principle that like cures like, meaning, a substance taken in large doses causing specific symptoms, when taken in very small doses will cure those same symptoms. Reportedly, homeopathy can be safe to use during pregnancy and for babies.

Common Homeopathic Remedy examples:

  • Arnica

  • Arsenicum Album

  • Ignatia

  • Sulphur

  • Belladonna

  • Allium Cepa

  • Nux Vomica

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are substances used for additional nutrients in one’s diet or to decrease health risks. The development of supplements began back in the early 1900’s. Supplements can come in the form of pills, powders, extracts, gummies, drinks, and energy bars. They may be comprised of vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, herbs/plants, fish oil, or enzymes.

Common Dietary Supplement examples:

  • Vitamin D & C

  • Calcium

  • Magnesium

  • Folic Acid

  • Probiotics

  • Turmeric

  • Fish Oil

Overcoming Barriers

Research on herbalism remains limited. With large pharmaceutical companies being profitable, and the inability to patent plants, there has been a lack of initiative. These are hurdles that need to be overcome.

Our current overriding medical model in the US is not an effective one. Doctors are limited in the amount of time they are able to meet with patients, diagnose, and prescribe treatments. These time limitations are determined by health insurance companies, and many doctors have come to rely on pharmaceutical representatives for medications because they do not have the time or energy to research on their own accord. They are often limited in their knowledge of natural resources because they have not had any holistic healing education in medical school.

Health insurance companies dictate which treatments will be paid for, and only a couple of alternative healing options are covered by some insurance organizations at this time. In addition, this system supports treating symptoms rather looking at all aspects of wellbeing, which we know are all profoundly interconnected.

Times are turning, however. Dr. Donese Worden, researcher and naturopathic doctor explains that physicians are jaded and disheartened with the barriers of our medical model as well and know they’re not able to spend the quality time they would like to with patients. These constraints interfere with their ability to get to the root of the problem. (Liggett, 2017). Physicians and researchers alike are aware of our health system's shortcomings and are awakening to what has been lost, the value in our natural world. Many physicians do want to explore the options available, and they do want to learn.

With this new outlook, there has been some initiative in exploring options from a scientific perspective. Gold Standard research is starting to happen. Nutraceutical companies are beginning to partner with large institutions, making this all possible. There is a movement happening toward great change!

Last Note

Herbal medicine is a comprehensive modality that can help treat specific symptoms and whole-body systems. Although herbal medicine is seen in our culture as an alternative healing modality, it remains the only form of medicine readily accessible to a significant amount of the world’s population. The cultures that continue to use this traditional medicine as a primary resource have determined its benefits by the consistent, positive results over thousands of years.

People from our culture are beginning to look for alternatives, and herbal medicine is on the rise. We are gaining a greater awareness of the long-standing benefits of this marvelous, natural alternative.

If you are considering using herbal medicine, be sure to speak with your physician regarding any possible concerns or contraindications. Herbal medicines are not FDA regulated so be certain you are using quality products. You can ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) to guarantee that all of the ingredients on the label have been tested, or you can utilize a trusted herbalist who has already done this work for you. These medicinal supplements are derived from plants, so if you are prone to allergic reactions, use with caution.

The scale has begun to tip in a positive direction with the use and recommendation of this healing modality in our Western culture. Explore the expansive alternatives that are our natural resources, as mother nature intended.



Liggett, J. (Producer), Worden, D. (Performer). (2017). Open minds: A naturopathic approach to cancer with Donese Worden. [Documentary] Season 8, episode 6, Gaia Television.


McBride, T. and Sturges, T. (2012). Living Magazine, autumn 2012.


Mount Sinai. Herbal Medicine. Herbal Medicine. (2018)


Phone: (413) 569-8048


© 2021 Shelly Hoekstra, Life Coach & Alternative Healing

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