This year Herbal Medicine Week, led by the Naturopaths & Herbalists Association of Australia (NHAA), will take place around the country from 23 to 30 October. The week offers a great opportunity for you to learn about medicinal plants and connect with the herbalists and naturopaths in your community, who are trained to use these plants effectively.
What is herbal medicine and the role of herbalists?
Herbal medicine is the prime treatment tool of herbalists and naturopaths. Every culture on the planet has a history of herbal medicine, and it’s those traditions combined with modern Health science that make up herbalism today. Fully qualified practitioners – such as graduates of Torrens University – are well equipped to help in both the prevention of disease and the care of people who are ill. They formulate herbal prescriptions using medicinal plants from around the world and use evidence-based practice – which includes biomedical science, current research and traditional knowledge – to treat illness and encourage wellbeing.
With a sound knowledge of human biology and physiology, our students in The Practice Wellbeing Centre and professional herbalists working in their own clinics, also provide patients with dietary and lifestyle advice so they can take a holistic approach to their own healthcare.
Meet our Naturopathy & Western Herbal Medicine Senior Learning Facilitators
Ian Breakspear, Senior Learning Facilitator, Naturopathy & Western Herbal Medicine
Ian says, ‘I was 15 when I first read about how researchers discovered that chimpanzees who were sick with diarrhoea were choosing leaves from a particular plant and consuming them. The researchers later found that those leaves contained anti-parasitic chemicals and that the chimps were self-treating with herbal medicines. I remember thinking, How amazing! A couple of years after that I started my training as a herbalist and naturopath. Now, 36 years later, I have a Masters degree in Herbal Medicines and I’m actively engaged in herbal medicine research myself. I am always learning more about the amazing world of medicinal plants.’
Listen to Ian's latest podcast on FX Medicine
Bettina Schmoll, Senior Learning Facilitator, Naturopathy & Western Herbal Medicine
Bettina studied a Nursing degree in Australia, then moved to the country of her birth, Germany, to work and was surprised and delighted to see how hospitals and GPs there use herbal medicine as part of the regular treatment regime for their patients.
Returning to Australia, Bettina says she: ‘Decided to find a health career where the focus was on the individual empowering themselves to proactively take care of their health. And that's where I feel herbal medicine and naturopathy excel. We work collaboratively with the patient and help them to take charge.’
Bettina completed an Advanced Diploma in Applied Science and then a Masters in Health Science.
‘I understand both sides of our system,’ she says. ‘I understand the medical side of our system, and our naturopathic and herbal medicine side.’ This allows Bettina to work collaboratively with GPs and the patients themselves.’
Talking about the public’s awareness of naturopathy and herbal medicine, Bettina explains, ‘People are definitely becoming more aware, but in general they still don't actually know how much we can offer. I believe that just means we have to do more educating and I'm hoping that members of the general public will come to my walk so they can find out more about medicinal plants.’
If you are in Brisbane during Herbal Medicine Week, you can join Bettina on her Herbal Medicine Walk in the beautiful Mt Cootha Botanical Gardens, each day from 3–4pm. You’ll easily find Bettina thanks to her distinctive frangipani umbrella. Email Bettina for details.
Dr Greg Connolly (PhD), Associate Professor, Naturopathy
Dr Greg Connolly says, ‘I was drawn to herbal medicine mainly through my own health issues with skin problems. At the age of 16, I saw a dermatologist who told me that diet has nothing to do with acne. I knew there had to be a better way. By using diet and herbal medicines I achieved great results with my skin and that set me on the path to exploring natural medicine for healthcare.
‘I have been practicing herbal medicine since 1988. My first workplace was at a drug withdrawal centre in St Kilda, Melbourne. Following that I set up my own holistic health clinic, which had a herbal dispensary where I made my own herbal creams, ointments and shampoos, as well as an array of herbal tonics for all sorts of health conditions. All systems of the human body can be treated with herbal medicine to restore, replenish and rejuvenate good health.
Dr Greg Connolly's herbal medicine dispensary in Elwood, Melbourne
‘While working in my clinical practice I also began teaching part-time at the Torrens University’s in 1992. This included being a clinic supervisor training senior students in the care of patients. In the following years, I did further study with a Master of Social Health and a PhD on cancer patients, Complementary Medicine and the hospital system. I am now an Associate Professor in the Naturopathy department at Torrens University.’
Using Herbal medicine to treat a variety of health issues
Every day, naturopaths and herbalists, such as Ian, Bettina and Greg, see the many ways herbal medicine can help their patients. Bettina talks about a particularly memorable experience: ‘This was a number of years ago now, a lovely young woman, 24 years old and just married, presented with really, really heavy periods, and also a lot of spotting during her cycle. It was so strong that her honeymoon was a bit of a disaster because she was bleeding heavily. When she came to me, I gave her this one herb, just one herb.
‘Two weeks later she came back beaming and was so happy and thankful. In that young woman’s case, I think there's nothing else that would have worked as well as herbs. It was the most wonderful experience seeing how it made such a difference and so quickly. Many people think herbs take a long time to kick in, but that's not always right. Some do, yes, but other herbs act quickly.’
Greg says, ‘At the drug withdrawal centre where I worked, I was treating people withdrawing from opiate and methamphetamine addictions. Herbal medicine was invaluable for these clients for the aches and pains of withdrawal, headaches, fevers, insomnia and anxiety.’
Professional training and accreditation for herbalists and naturopaths
As Ian explains, ‘The key is to ensure that you select a properly trained herbalist or naturopath. Since 2015 the majority of the profession has agreed that new graduates should have a minimum of a Bachelor degree in Naturopathy or Western Herbal Medicine for anyone graduating after 2018.
‘While obviously there are highly competent herbalists and naturopaths who trained long before these new standards came in, it is important to speak to your practitioner and find out about their qualifications and their membership of professional associations.
‘If you are looking to a career in herbal or naturopathic medicine, make sure you choose a training provider that offers a minimum of a Bachelor degree, that their courses have a significant focus on in-house clinical training in the later years, and that they are recognised by pre-eminent professional bodies such as the Naturopaths & Herbalists Association of Australia.’
Torrens University proudly offers the only Bachelor of Health Science – Western Herbal Medicine course in Australia. It is highly regarded by industry professionals and for our students it brings together traditional wisdom and the most current practices and research into herbal medicine. Catherine Smith, Program Director for Naturopathy & Western Herbal Medicine, says, ‘Torrens Western Herbal Medicine course is unique because we offer an extensive work integrated learning clinical program that focuses on preparing students for successful professional careers and clinical practice.’
Enjoy Herbal Medicine Week 2022
With a line-up that includes fascinating talks, walks and Western Herbal Medicine community consultations in Torrens’ student-led clinics in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Herbal Medicine Week lets you explore the ways in which a herbalist or naturopath can help you personally.
If you are thinking about making naturopathy and herbal medicine your profession, then this week will give you the opportunity to meet practitioners and talk with them about their knowledge and experiences. They can tell you about the wide and diverse career options open to you once you graduate with a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy or Western Herbal Medicine.