What is Herbalism? - October 2019


By Klaus Ferlow, Vancouver, BC

herbs as a healer

Many people in North America are not familiar what herbalism is all about since we are living in  society asking for the “quick-fix” when health problems arise.

Therefore I would like to inform you about the long history and the benefits and healing power of herbs and whey it is very important for your long-term health and well being.

I would like to start using the quote of Master Herbalist (MH) Debra St. Claire, graduated from The Dominion Herbal College, in her Pocket Herbal Reference Guide Book from 1992:

“After the ability to synthesize medicine from inert substances such as petroleum and minerals was developed the therapeutic use of herbs diminished. The art of pharmacy turned to the production of drugs which could bring the quickest relief of symptoms, ignoring the reason that the symptoms appeared. As we look back, perhaps it is time to reconsider the path. The use of these substances has spawned a myriad of unexpected problems, such as suppression of the very signals that our bodies produce to alert us to a need of change. Pain itself is a call to action – a call to remedy an imbalance in our lifestyle. The proficient use of herbal therapy is directly connected to our ability to sense the first signal and to adjust our lifestyle accordingly. It is when these signals are continually ignored that disease has a chance to seat itself more deeply within our bodies. The appropriate use of herbs is only one of many health alternatives in our present medical system.”

I was honored by North America's oldest herbal medicinal school founded in 1926, Dominion Herbal College, Burnaby, B.C., Canada for my lifetime of dedication to the cause of herbal medicine as innovator of herbal formulas, manufacturer, practitioner, lecturer, writer, promoter and defender of herbs and the practice of art and science in herbal medicine. I received the prestigious award of an Honorary Master Herbalist (HMH) Diploma from the College and are only the 4th recipient in their 93rd history!

As a young child I learned from my grandmother on her farm in Germany, also from my mother the benefits and healing power of herbs for example that dandelion is good for blood purification, milk thistle for detoxification, elderberry juice for preventing and solving fever, chamomile for solving stomach problems, hawthorn for heart disorders just a name a few.



A plant that is used as a medicine is referred as an herb, the Latin word “herba”, the old French “erbe”

and the derivation of Middle English “herbe.” It can be pronounced with or without the initial “h-sound”. Originally, the term herb only applied to non-woody plants. Later it came to be used to refer to any part of any plant used for flavoring or medicine. In the field of complementary and alternative health care, called CAM – I don't agree with that term since we are dealing here with traditional medicine -- meaning any plant, in whole or part having nutritional and/or medicinal value, individual or combined parts of the plant that may be used including seeds, fruits, flowers, leaves,  stems, or root/rhizome.

Another source of public confusion lies in the vast array of terminology which has muddled the meaning of natural medicine in the mind of the average medical consumer. I found it interesting what the doctor of the future, Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, physician, herbalist, nutritionist, acupuncturist says in one of her books:

“It is against our belief to use terms such as complementary, alternative or CAM, except when quoting. Is is unfortunate that the medical establishment and all too many of my colleagues who practice conventional allopathic medicine have fallen into the habit of calling the oldest and most successful form of healing by what are, in fact, demeaning names, such as complementary alternative. We must always remember that allopathy is only a medical model born in the industrial age, and to suggest that the oldest and most used healing arts in the world are secondary to allopathiy is not only insulting but inaccurate as well. These traditional methods of restoring and maintaining maximum health, by virtue of their track record of safety and success, take second place to no other medical model!

One of the oldest and most successful herbal botanical systems in the world is AYURVEDA from India with a history of over 5000 years and YOGA and the NEEM TREE are part of it!



Herbs have been used since the first humans walked the earth as food, medicine and for religious rites. They were first used by shamans of ancient indigenous cultures throughout Africa, Eurasia, Australia and the Americas. Some of the prehistory practices were passed down the generations through the spoken word, ritual and as songs, which built the early foundation of our modern herbal knowledge.

Medicinal plants are mentioned in the Bible, and various herbs are mentioned throughout.

In the beginning God created the heaven on earth...and God said:”Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you. It shall be for meat. Genesis 1:29

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and the herb for the service of man. Psalm 204-14

The ancient Egyptians wrote their finding on papyrus. The Sumerians from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) used tablets of cuneiform writing. Hippocrates was a famous Greek doctor and the Romans believed Greek doctors were the best. Galen was the doctor to the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Diocorides was the emperor Neros's doctor. We learn about herbs used in ancient India and ancient China through a famous Arabic doctor called Avicenna who had read the writing. Throughout Europe and in the Middle Ages monks in their monasteries, grew and used herbs as medicines. In Germany Hildegard of Bingen was a abbess and a herbalist treated the sick with herbs. Voyages of discovery in the 15th and 16 centuries resulted in the pilgrims taking to America herbs they used in England. Then, over time, herbs native to America came to Europe and other parts of the world. In Britain  Culpeter published a book to help ordinary people make their own herbal remedies instead of paying for expensive ones from doctors.

Herbs have been used for uncounted time for various purposes like healing the sick and infirm. People thought that herbs keep the body in tune with nature as nature intended and maintain proper balance. Many scientific studies are still continue with modern research following up the lead of old folklore and herbal uses to help finding new western medicine. Man also been aware of the effect on the body, mind, spirit and emotion. For example, flowers were utilized to attract love, food and protection. Fragrant plants were worn to heal the body and give you a sense of well being. The most costly flowers are offered to Gods and Goddesses and the uses of aromatic incense is recorded from ancient times. When herbs are taken, the body starts to get cleansed and purifies itself. Unlike synthesized, highly concentrated drugs that may produce many negative side effects, herbs can effectively realign the body's defenses. Herbs do not produce instant cures, but rather offer a way to put the body in proper tune with nature. Nevertheless, you are now in charge of your own body and health. And remember: “For every disease we know, Mother Earth provides a herb to heal and grow!”

Herbalism, or physiotherapy, is the use of plants to support the natural healing ability of the body. Several types of herbal medicine systems are in use today: including Ayurvedic, Chinese, European, Native North American, Medicine of Indigenous people worldwide, and Western herbalism. Even though each system used different morphologies, terms and herbs, each of these systems treat the whole whole body holistically and not only the symptoms as in allopathic medicine, using the energy of the plants to work in synergy in each individual, in order to help the body heal itself because the body is still the best healer! Herbs have a remarkable history of healing human beings as well as animals and maintaining good health when properly used.

Most herbs in their natural state are safe, and do not leave a residue in the body that could produce negative side effects. When these plants are not used in their natural state it can result in harmful side effects. Drugs tend to treat and/or mask the symptoms or conditions, while the use of herbal emphasizes that one could avoid getting sick in the first place because herbs help to balance and support the body's healing.

The compounds in herbs work synergistic ally in the body to promote healing. All plants have therapeutic properties as they contain a variety of biologically active substances. Plants undergo photosynthesis, transforming carbon dioxide into energy rich substances. The resulting carbon chains are further transformed into a variety of compounds such as lipids, alkaloids, essential oils and tannins. Through other biochemical process, minerals and nitrates are absorbed by the roots and transformed into vitamins, trace minerals and antibiotics.

Herbs can affect biological systems in our bodies at the cellular and organ level. Ultimately these high levels of biologically active substances can produce pharmacological and therapeutic effects. The natural value of herbs is very high and organically grown herbs without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides spraying offer maximum benefits. Herbal  medicine represents a particular approach to healing which differs from allopathic medicine. Rather relieving single symptoms with a single ingredient, herbs offer a holistic approach by striving to heal the entire body by treating the cause of the problem. Herbal medicine can only be truly holistic if it acknowledges the social and cultural context which the illness occurred, and then the desired healing takes place.

The renewed interest in herbal holistic traditional medicine has encouraged changes within the existing medical profession. It is incumbent upon us all to seek out and utilize appropriate health alternatives. It appears that these opportunities will continue in the coming years. It might surprise you that toady 80% of the world population, seven billion people are still using herbs, herbal remedies and homeopathy for healing, There are multiple ways to dispense herbs: aromatics, decoctions, hot or cold infusions, juices, creams, salves, ointments, liniments, lotions, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes, sprays, medicinal and vegetable oils, teas, poultices and fomentation, powders, perfumes, syrups, tinctures, extracts, capsules, tablets, whole herb, dry or fresh and try to avoid any harmful dangerous, hazardous chemicals.



In our quest for technological advancement, we have, generally speaking forgotten to learn from the practices of our forefathers. As a result, we have not been making good use of the centuries of knowledge and wisdom accumulated in the minds of people, based on the trials and errors of the generations gone by. Thus, the new awakening in people the world over, especially among scientists to try to understand traditional customs, values, and practices, is a welcome change.

We have made a good beginning by acknowledging the benefits and healing power of herbs and herbal remedies and have learned how good an example it provides of science learning from culture. How many other plant species and other natural resources can help solve a myriad of contemporary problems? A whole world of traditional knowledge awaits our objective scrutiny and bestow good wishes of longevity, strength, resourcefulness, and versatility on science and scientists as we continue to learn more from traditions.



The art of healing comes from nature and not from physicians. Therefore, the physicians must start from nature with an open mind.

Paracelsus (Austrian physician and philosopher)

Herbs and plants are medicinal jewels gracing the woods, fields and lanes which few eyes see and few minds can understand.

Carl von Linne,  (Swedish botanist and naturalist)



  • Mindell Earl, Herb Bible, Simon & Schuster Inc., 2000
  • Rose Jeanne, Herbs & Things, Last Gasp, 2001
  • Serrentino Joe, How Natural Remedies Work, Hartley & Marks, 1991
  • Jensen Bernard, Herbs: Wonder Healers, Bernard Jensen 1992
  • St. Claire Debra, Pocket Herbal Reference Guide, The Crossing Press, 1992
  • Duke James, The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook, Rodale Press Inc., 2000
  • Lust John, Michael Tiera, The Natural Remedy Bible, Pocket Books , 1990
  • Tompkins Peter, Bird Christopher, The Secret Life of Plants, Harper Perennial, 1973
  • Kessler David, The Doctors Complete Guide to Healing Herbs, Berkley Books, 1996
  • Willard Terry, Encyclopedia of Herbs, Key Porter Books Ltd, 2002

Klaus FerlowKlaus's Bio: Klaus Ferlow, HMH (Honorary Master Herbalist, Dominion Herbal College, Burnaby, B.C., est. 1926), HA (professional Herbal Advocate Canadian Herbalist's Association B.C., Victoria, is a traditional herbalist, innovator, lecturer, researcher, writer, founder of Ferlow Botanicals, Vancouver, B.C., www.ferlowbotanicals.com now retired and Peter Ferlow is acting President, manufacturing/distributing herbal medicinal and personal care products with no harmful chemical ingredients to holistic practitioners and selected stores in traditional medicine in Canada and parts of USA since 1993, the company was founded in 1975. His educational articles about health, healing, herbs, nutrition have been published in health & women's magazines, newspapers, newsletter in Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa in print and online and on the internet. Klaus founded in 2013 NEEM RESEARCH, Mission,, B.C. to protect and promote the precious healing gift of the Neem tree from India to humanity and with over 23 years experience working with Neem he published in 2016 the book "Neem - Nature's Healing Gift to Humanity", www.neemresearch.ca and is also a co-author of the book "7stepsdentalhealth.com" He is a member of the National Health Federation, Monrovia, Ca., International Herb Association, Jacksonville, Fl, United Plant Savers, Rutland, OH, Neem Foundation, Bombay (Mumbai), India and he can be contacted via neemresearch1@gmail.com - Klaus Ferlow Website - Email

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