Changing the knowledge base in Western herbal medicine by Sue Evans

Changing the knowledge base in Western herbal medicine

Sue Evans*

Department of Natural and Complementary Medicine, Southern Cross University, P.O. Box 157, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australiaa r t i c l e i n f oArticle history:Available online 25 October 2008Keywords:Herbal medicineTraditional knowledgeEvidence-based medicineVitalismAustralia

a b s t r a c t The project of modernising Western herbal medicine in order to allow it to be accepted bythe public and to contribute to contemporary healthcare is now over two decades old. Oneaspect of this project involves changes to the ways knowledge about medicinal plants ispresented. This paper contrasts the models of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) andTraditional Knowledge (TK) to illuminate some of the complexities which have arisenconsequent to these changes, particularly with regard to the concept of vitalism, theretention or rejection of which may have broad implications for the clinical practice ofherbal medicine. Illustrations from two herbals (central texts on the medicinal use ofplants) demonstrate the differences between these frameworks in regard to how herbs areunderstood. Further, a review of articles on herbal therapeutics published in the AustralianJournal of Herbal Medicine indicates that practitioners are moving away from TK andtowards the use of EBM in their clinical discussions. 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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