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Changing the knowledge base of Western herbal medicine

Sue Evans, Southern Cross University


The project of modernising Western herbal medicine in order to allow it to be accepted by the public and to contribute to contemporary healthcare is now over two decades old. One aspect of this project involves changes to the ways knowledge about medicinal plants is presented. This paper contrasts the models of Evidence-based medicine (EBM) and Traditional Knowledge (TK) to illuminate some of the complexities which have arisen consequent to these changes, particularly with regard to the concept of vitalism, the retention or rejection of which may have broad implications for clinical practice. Illustrations from two herbals demonstrate the differences between these frameworks in regard to how herbs are understood. Further, a review of articles on herbal therapeutics published in the Australian Journal of Herbal Medicine indicates that practitioners are moving away from TK and towards the use of EBM in their clinical discussions.

Suggested Citation

Post-print of: Evans, S 2008, 'Changing the knowledge base of Western herbal medicine', Social Science and Medicine, vol. 67, no. 12, pp. 2098-2106.

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