I am a member of quite a few groups on Facebook which aim to help people find remedies for their illnesses; Herbal Medicine, Herbal and Alternitive Medicine (spelling intended), Advanced Herbal Science and herbHealtH to name a few. I love Facebook groups because they are a place I know I can talk about a particular subject with people who are interested in that particular thing, and we never come off that topic. Lord knows that for a lot of people Facebook is the most easily accessible place to get information about herbs and for some it's the only place they can chat about them. Not everyone can see a herbalist after all. So I think it's important we try our best to give the best advice we can within a flawed system. Most of the time, people don't even acknowledge those faults, but I think the more we do, the better our advice will get.
You're asking the wrong questions
You'll be familiar with going to the pharmacy and telling them you need something to help you sleep or something for headaches, and they're used to giving you something on those terms. The trouble with herbal medicine is that we treat people more often than we treat problems. I know that every headache is not the same and the cause isn't the same either. So why would I treat it with the same herbs? So when you ask for something for your headache on facebook I can only guess at tens if not hundreds of herbs which may or may not help as I don't know what caused the problem.
Sometimes it is really useful to treat symptomatically for problems, especially if they're short lived. But I can't tell that from the question "what can I take for sleep?". So lets look at why I struggle so much.
Why I struggle to give good advice on facebook
- It's easy to not get all the facts in a facebook feed. I normally spend an hour or more, one to one, going through everything someone has ever experienced with their health. While this isn't always necessary to get to the bottom of a current problem it's hard to know you didn't miss something when you can't even get one to one attention with the person asking the question.
- It's easy to lie on facebook. Not everyone wants to share the intimate details that make up their illness they just want to know what will help them get a good night's sleep. But that singular query could be attached to a person with a myriad of health problems. You just don't know.
- It's difficult to get details of a problem even when you ask the right questions. Many times I've tried to get to the bottom of something by asking a series of questions on facebook feeds but I usually find people lose attention quickly on social media and just walk away and don't answer all my questions. I try to send a lengthy reply once I've got all the info they're willing to give while making it clear what I might be missing.
Why you struggle to GET good advice on facebook
- The answers you get may seem contradictory and confusing. As lots of people from different backgrounds are talking you get a big variety of answers. Let's face it, you probably just go with whatever remedy that comes up most. But that doesn't make it necessarily the best one for you.
- You can't tell if someone is talking from personal experience or professional experience. People don't wear badges proclaiming their experience or qualification on Facebook so who knows who you're talking to. It's very hard to judge if their advice is worth trusting.
What I try to do instead
- I try to focus on practical tips rather than herbs that might help
- I try to talk about herbal actions rather than specific herbs. It can be clear that relaxants will help someone but I wouldn't know exactly which till I have all the details.
- I list 3-5 herbs which suit the action I have mentioned along with a website where they can read about all the other properties of the herb for themselves and self-prescribe.
- If there are obvious drug interactions or potential side effects to anything I recommend I make that plainly clear
- I always explain what I know I don't know. If for instance, I don't know how long you've had the problem and that would make a big impact on the herbs I choose then I make that clear.
- I try to write blogs which answer commonly asked questions on Facebook so I can link to that rather than ramble on Facebook. Plus I just don't have the time to talk through a treatment plan for Cystitis every night.
- I try to link people to books and online resources which go in depth at the problem from a holistic perspective.
I hope this explains why I don't generally recommend taking herbal advice for long term problems off Facebook and am very cautious with seemingly short terms problems too. I hope it also gives herbalists some tips on how to offer more advice for acute problems while maintaining safety precautions.
Got any advice on where to get quality herbal medicine advice for free? I'd love to hear where you go.