A lot of people are becoming interested in using herbs for natural healing these days, and yet, there is still an underlying fear that herbs can be hurtful. For the past several years, while studying herbalism and massage therapy, I have gathered some tools that help me feel safe when making herbal choices. I hope they can help others as well.
For starters, it helps to first recognize that many of the things we consume on a daily basis have an effect on our bodies. Garlic, for example, is known in some circles to be antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial. Yet, few people are scared of using garlic in their pasta sauce. Part of the reason for this is our familiarity with garlic, and that we are not using garlic every single day for months on end (unless you’re in my family). If you are using herbs sporadically, unless otherwise directed by a physician, it seems to me that you would have little to worry about in terms of detrimental effects on your body. There are, however, some things to look for in order to help you know that you are making the right choice.
Is the herb classified as a nutritive? Each plant will fall into a different category, depending on the primary action it takes on your body (with some herbs overlapping several categories). For example, some herbs are stimulants, while others are depressants. These would be ones to shy away from, or do more research about, since they may aggravate certain preexisting conditions. There are some herbs which are classified as nutritive, and to me, these herbs are similar to vegetables in the sense that they are helping to build and tone my body, rather than push it in one direction or the other. Some examples of nutritive herbs are stinging nettle and oatstraw.
Do more than three credible sources say the same thing about this herb? Finding out which sources are credible is a process in and of itself. Each person will find different sources that they feel most comfortable with. Some people might go to eHow or WebMD. Others will go to Susun Weed’s website, or Matthew Wood’s, or David Hoffman’s. The main thing to keep in mind is (just like with any food we consume that gives us nutrition and affects our bodies), there is a lot of knowledge out there, and some sources are bound to disagree, based on which studies they deem worthy of attention. So, if you find only one article by some kid in the middle of Kansas, who says that lady’s slipper will cure your carbohydrate cravings, get rid of your acne, while also solving your depression, you might want to look for another herb. Or at least a collection of them from sources that actually agree with each other.
How do I find out if I have an allergy, or a negative response to the herb? Well, for starters, begin your relationship with the herb slowly. Have a cup of tea made with the herb once a day, if it is one who’s constituents are soluble in water (the sources you find should let you know this information). How do you feel while drinking the tea? Ten minutes after? Three hours after? Try drinking a cup a day for a few days if you are working with a chronic issue, such as insomnia or depression, rather than judging the effect after just one cup. And remember, you know your body better than anyone else. If you feel like the herb is not a good choice, listen to that instinct, and perhaps try it again later, or do more research.
Can I just try all the herbs that are good for my problem at once? Well, that’s really not a good idea. Even though you might get excited by finding a slew of things that might help your current symptoms, the best way to go, is to introduce them into your life one by one. This is preferable for several reasons. First, if you have a negative reaction to one of them, you know which one it is, because you haven’t just taken seven at once. Secondly, if one works wonderfully, why bother taking all the others when you do not need them? You don’t go popping medicated cough drops, or taking cough syrup for fun, now, do you?
What if I want to just talk to someone, and have them find the herbs that are right for me? I think that this is an excellent idea. There are many herbalists out there who would love to work with you, and help you find the right combination to help you heal in a holistic way. Look it up on Google, and see if there are any practicing herbalists in your area. If you are lucky, they might be offering a class that you could go to, and you can learn how to navigate the world of herbs for yourself. Some of them may even do long-distance work with you, provided you can send detailed emails of your current symptoms.
The truth is, everything we eat came from the earth at some point. There is less money to be made by corporate companies if everyone just goes outside and eats dandelions to help their livers. Thus, there tends to be less money going into advertising and publicity for our little green friends. But, all you need to do is watch the television for a half an hour to see countless commercials for new prescription medications. For the last half of each advertisement, while happy music is playing and people are dancing through fields in love, there is a list of potential side effects that are usually quite severe. Granted, these medications are perfect for some, but for others, it is becoming time to turn to our own backyards to seek ways to heal ourselves. This is a process which I feel can be much more conducive to healing, than driving through traffic to a crowded pharmacy to pick up a bottle of pills.
(This article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease and is not intended to make any person take any herbs without first talking to a professional about their condition)