- Alternative & Natural Medicine
Herbalism and Common Medicinal Herbs
A Brief Synopsis
In this article I will explain how to use a variety of herbs as remedies for common health problems. You will know some of these herbs. Some of them you won't. Either way, these herbs can be medicine when prepared.
Keep in mind that these herbs are not a replacement for modern medicine. Drugs today find their roots in these herbs, but the drugs are specialized. Herbs are generic and will have far-reaching effects. Take what your doctor tells you to take.
Also, this is not magic or witchcraft. This is early medicine created and used before modern drugs. Chanting and waving a wand around while taking these herbs will not help. It may make for a good YouTube video but very little else.
The Myths Surrounding Herbalism
Unfortunately, I can't debunk every myth surrounding the art of herbalism. There are too many of them going around. Even worse, there are crazy people who have no other job than to make up more myths about herbs. I'll try and get rid of the main myths.
As mentioned at the start, herbal remedies are not a replacement for modern medicine. While herbalism is the origin of modern medicines, the medicines are refined. An herbal remedy can soothe a stomach pain, but a prescription can fix the problem. Green Tea, for instance, can weaken the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. Still, without the triple-threat antibiotic treatment, you're stuck with the bacteria. Herbal remedies only go so far.
Herbalism is not a safe and sound practice. I'll attest to that as someone who's managed to poison himself quite a bit with it. As with drugs, herbs can conflict with one another or other substances you may be taking. You may overdose on them. They do have nasty side effects. If used improperly they can lead to your death. Remember, a medicine is a poison that's used correctly.
Finally, please remember that the herbs listed in this article are your enemy. They evolved to stop animals from eating them. Their medical properties stem from this in fact! Be very careful when dealing with herbs and, if possible, always consult a doctor before doing so. They are not nature's gift to your health, they are nature's attempt to kill you.
The Benefits of Herbalism
While these herbs may not be magic, they certainly have extraordinary benefits. Many minor ailments can be properly treated without a trip to the pharmacy and another ID check for purchasing Tylenol.
Which brings me to the main point here. You can acquire many of these herbs for a lot cheaper than you can acquire prescription medication. I mean would you rather pay $15 for a box of heartburn pills or a fraction of the cost for a bit of ginger and green tea? If it's chronic, of course, you shouldn't be using either of these. You should probably see a gastroenterologist.
I know this may be a bit of a jarring shift in tone but do not take these statements as a confirmation to avoid modern medicine or stock up on herbal supplements. Many herbal supplements in America are not regulated and lack anything that would actually help you. I shouldn't have to explain why you still need to use modern medicine. More importantly than that, though, and something a lot of "herbal doctors" don't talk about, is that herbs are generalist medicines. If you take an antibiotic from a doctor, it's likely programmed to only kill the bacteria that's hurting you. If you take an antibiotic herb, it's target is everything, whether it's helping or hurting.
I'm sure everyone has at least heard of this plant in America. It's a favorite among cosmetic companies to plaster all over their products and claims that it can make you look absolutely beautiful! This is false, of course. Aloe Vera can be used as a moisturizer but it's not going to get rid of blemishes and scarring.
To use this plant medicinally, cover a minor skin wound or burn with the gel-like substance inside of the Aloe Vera leaves. The gel will hydrate and shield the wound while the Aloin inside the gel will kill most bacteria that try to invade. You can also ingest small amounts of the Aloe Vera gel to help ease constipation, but I wouldn't recommend doing this often, you'll read why later.
Aloe Vera Toxicity
Yeah, that Aloin that helps kill bacteria? It has another nasty side effect on human beings. Specifically, it can harm your liver. If you're taking it to help ease constipation you won't want to take much and you definitely won't want to give any of it to young children or seniors.
Do you have an aloe vera plant in your household?
So besides the millions of people calling this a superfood, which it is but dear god they need to shut up about it, blueberries are also medicinal. I know it's a stretch to call them herbs, but it's my article.
If you're suffering from constipation or urinary tract infection, a handful of blueberries a day can be a marvelous way to help ease the symptoms. This fruit also has the ability to cull inflammation and swelling brought on by ulcers or gastritis.
Unfortunately, this can only treat the symptoms. Blueberries do not have antimicrobial properties so the source of your pain will continue until you see a doctor.
As far as toxins go blueberries are safe. You may have to visit the toilet a few times more than normal but not much worse. The Vitamin C they are so famous for is unlikely to be overdosed on since it's water soluble and vanishes with urine.
However, if you manage to overdose on the vitamin, common side effects include heartburn, nausea, insomnia, and kidney stones. Still, nothing fatal, but nothing pleasant to say the least. Avoid megadoses of Vitamin C people!
You'd better know what this is or you haven't been cooking!
Cloves have a minor pain relieving effect most concentrated in their oil. You can use them to help soothe the pain from a toothache or in your upper digestive system. Some people have reported that applying clove oil on their skin has helped kill pain but I've personally never gotten that to work.
I'd stick to using it to help with toothaches, mouth sores, and indigestion. Just remember that clove oil breaks down quickly in the stomach so you won't be able to use it for intestinal problems.
The same chemical that gives cloves their medical use is also a lethal toxin in the wrong dose. Eugenol interacts with the human liver and can cause severe damage if you consume too much of it. Unless you eat cloves three meals a day you likely won't have this issue, but when using the oil as a cure there's a chance of overdose. Be careful.
Now here's one you may not know about. The chamomile flower is actually a group of plants that have a similar structure, and luckily this means you can use most of them for medicine!
The most common method of using Chamomile is to brew a tea with the flower petals and leaves as a cure for insomnia. The plant helps promote the release of chemicals in the brain that makes you sleep and it has a slight sedative effect to reduce pain which can make sleep even easier. This is far from all you can do with it though.
Chamomile tea can also be taken for its minor anti-anxiety effect. It won't be strong enough if you have clinical anxiety but it could help bring you down to normal levels in a stressful job or situation.
The tea also has anti-inflammatory properties which you can make full use of if you have a stomach ulcer or gastritis. It can be used to help alleviate acid reflux as well, but only for a short time.
I'm probably going to get some flak for this, but Chamomile is also an abortifacient. You can use it to induce a miscarriage, though success is determined by how often you drink it and how much you drink. Even then it's not very effective.
As mentioned earlier, don't take it while pregnant if you want your fetus to properly grow into a child. Chamomile causes contractions which can abort the fetus or cause severe damage.
Also, ask your doctor about taking this with anti-anxiety medication. It's never a good idea to mix drugs that affect the mind.
Have you ever used chamomile tea before?
If you don't know what this is just walk over to your spice rack really quick and come back. I'll wait.
The medicinal properties of fennel seeds actually originated in the middle east. You know how in most American restaurants you might be offered a peppermint for your after-dinner breath? Well, fennel seeds are actually just as effective as those peppermints without all the added sugar.
Aside from bad breath, you can use fennel seeds to help relieve menstrual cramps... at least I've been told that before. I haven't exactly had a chance to test that with my Y chromosome. Why not share your own experience in the comments?
Fennel Seed Toxicity
Fennel seeds contain a small amount of a toxin known as Estragole. This toxin has damaging effects on human genetic material which can lead to cancer. However, since fennel only has a small amount of this material, you won't get enough from even a medicinal dose to cause harm. I wouldn't recommend eating an entire container of fennel seeds unless you feel like you want to test the roll of the dice, though.
It's from China. It's a common replacement for caffeine. You've had some if you ever drank off-brand Green Tea from a supermarket.
This herb is a tremendously powerful stimulant. It has a similar effect to coffee and caffeine in that you'll be awake for a while after taking it. In the right doses, it can be more effective than caffeine and you may be able to take ginseng even if your kidneys have been damaged to the point of not processing caffeine.
Long-term use of ginseng can help fend off fatigue while recovering from medical procedures such as chemotherapy or surgery. I'd recommend asking your doctor before making this a staple of your diet though.
Ginseng is not toxic, per say. But if you take it too late at night you will find yourself suffering from insomnia.
In rare occasions, it can cause sensitivity to existing medical conditions as well. As an example, I suffer from heart palpitations that I normally cannot feel. If I take ginseng I can immediately feel those irregular heartbeats and it freaks me out. It doesn't do much harm but it freaks me out.
How many times do you drink an energy drink that uses ginseng?
You may find ginger powder in your home if you're an avid chef, but some people will have to go to the store after this.
The most common medicinal use of ginger is to treat nausea and vomiting. It can even help settle the stomachs of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy! It's not much, but any plus in that situation is probably taken with thanks.
Ginger can also be used in moderate doses to sooth motion sickness. Even I'm not sure why exactly this works, but I can attest that for me it does.
Ginger also isn't toxic per say, but it does have an effect on the body that some would call adverse. Taking too much ginger root will excite the nerves in the body causing restless pacing, twitching, and other symptoms known as the Ginger Jitters. Heavy caffeine and ginseng users will be used to these side effects while the rest of you are going to be very, very confused.
Royalty-free images can sometimes be fun to research. I really like that picture!
The green and leafy peppermint plant can be brewed into a tea that can help soothe indigestion by helping up the acid production in the stomach. It can also cure spasms in your throat and stomach as it has a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue.
If you concentrate it into an oil, the powerful aroma can help clear up your sinuses by promoting water production and breaking up the mucus. You still have to have enough lee-way to breathe in for this to work though.
While peppermint does have some toxicity, the amount you would be required to consume would be more than most adults could handle. Should you manage to eat that amount you may suffer from diarrhea and vomiting caused by your smooth muscles relaxing too much.
Peppermint Candy or Peppermint Tea?
To freshen your breath after a night on the town, do you use Peppermint candy or tea?
St. John's Wort
To some it's an herb, to some it's a flower, to some it's a weed, but to me, it's what keeps most of you alive when you're within 5 feet of me.
St. John's Wort is commonly used in Europe to help treat mild to moderate depression among teenagers and young adults due to its very minor side effects. For this purpose, you can brew it into a tea, dry and powder the flower, or just eat the thing whole. It doesn't really matter how you get it into your system. The downside is that this requires a small period of build-up before it starts to work. You may require one or two weeks if you're using the prescribed dose.
The herb can also be used to ease inflammation and swelling and this effect can persist through the bloodstream unlike most of the other herbs I've listed so far. So if you suffer from arthritis you might want to look into this little flower.
St. John's Wort Toxicity
The way St. John's Wort helps with depression is by preventing your brain from re-uptaking various neurotransmitters. In other words, if you take too much of this herb those transmitters will swim around way longer than they're supposed to. This can result in Serotonin or Dopamine poisoning. If you feel light-headed, stop taking this immediately and adjust your dose in the future.
Also, although fantastic for depression this drug is downright dangerous to take if you're bipolar. Get an accurate diagnosis before consuming this drug.
You'd better know what this is or I'll have to ask you to step outside. If you've ever eaten Italian you've had at least 16 cloves of this in you at once.
Remember when I mentioned that a lot of the herbs in here can't treat the cause of your pain, just the symptoms? Garlic isn't one of those. If you're suffering from a stomach ache caused by a bacterial or viral infection, garlic can help treat the pain, inflammation, and kill the bacteria or virus all at once.
You can also use raw garlic to reduce your blood pressure and improve the elasticity of your arteries. Both of these require a consistent and constant use of garlic over a long period of time, though. Don't take garlic five days before your bloodwork and expect better results.
Crushing garlic into a paste and applying it to areas of your skin, like your foot, can help prevent fungal or bacterial infections. Applying it to an infected area can help reduce the infection time. Few fungi that cause harm to humans are actually resistant to garlic's anti-fungal properties.
If you're pregnant or nursing do not take Garlic. It's toxic to small children and even more so to a fetus. To be safe, don't feed children raw garlic until they reach about 16 years of age.
Garlic also has a tendency to irritate the intestines and stomach lining especially if you have a high concentration of acid. Don't take Garlic if you're suffering from acid reflux.
Finally, and this should be obvious, don't take Garlic raw if you have low blood pressure! It can kill you.
This herb was all over the place not too long ago and may be back by the time you read this. Disregard 90% of what people say about it.
The most common use of Echinacea is reducing the length of a common cold. It may or may not reduce the severity of the symptoms depending on your luck.
You can also take this herb orally once daily to reduce very mild anxiety. In case you're wondering, the anxiety you'd use Echinacea to treat is on a lower spectrum than what you'd use St. John's Wort to treat. If you're not sure where you fall then default to St. John's Wort as it has better odds of helping you.
This herb doesn't necessarily contain a poison but some of its effects can be nasty to certain people. Avoid Echinacea if you have a known heart condition as the herb can cause an irregular heartbeat which may end with you having a heart attack.
Avoid using Echinacea for long periods of time as research shows that it may be linked to a condition where white blood cells clot together in the bloodstream. That's if it doesn't simply cause a low white blood cell count altogether.
In extreme cases, the herb can result in kidney failure. Frankly as much as I would love to discuss every single side effect of this herb, since it would make this a multi-thousand word article and probably rank much better in search engines, this should be the point where your head snaps up and you realize that you shouldn't take a lot of herbal remedies without consulting your doctor first.
How Many of These Have You Used Before?
Other Herbal Medicine Resources
- Herbal Remedies: Evening Primrose for Diabetes
Evening Primrose is a beautiful flower often used as a biological ornament in a well-maintained garden. It's also a powerful medicine that can be of great help to diabetics. I'll bet you didn't know about it's remedy properties!
- Herbal Remedies: Garlic for Blood Pressure and Artery Health
Garlic is a common culinary herb, but it's also a treasure trove of medicinal benefits. If it's not being used for high blood pressure or helping the elasticity of arterial walls, it's being used as a preventative for several types of cancer.
- Herbal Remedies: The St. John's Wort Plant
St. John's Wort is a powerful medicinal herb that can treat a number of issues, though you likely know it best for its use as an anti-depressant. You need to be careful though. Just as with any medicine this herb can be a poison in the wrong dosage.
- Herbal Remedies: The Chamomile Flower
The Chamomile flower looks suspiciously similar to the common Daisy. This beautiful plant, however, has a host of medicinal benefits. The common daisy has few to none. Be careful if you're picking Chamomile yourself, and remember that there are many
- Herbal Remedies: The Turmeric Spice
Turmeric is a spice grown and used primarily in Asia. The herb is powdered into the substance we use for food, but it has powerful medicinal properties. It can help reduce cholesterol and soothe arthritis. Sounds crazy, but the mechanism is actually
- Herbal Remedies: Aloe Vera Gel and Latex
You've seen the Aloe Vera herb all over cosmetics commercials. Well, there's no evidence any of that works. But here are some ways you can use Aloe Vera medicinally.
© 2012 Michael Ward