Herbal Safety Information
Herbs can be a part of your life in many ways. Reading books is an excellent beginning to learning the rich history of herbal usage throughout different cultures and civilizations. Many people enjoy reading about lighter, household usage which includes gardening, cooking, holiday traditions and creating atmosphere. Herbs can be part of artistic endeavors by transforming them into jewelry and decorations. Many people include herbs into their daily routines of hair, face & body care, perfume, domestic animal care and household cleaning & sterilization. Herbs prove their usefulness even more with the success people have had using them for health & medicine for the physical body as well as mental balance and well being. Plants have been medicine as far back as man has written records. Herbs have entered all parts of our life, even our spirituality and religion.
In a sense, our use of herbs throughout history has been holistic. Holism is an integration of things that are thought to be greater than the sum of their parts. A holistic approach to health includes awareness and acknowledgment of the body, mind and soul. The body, mind and soul are all considered, even when treating what just appears to be a physical complaint. So for example, diet, daily habits, emotional extremes, attitudes, beliefs, work situations etc. may all be considered in a holistic approach to a condition.
Sage in the Cheryl's Herbs garden.
Skeptics feel that medicinal herbalism has little or no use or that it couldn’t possibly be effective. Newcomers sometimes look to herbalism as the total answer, much like going to the doctor and just taking the medicine prescribed. Sometimes people get dramatic results from a simple herbal remedy, which leads them and others to believing it is always that way with herbs. On the other hand it is just common sense and logical to realize that drinking a simple cup of tea is not going to reverse a long standing condition of 20 years or more. Herbs can definitely heal, but they are seldom the total answer. Medicinal herbalism’s success is greatly enhanced when used within a holistic approach.
Herbs can be used in various degrees of need. They can get you past a cold or the flu or ease the discomfort of a very serious condition. People have experienced total remission of cancer after using herbs. It is possible to achieve fantastic results from the proper use of herbs, but realistically looking at these highly successful cases, one could suspect that the herbs taken have fit into a holistic approach whether the user knew this or not. Using herbs as a preventative measure is of course superior to using them to heal after a condition has already developed. If steps are taken at the very first few symptoms of a condition, then much less of a remedy needs to be used to put the body back in balance. Many times the herbs used to heal a condition are also used to prevent the condition.
One needs some knowledge of the body to use herbs effectively. One certainly needs some knowledge of the herbs themselves. Knowledge gained from more scientific information is usually the best. The scientific information usually goes into more detail about what the actions of an herb are. This is where you can be alerted to certain precautions that are not given in the common, general herb book. The scientific information will usually draw more conservative conclusions but there is nothing wrong with that. This is your health you are considering.
It is wise to pay attention to certain things when reading herbal information. In more scientific literature, pay attention to whether the study was done on only one constituent of an herb or the whole part of the plant that is used medicinally. This matters because just one constituent taken internally may produce different results than when the whole part of the plant is used. When reading articles in magazines you may not realize that its source may be the company that manufactures and sells the product. When reading common general herb books, they may not always include the few precautions that come with the use of some herbs.
Luckily, poisonous plants are not available for sale to the public, so most of the easily available herbs are generally safe when properly used with knowledge and common sense. Generally the kinds of things people need to be aware of are possibilities of skin irritation, sensitization, stimulating effects that could aggravate a high blood pressure condition, hormonal effects that are unwanted during pregnancy, photosensitization and using an herb that speeds up the action of an organ when that organ’s function is already severely damaged. Children and babies require very careful small doses. This is by no means a complete list of precautions but gives good examples of the kinds of things one needs to be aware of. Herbs should never replace proper and necessary care from a physician. This is one of the most important aspects of herbalism today. Common sense must be used when utilizing herbs for health. Herbs do have specific actions on the body. There are almost no herbal doctors in America (speaking to those of us here in the USA) so you are on your own and treating yourself when using medicinal herbs.
Medical terms are used to describe the actions of herbs. For example, White Willow Bark Salix alba is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It contains certain compounds, which are now synthesized and known as aspirin. Marshmallow Root Althaea officinalis& Slippery Elm Bark Ulmus rubra are demulcents which means they soothe irritated tissues, particularly mucous membranes. Anise Seed Pimpinella anisum and Horehound Marrubium vulgare promote the discharge of mucus from the respiratory passages, so are considered expectorants. Valerian Valeriana officinalis is a grea tsedative. Astringents are useful for conditions like diarrhea & hemorrhoids and Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana is a well known astringent. Some carminatives, which ease griping pain and expels gas from the intestines, are Ginger Root Zingiber officinale and Peppermint Leaf Mentha x piperita. Milk Thistle Silybum marianum is considered one of the greatest hepatics because it strengthens, tones and stimulates the secretive functions of the liver.
Much of the herb information that is easily available is more anecdotal than scientific. Scientific research data is available, but it is a little harder to obtain. Fortunately, because of the increased interest in the whole topic of herbal medicine, more scientific information is being created and made available. One important perspective on anecdotal evidence is that plants have been the medicine since the beginning. Chemical medicines are rather recent in the history of man. So when reading about how an herb has traditionally been used for centuries, one must realize that ancient people would not have bothered to pass on information about what an herb can do, if it wasn’t true. They just wouldn’t have bothered!
The usefulness and effectiveness of herbs has already been proven for centuries.
Herbs are effective, but they are gentle in their effectiveness. They are not only gentle on us, but gentle on the earth as well. Their growth, manufacture and use is all friendly to our natural environment. Thinking holistically, it is only natural to extend this holistic approach to the whole earth as well. Herbalism is healthy for the planet, as well as supporting health in us. We are one with the earth so be inspired to use more plants and live well!