To Use Herbs
"If you have limited resources, and you want to improve your health and
vitality by becoming your own herbalist, the Principles of
Herbal Medicine e-learning program will be to your liking. It
features comparatively affordable modules that you can do when it suits
Most popular medicinal herbs, including all
the herbs discussed in The
Green Healers Apprentice learning material, are reasonably safe for most people most of
the time when taken in recommended amounts.
But remember herbs do contain
pharmacologically active compounds that have powerful effects on the body when
taken in medicinal doses. They therefore can potentially cause harm –
allergic reactions, side effects, possible foetal injury, interactions with
other herbs and drugs, and death.
Overall, herbs are safer than drugs, but
they are potent medicine, and anyone who uses them should do so cautiously
and responsibly. Fortunately you don’t need to be a master herbalist to use
medicinal herbs safely. All you need is a little information and some common
The following sage advice on using herbs safely comes mostly from Michael
Castleman’s bestseller The New Healing Herbs:
Before you take any herb, read up on it
Don’t just listen to friends and relatives. Do
your own research. The information in
Principles of Herbal Medicine is a good starting point. Take any warnings
seriously. When in doubt about the appropriateness of the herb for your
condition, don’t use it. Limit your use to those herbs that are widely
recommended in popular herb books.
Don’t take herb identity for granted
Only buy herbs and herb products that identify the herb by its Latin
binomial name – that is, genus and species. For example, thyme’s binomial
name is Thymus vulgaris. You will learn more about botanical names in
the Planning and Planting A Wildly Successful Herb Garden course.
Stick with the recommended dosage, and never exceed it
Some people assume that if a little herb is good, more must be
better. Wrong. Herbal dosage recommendations are based on centuries of
clinical experience and, often, scientific research.
If you are over age 65, start with a low dose. As we grow older, we
become more sensitive to medicinal herbs and drug effects. In addition,
older people often take other medications. You don’t want to risk adverse
herb-drug interactions. Rather increase the dose gradually. You will study
dosages in depth later on in this course.
Respect your individuality
We are all different. You may be allergic to one or more herbs or
you may develop other unusual reactions. Stay alert for any adverse
reactions such as abdominal upset, diarrhoea, itching, rash, headache –
anything out of the ordinary. If you notice any unusual symptoms that appear
to be linked to the herb, stop taking it and discuss your reaction(s) with
your health care provider.
Even if you are not allergic, you may still be unusually sensitive to one
or more medicinal herbs. Doctors refer to this as an idiopathic reaction.
Idiopathic means "for unknown reasons" – in other words just one of
those things. Out of the blue, you may react badly to an herb that’s
generally considered safe. It happens.
If you are pregnant or nursing, use herbs with caution
It is a persistent medical principal that one should refrain from
giving medicines to a pregnant woman unless absolutely necessary.
Fortunately, the issues are less worrisome for the use of herbal remedies
than they are for conventional drugs. Nevertheless, herbalists still refrain
from medicating where possible, and then they prefer herbs that are
positively vetted as good. Again, do your research.
Don’t give herbal remedies to children under age 2
While some herbalists contend that herbal remedies are okay for
children 6 months and older, we take a more conservative position in this
course. Use your discretion and apply the recommendations discussed in the
lesson on dosages.
Think twice before jumping on a herbs bandwagon
Be cautious about unusual or new foreign remedies that have not
stood the test of long-term use. Be extra careful when taking an old popular
herb with a new "breakthrough" use. A good case in point is St. John’s wort
which flew of the shelves of stores when it was shown to have an important
new benefit as an antidepressant. What people did not know was the adverse
interaction of St. John’s wort with drugs like protease inhibitors and
Never on Sunday’s
Always challenge a treatment: if after several weeks it is thought
that the herb is useful, or even if there are doubts, stop the herb for a
period of time and see if it is still necessary. Take the herb for six days,
then break a day. Or take it for four weeks and then break a week. Whichever
time scale you decide on, you must challenge the treatment.
Use your common sense
Never persist with any herbal remedy after a moderate period of time
(preferably no more than several weeks, a couple of months at the outside)
if it is not clearly improving the condition concerned. Contrary to popular
belief, most herbs do not take months to work, it is the condition that sets
the pace; if it is going to take months to correct professional advice would
in any case be preferable.
Consult your health care provider
In most cases you can safely treat any ailment for which you
normally would have opted for over-the-counter remedies, without getting
professional advice, with herbal remedies. But you have to draw the line
somewhere. Our position is that you should in all cases consult your doctor.
Be especially careful of self diagnosis. It may land you in hospital and/or
cost you your life.