medicinal herbs

Using Herbs As Medicine: What You Need to Know

Using herbs as medicine goes back to the beginning of human history, in almost every culture. Herbal medicine (also called botanical medicine) can be a safe and wonderfully effective way to tend to your health and that of your family. Botanical medicine can be used to address a myriad of conditions, as well as incorporated for prevention and general health optimization. If you are new to the world of herbal medicine, here are some things to be aware of as you begin using plant medicine.

FORMS OF HERBS AS MEDICINE

Botanical medicines are available for purchase in many forms.

  • Capsules: Dried and ground herbs, which are then encapsulated. They can be opened up and added to food or drink for children.
  • Tablets: Made with binding agents, some better than others. They may not be the best option for children or those who have difficulty swallowing.
  • Teas: A decoction may come in a tea bag, or in bulk like a loose-leaf tea. Just steep it like you would a normal tea.
  • Tinctures: An extract in alcohol. Not typically the best option for kids, but alcohol acts as an excellent preservative and extract.
  • Glycerites: A sweet liquid that will also preserve the medicinal benefits of the herbs. Chemically, glycerol is a sugar alcohol, but behaves neither like sugar nor alcohol in the body. This is great option for kids. It tastes sweet and is completely safe.
  • Essential Oils: Highly concentrated volatile compounds, which are best applied externally, possibly in a carrier such as coconut, olive, or jojoba oil, or diffused for aromatherapy. Exercise caution before taking them internally because they are so potent and can be toxic.
  • Topicals (creams, salves, ointments, balms, etc.): May consist of any number of herbs, essential oils, and possibly other ingredients (some better than others), usually in a base such as beeswax and/or other oils. Some are much more natural than others. These may have local or systemic effects, depending on what they are.
  • As Food: Don’t forget all those delicious herbs which are used in cuisine! Using culinary herbs not only tastes delicious but can also provide significant health benefits.

SOURCES and QUALITY

There are a wide variety of herbal products on the market. Some are excellent and some are poor in quality. Everything from where and how the herb was grown, to when and how it was harvested, and all the processing that goes into making it into a product, can make a big difference in the quality and effectiveness of the final product. Good terms to look for include organic and (sustainably) wild-harvested or wild-crafted. It is helpful to enquire with knowledgeable retail staff or discerning healthcare professionals to know whether a particular brand or product is worth your money.

SAFETY

Many herbs are extremely safe, although some can be dangerous and should only be used as recommended by a qualified herbal medicine practitioner, such as a certified herbalist or naturopathic physician. How do you know which are safe? Typically, if it is available for over-the-counter purchase, it is safe for most people to take as recommended. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions should always check with their healthcare provider before taking any herbal medicines.  Also, anybody can have an allergy or sensitivity to anything, just like with food, so it is always best to start with a small dose and monitor closely for any reaction. Finally, pregnancy and breastfeeding present unique circumstances, so please consult your physician before using any other herbs or supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding.

GO FOR IT!

Now that you know the basics, you can start using herbs as medicine. Stay tuned for more articles about herbs and information on which ones to use for different conditions.