What You Need to Know Before Choosing and Using Herbal Remedies

What You Need to Know Before Choosing and Using Herbal Remedies

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  1. The resurgence of practical herb use over the past two decades has been nothing short of phenomenal.

    While it had long been common practice for households to keep a variety of herbs on hand to treat a number of everyday ailments, that practice virtually died out with the growing popularity of over-the-counter medicines, beginning in the late 1950s. With growing dissatisfaction and distrust for Western medicine, however — and of course the rising cost of vitamins and other supplements — many households that had routinely relied on “modern” medicine to treat common ills, are now opting to look outside mainstream medicine to natural curatives.

    But before you run out and purchase a bag of fresh herbs or plan to brew your own therapeutic teas, there are a few important points you should understand.

    Firstly, although scientific studies have proven that many herbal remedies are not the feeble substitutes for prescription drugs the pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe, you shouldn’t expect to select just any herb you’ve heard about in the news or from a friend–and have it magically work.

    While willow bark (the active ingredient in aspirin), foxglove (the prime component in digitalis), and opium poppy (the key ingredient in codeine) are just three of hundreds of plants that have proven curative powers, the fact is that just as with synthetic drugs, a process of matching herb to symptom is essential.  And once that has been established, you must then decide the most effective method of delivery (capsule, infusion, or perhaps a topical plaster), the dosage, and how long to use it.

    Secondly, just as there are guidebooks for selecting and administering synthetic drugs (medical PDRs), there are reliable, long-standing herbal authorities on the shelves such as A Modern Herbal, by M. Grieve, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, and Back to Eden, by J. Kloss) which should be consulted.

    Although the Internet is brimming with sites claiming to know the "hottest" ancient curatives and most effective "secret" herbal remedies, most carry no authority whatsoever, and merely reprint what they have found at other equally un-authoritative sites. It is therefore essential that you refer to primary sources such as M. Grieve, Culpeper, Kloss, and cross-reference your findings with other sources whenever possible. This is the process every reputable modern herbalist uses to learn his or her craft.

    Thirdly, before delving into natural curatives, be aware that just as with synthetic medications, not all herbs work on all people in the same way.

    Herbs can and do cause allergic reactions in some individuals. If, for example, you’re allergic to strawberries, a curative brewed from strawberry leaves may indeed trigger the very same allergy symptoms. This is why experienced herbalists typically have a “Plan B,” a contingency herb in mind, just in case. That way, if the herbs you first choose aren’t getting the job done — or are adding to your ills — you can always discontinue those and try the next.

    As every herbalist soon discovers, just because the first herb you choose sets off a negative reaction or doesn’t hit the target, that doesn’t mean that no herb will work for you. It simply means that particular herb didn’t work for you.  But there are always many more to try.  And it is often a matter of trial and error, hit and miss.

    Lastly, in addition to becoming familiar with how to research which herbs are effective in treating which ailments, every herbalist must learn the proper methods of delivery: infusion, decoction, tincture, poultice, plaster, etc. Because even if you have the ideal herb to treat a particular illness, if it isn’t introduced to the body by the method most beneficial, it would be like putting aspirin in your ears to treat a headache. Right cure, but wrong delivery.


    (Note: I have been a practicing herbalist for over thirty years, and a certified herbologist for twenty.  I have written numerous articles on this subject that you may find useful.  If you are looking for an authoritative source visit: James R. Coffey Writing Services & Resource Center.)

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