Modern medicine is rooted in herbal tradition. Many drugs have been developed by chemically synthesizing the active constituents of plants. Some of the more common examples are aspirin derived from white willow bark, and digitalis for heart irregularities which comes from the foxglove plant.
Here are some common questions I'm asked when someone wants to know if herbs are right for them.
Q. What's the best way to take herbs? As a tea, capsule or tablet or tincture?
A. When you go to the health food store, which is where you should buy your herbs, you will usually be presented with a number of choices, such as which form to take or whether to take single herb alone or in combination with other herbs. Most people choose the form most convenient for their lifestyle but there are advantages to liquids such as tinctures or teas. Liquid forms are more easily assimilated and the single most potent way to take an herb. Other forms are suitable but sometimes tablets contain binders that don't break down easily. Many people choose capsules or tablets over liquids to avoid the bitter or unpleasant flavor of medicinal herbs; however, the bitterness of certain herbs is known to stimulate the liver and digestion.
Q. Is it better to take a single herb or combination formulas?
A. It depends on the nature of the problem. If you have simple indigestion or nausea, insomnia or minor headache a single herb may be all that's called for. If you have the flu with sinus congestion, aches and pains, headache and more, a combination of herbs that can act synergistically may restore balance more quickly.
Q. What about the alcohol in a tincture: the label reads 60 percent grain spirits?
A. Alcohol is always the preferred medium in tinctures. It has the ability to break down the cellular structure of the plant releasing the phytochemicals and minerals for assimilation by the body. If you are concerned about the alcohol base, simply heat one or two ounces of water, add the tincture and allow it to steep for one minute. This will evaporate the alcohol. Tinctures made with glycerin can interfere with the healing properties of the herb and can cause allergic reaction in some sensitive individuals.
Q. Are there side effects when you use herbs while taking prescription medications?
A. For the most part using herbs to address a problem that you are already using prescription medication for is not a wise idea. Simple herbs such as ginger, garlic and parsley that are used in cooking or fresh in salads may be the best way to utilize herbs for those taking prescription medications. Always check with your health care provider.
Q. If I'm not sick should I still take herbs?
A. Herbs are utilized in many ways as tonics, for healing, for stress, yet herbal medicines are always best used for symptoms. When the symptoms subside, rest from taking that particular herb. Most herbal therapists recommend this approach. On the other hand if you know fatigue will many times be followed by a cold, or if it's cold and flu season and you feel you've been exposed, don't wait. Herbs work best if taken before the symptoms are full blown. The exception to this rule is feverfew, used for migraine headache. Most migraine sufferers using feverfew to reduce or control symptoms find they need to take some everyday.Herbs give us the ability to take responsibility for our own health and healing. If taken as directed they are safe and have little or no side effects. Next time you have a nagging headache or indigestion, and have to go out to the drug store, why not head to the health food store for some herbs. Your body will say thank you!
Till next time, Rebecca.