What you need to know
Herbs have been used as a potent source for healing in many traditions for thousands of years and still are, such as in Indian Ayuvedic medicine, Chinese medicine and also by the North American Indians. A lot of drugs in modern pharmacy still continue to be derived from plants.
We owe a lot to the traditional therapeutic use of herbs throughout the world. Not only does nature supply us with food but also the remedies for our diseases.
Through chemical analysis it has been revealed that all the chemical elements of which our bodies are composed can be found in the roots, barks, leaves, flowers and fruits of plants. Each family of plants will take up a specific group of chemical elements from the soil. For example, there is the family of legumes (peas and beans) that can supply us with calcium, potassium and phosphorous for bones, ligaments and teeth. There are plants that are high in iron which are good for the blood and plants high in phosphorous that can supply vital food for the brain and nervous system.
How can herbal supplements benefit you?
Plants can supply us with remarkable combinations of elements to meet all the requirements of the body. It has been proved many times over that dead inorganic minerals cannot be utilized in the living cells of the human body, but in their organic form as in herbs, they act like a food for the cells and their therapeutic properties can be put to use in the body.
Herbs are Nature’s own pharmacy and an important source of nutritional supplements. Usually the best method to take herbs is internally as it is from within that healing takes place. In the preparation of plant medicines, great care has to be taken of the time of harvesting. Pharmacologists have discovered that the biochemical composition is affected by the growth cycle, daily rhythms and the climate. Active ingredients are found to be at different levels at different times of the day, month and point of growth. Traditional folk-lore knew all of this intuitively.
Herbs are prepared in a variety of ways –
Fresh/dried herbal preparations
To allow dry plant constituents to be readily absorbed, the herb must be finely powdered and made up either as capsules, pills or lozenges.
Hot water is poured over the dried or fresh herb and left to infuse for 10-15 minutes before drinking.
This method is used for hard and woody plants where the plant materials is boiled and then simmered to break it down and release to active components. The liquid is then drunk.
Alcohol is generally a better solvent for plant medicines. These preparations are known as tinctures. They are stronger and so administered in smaller quantities.
The body is able to absorb plant compounds through the skin and so they can be prepared in the following ways –
Any herbs that can be infused can be used in a full bath or a foot or hand bath.
These are used for local vaginal infections.
These are soft or semi-solid preparations that are applied to the skin. These often have a vaseline or petroleum base.
These act as carriers enabling remedies to be inserted into the body such as in the nose, ear, rectum or vagina. They are usually used in the following ways
– For herbs that soothe the mucous membranes and reduce inflammation
– For astringents that help to reduce discharge or for the treatment of haemorrhoids
– For remedies that stimulate the peristalsis of the intestines as laxative
A compress is a piece of clean cloth soaked in a hot infusion or decoction and placed over the affected area to accelerate the healing process.
These are similar to compresses. The fresh bruised leaves of the plant are applied directly to the skin or cloth and kept warm. Dried herbs are made into a paste before applying. They are often used to draw pus out of the skin.
These are used in massage to stimulate muscles and ligaments. They are formulated to be absorbed easily through the skin. The herbal mixture is usually combined with alcohol and oils.
Many herbs are rich in essential oils such as peppermint and St. John Wort. The oils come in two forms depending on how they are extracted.
– Pure essential oils are extracted from the plants by a complex distillation process and are used in aromatherapy.
– A type of cold infusion where the finely chopped herb is infused in an oil such as Olive or Sunflower, kept warm and the resulting mixture is filtered.
What to be aware of when choosing herbal supplements
- It is important to choose supplements that have been scientifically formulated in order to increase bio-availability (meaning that the body can easily assimilate them effectively).
- Ensure that supplements are produced to pharmaceutical standards.
- Poorly formulated supplements pass through the digestion and are excreted with little benefit to the body.
- There needs to be enough of a particular vitamin, mineral, antioxidant or herb to actually make a difference. Trace amounts of herbs are generally not going to be very effective.
- Be sure that the product does not contain any fillers, artificial colours, flavours or other additives.
- Many products contain ingredients that cancel each other out.
- Labels do not always exactly reflect the content of the bottle. There are wide variations in quality and pricing between synthetic and natural ingredients.
Popular medicinal herbs
Aloe Vera – among its many uses it helps in the topical treatment of wounds, minor burns, and skin irritations.
Bilberry – for vascular and blood disorders. Can help bruising.
Black Cumin – used for treating gastrointestinal conditions including gas, colic, diarrhea, dysentery, constipation and haemorrhoids.
Cranberry – can be used for urinary tract infections and gum disease.
Ginger – among many benefits, ginger lowers blood cholesterol and reduces blood clotting, as well as alleviating gastrointestinal problems such as nausea.
Gingko Biloba – can promote mental clarity and concentration, increase alertness and short-term memory.
Gotu Kola – used for reducing fatigue, improving memory, circulation, wound healing, and increasing longevity.
Green Tea – can be used to treat stomach disorders, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. It is also an antioxidant.
Hawthorn Berry – used as a cardiac tonic, for coronary circulation problems and arrhythmias.
Myrrh – used for arthritis, lowering high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, as well as skin disease and weight loss.
Olive Leaf – used for viral and bacterial infections.
Oregano – highly effective for killing a wide range of fungi, yeast and bacteria, as well as parasites and viruses.
Red Clover – some of its uses are for menopausal symptoms, hot flushes and night sweats.
Turmeric – an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herb, used for dyspepsia, abdominal pain, haemorrhage, diarrhoea, flatulence.