Herbs and Health: Natural Herbal Healing Basics

By Val Silver

herbs for health: natural herbal healing basics

Herbs and health care have a long history. Natural herbal healing has been used the world over for thousands of years. 

Although modern medicine temporarily led the western world away from our innate partnership between herbs and health, interest is rekindling as people realize that most pharmaceuticals do not heal and often come with a high price tag in dollars and side effects. Nature, on the other hand, can heal and manage symptoms. One of her great healers is plants, both as food and medicine.

Researchers are proving what indigenous people have always known. Herbs and health go hand in hand. Studies validate many health advantages of plant foods, trees, spices and natural herb remedies. Some herbs work well alone, or in combination with other herbs. Others work well in combination with pharmaceuticals. They may help the drug work better or make its side effects less troublesome.

A variety of pharmaceutical drugs are made from herbs or are synthetic copies. Two famous examples are aspirin, which was originally made from willow trees, and digitalis from foxglove.

Herbal Medicine for Health and Healing

Herbs are a form of complementary and alternative medicine. In some countries,such as Germany, natural herb remedies are carefully researched, profiled, and prescribed by medical doctors. They are used alone or in combination with pharmaceuticals.

Herbs and spices are used for food and are an important part of spiritual and healing rituals. Herbal healing remedies made from local plants are used for everything from curing the sick to preparing women for childbirth. Mindfully using herbs and spices for medicine and food strengthens your connection with nature. They empower you to nurture and care for yourself naturally. 

Traditional herbal medicine is not about this herb for that disease. For example, Saint John's Wort is helpful for some forms of depression, but not all. It also has other actions. 

It is also not about this part of a plant for this condition. In traditional herbal healing, wisdom dictated the preparation and use of herbs for health, healing and ritual. Plants were wild crafted, or harvested, reverently. Plants were honored as healing allies and thanked for their gifts of powerful medicine.  Parts were not extracted and standardized. You can still find herbs treated and prepared in this way by reputable companies or make your own. 

This is in contrast to trying to use herbs like pharmaceuticals. Some medicinal herbs are standardized and processed to the point of being drug like. The problem with this approach is that when compounds are isolated and adjusted for certain properties, you lose the synergistic benefits of the whole plant. You are more likely to experience side effects or no effects. In some countries, herbs prepared in this way are considered prescription pharmaceuticals.

Do you remember when St. John's wort was hailed and sold as a wonder herb for depression and it didn't work? The problem was that the wrong compound was being standardized and some parts discarded. St. John's wort was and is an effective natural healing herb for mild depression, just not the way it was being processed.

You really can't fool Mother Nature.

Types of Herbal Medicine

Herbal healing remedies are comprised of three categories: food, medicine and poison. 

  • Culinary herbs and spices are a simple way to venture into the realm of herbs and health. They are gentle acting and safe for most people to use regularly without having training in herbalism. You can enjoy this multitude of plants as tea, seasonings, infusions, and as food. Examples are gobo (burdock), cinnamon, ginger, dandelion greens, nettles, lemon balm and turmeric. You may also take them as supplements. These herbs can help you stay healthy and alleviate some symptoms. In quantity, such as herbal infusions, they are nutritive.
  • Medicinal herbs are stronger acting and are only used periodically as needed. They are not intended for long-term daily use. It is good to have an understanding of how to use these herbs, for whom, and when. Goldenseal, feverfew and yarrow are three examples.
  • Poison medicinal herbs are so called because they cause unpleasant or dangerous side effects when used incorrectly. They are potent medicine which require knowledge and skill to use. Examples include poke root, blood root, chaparral and foxglove. Essential oils also need to be used with care as they are highly concentrated.

Note that any culinary or medicinal plant can cause a reaction in an individual. For most people, valerian is acclaimed as a sleep remedy. For 10% of the population, it acts as a stimulant. I have an interesting relationship with peppermint. I can eat it and drink the tea with no obvious problem. I can rub peppermint lotion on my temples and neck when I have a headache. If I rub it on my legs, they heat up and rash within minutes. Go figure. 

Herbs and Health Benefits

Plants can be used to prevent and treat degenerative diseases, quell inflammation, manage symptoms, ease pain, and improve energy and mood. They aid healing by promoting detoxification and nutrition.

Sometimes herbs are used as simples, or alone, but often they are used in combination. This synergy of two, three or more herbs creates stronger and broader results.

Many plants, such as dandelion, burdock, elderberry and turmeric, have multiple actions, which provides broad spectrum benefits. Astragalus, for example, helps ease the symptoms of cancer treatments, boost the all important immune system, and or directly affect errant cells to help you get well.

Anti-inflammatory herbs ease pain from injuries by blocking pain signals to the brain, reducing inflammation and/or calming your nervous system. They ease health damaging chronic inflammation in the body, making them important for overall health and healing. Anti-inflammatory herbs are also useful as anti-cancer herbs.

Important note: Always review the herbal profile before using medicinal herbs and follow suggested doses. It is usually best to start with the lowest dose. Check for herb-drug interactions if you are on medications or have an upcoming surgery. Negative interactions are not common and number of interactions are positive because they either help the drug work better or ease some of the side effects. Sometimes this is too much of a good thing. For example, if you are on blood thinners you may need to avoid herbs that have the same effect (or ask if you can use the herb instead if you prefer). Some herbs are contra-indicated if you are pregnant or nursing.

On the following pages you will find information and text links to pages related to making and using herbs for health and healing, herbs for specific needs, flower medicine and aromatherapy. 

How to Make and Use Herbal Remedies

Natural herbal healing is both an art and a science. When used properly and as nature intended, it is effective, safe, and less expensive than most synthetic drugs.

Before using herbs for health care, educate yourself about which medicinal plants and spices would be most helpful for you and how to best prepare and use them. Consult the herbal profiles to read about traditional and contemporary uses, suggested doses and precautions.

Hippocrates said that it is more important to know the person who has the disease rather than the disease. Like people, herbs have "personalities".  They work best when you match their personality with that of the individual. For example, you probably wouldn't give a hot herb like cayenne to someone who has a hot condition or has a hot temper, even if it is indicated for a particular symptom.

Most herbal healing remedies are fun and simple to make.  You need fresh local herbs or high quality dried herbs, a few accessories such as glass jars, tea infusers, and a strainer, and a solvent. such as vodka, vinegar and/or water depending on what types of remedies you are making.  For syrups, some honey or other sweetener is needed. For topical use,  beeswax, carrier oils or lotion are needed. 

  • Dried herbs are available for medicine, seasoning foods, or teas. They are used as nourishing herbal infusions that energize and nourish deeply with their healing vitamins, minerals, herbal constituents and energy.  Purchase bulk dried medicinal plants from a reputable source and make sure they look and smell fresh. If they are browned, they are no good. Choose organic or wild crafted plants to avoid herbicides and pesticides.  
  • Liquid tinctures and extracts are great for natural herbal healing. They are easily absorbed by your body and are convenient to carry with you. Take straight, add to water, or add to herbal tea if you cannot stomach the taste. Tinctures and extracts can be expensive. Fortunately, they are easy to make at home using dried herbs or local plants. Most plants tincture in 80 or 90 proof vodka (40-50%) at a ration of one part herb to five parts liquid. Choose potato vodka if you have trouble with grains. 

Learn how to make herbal tinctures in the following video titled "How to Make Herbal Tinctures".

  • ´╗┐Capsules are a popular and convenient way to take herbs. Some herbalists dislike capsules because taste communicates with the body.  They can be opened if you want to taste the herb. Also, quality may not be as good in capsules. Always purchase  from a reputable company and pay attention to the expiration date.  Capsules can be familiar way to introduce newcomers to the herbs and health connection. 
  • Expand your horizons. Herbs for wellness come in many forms. Give flower essences a try for natural herbal healing support for negative emotions and stress. Homeobotanicals are safe, gentle remedies that offer support for physical or emotional conditions and can be used by just about anyone. Aromatherapy essential oils are lovely to inhale and use for baths and massage for physical and emotional support.
aromatherapy healing, essential oils
  • Homeobotanical Therapy - herbal combinations that access the physical and energetic potential of herbs and homeopathy for specific organs and systems. 

Flower Herbs and Health

Flowers are used for physical and energetic healing. They are often used in herbal healing remedies along with stems and leaves, but may also be used alone or in combination with other flowers. Medicinal flowers used for healing the body, are used in much the same way as other herbs for health and healing. Flower essences are believed to be of the highest vibration of herbal remedies. They are used for vibrational or energetic healing and evolution of mind and spirit.

The herbs and health connection is an important way for people to experience the nurturing power of nature and its ability to help us heal.

The partnership between herbs and healthcare continues to be validated and strengthened as anecdotal evidence and research validates their effectiveness. Remedies are more readily available and people want to steer away from toxic pharmaceuticals when possible in favor of safe natural medicine. When safely and properly used, herbs can support your health in mind, body and spirit. 

If you are want to get well and stay well, the plant kingdom provides holistic healing in its most natural form.

Herbs and Health page updated 02/2020

Source: American Herbalists Guild

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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