- preventing and treating common illnesses
- creating your own tinctures, oils and ointments
- maintaining your energy levels and increasing your mental and physical stamina
- basic herbs to have at home, and those that are useful but not essential
- assembling a first-aid kit for travelling, both in Europe and more remote areas
- where to buy good-quality herbal products and find a professional herbalist.
There are detailed sections on the common problems of the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, as well as chapters on slowing down the ageing process, reviving libido and recovering from a serious illness.
If you want to look after your own health, Herbs for Home Treatment gives you all you need to do so in a user-friendly way and will inspire you to create your own medicines from your own herbs.
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Herbs For Home Treatment
A Guide to Using Herbs For First Aid and Common Health Problems
By Anna Newton
Green Books LtdCopyright © 2009 Anna Newton
All rights reserved.
Herbs have been used as medicines around the world for millennia: they were the original medicine in all cultures and major civilisations. It is sad that, in many Western countries, the twentieth century saw herbal medicine being degraded to a complementary or alternative therapy, for it deserves a place in mainstream health care. Indeed Eastern countries, such as China, recognise the value of traditional medicine and incorporate it into their health care alongside their orthodox medicine.
So why should we go back to using herbs medicinally?
In many instances herbs are as effective as, and sometimes more effective than, conventional pharmaceuticals in treating many common health problems. Did you know, for instance, that clinical trials have shown St John's wort to be more effective than SSRI drugs in treating mild to moderate depression? Medicinal plants can often treat problems that defy modern medicine, including the common cold and chronic fatigue syndrome. They are equally applicable for ailments that arise suddenly, for instance heartburn, and for long-standing conditions, such as joint pain.
The effectiveness of herbal treatment is backed up by many clinical trials. Therefore herbal medicine is an evidence-based treatment according to modern scientific standards.
Personally, I believe that the records we have of traditional use constitute valid evidence as well: our ancestors were quite skilled at treating everyday illnesses with herbs, even though they did not understand the nature of the disease. Today, we have the enormous advantage of being able to use the best of both worlds and combine modern understanding of what causes a particular ailment with traditional insight into which herbs best treat that ailment. A good example of this is the elderflower, which has been used for centuries by country folk in Britain and Austria alike to treat the common cold, but only relatively recently has it been shown to exhibit antiviral properties. See the References for details of clinical trials.
LOW RISK OF SIDE EFFECTS
The majority of herbs carry an extremely low risk of side effects when compared with pharmaceuticals. But, although all plant medicines are natural, it would be naive to assume that they are all equally safe – some should be taken only with the guidance of a qualified medical herbalist. You must treat herbs with respect as you would any medicine: stick to the recommended dosage and make sure your information comes from suitably qualified professionals.
The herbs that I recommend in this book have an exceptionally good safety record and, as long as you follow the guidance for usage and pay attention to the cautionary advice, you are unlikely to experience any serious problems. Many herbs carry warnings, which normally means that they are not suitable for a very small proportion of people. For instance, in my practice I have come across one person allergic to echinacea and one to chamomile, yet these herbs are commonly used by a lot of people every day.
Some people may be allergic to certain herbs, and that is no different from being allergic to certain foods or to conventional medicines, and on very rare occasions some may experience a headache or a digestive upset. It is important to buy from reputable suppliers and rely as far as possible on native herbs to be safe, as some imported rare herbs have been known to be adulterated with potentially harmful species.
I would like to point out that the low risk of side effects applies to herbal products that have undergone minimal processing. Dry herbs and ordinary-strength tinctures are in that category. Highly concentrated products, for instance essential oils, are not safe to be used internally and should be reserved only for external treatment. All highly concentrated herbal extracts, which well exceed the concentrations traditionally used in the past, should be treated with circumspection. See Chapter 6 for more on the safety of specific preparations.
HELPING THE BODY TO HEAL ITSELF
Herbs help the body to heal itself, rather than just suppressing the symptoms. A classic example is the treatment of high blood pressure. The appropriate herbal treatment can not only bring blood pressure down but will also restore the healthy function of the circulatory system, so that after a period of treatment your blood pressure should remain normal without any medication. Similarly, taking echinacea will improve the function of your immune system, which will then be better at fighting off disease.
COMPLEX MEDICINE FOR COMPLEX BODIES
Medicinal herbs are complex mixtures of many constituents, which mirror the complexity of our bodies. Many of these constituents improve the function of a specific organ or bodily system so that the body can fight the disease more effectively. Herbs can harness our natural ability to heal: working along with our immune system, they gently nudge our bodies towards recovery. The constituents of herbs also have high bioavailability, which means that we absorb them well and therefore do not need large doses. Our bodies are adapted to digesting and absorbing plants, while many constituents of herbs are similar to those of fruit and vegetables and equally beneficial for our health.
Plants that are used medicinally can be viewed as a category of healing substances that sit somewhere between pharmaceuticals and food. Many have proven medicinal properties but are akin to food in their biochemical composition and the way in which they are absorbed. Some herbs are very familiar in the kitchen: garlic, thyme or blueberries, for example. Most are strictly medicinal yet gentle enough to be taken every day. Modern living has meant that people have grown so detached from nature that they can sometimes perceive the most natural medicine in the world as alien and hazardous.
The complexity of the biochemical composition of each herb is crucial to its effectiveness and safety. It is a modern misconception favoured by many scientists that a single substance makes better medicine than a complex mixture. It is easier to research, but is it better for our health?
Medicinal herbs are often referred to as crude medicines, and attempts are continually made to isolate the individual components to try to convert these into pharmaceuticals. Many medicinal plants have yielded or inspired useful drugs such as ephedrine, digoxin or aspirin. But considering the huge number of medicinal plants that are known, the quantity of single-component pharmaceuticals that have been derived from plants is relatively small. It seems that the active constituents of herbs rarely perform better in isolation. The reason is that plant constituents work in a synergistic way: the combined effect of many components is stronger than that of any individual component. Moreover, medicinal plants often display a curious combination of strong-acting constituents – which have potential side effects – with the protective constituents that moderate this potential. For instance, using dandelion leaf tea as a diuretic could lead to depleting potassium levels in the body if it wasn't for the fact that dandelion leaf contains enough potassium to compensate for the loss.
Another important point is that herbs that are used medicinally are non-addictive: you can stop using them at any time without risking the onset of withdrawal symptoms. This is especially important for people who suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia, as they often become dependent on conventional medication. Most herbs can also be used alongside orthodox medication, although this is best done under the supervision of a trained medical herbalist.
Herbs have the advantage of being cheap and easily available – you can grow some in your garden or in plant pots for your domestic use. Growing your own medicine is immensely satisfying, as it gives you a real sense of self- reliance. Whether you decide to grow your own herbs or buy them over the counter, you will be taking a positive step towards maintaining optimal health. You will be choosing an effective, safe and natural option; an option, moreover, that has been tested over many previous generations.
HAVE WE LOST OUR INSTINCTS?
Humans are not unique in using plants as medicines. Many animals – monkeys, horses, birds, cats and dogs – self-medicate with plants. Chimps have been observed to use herbs both internally and externally to get rid of parasites, stomach ache and itchy skin; presumably they have an instinct that guides them to the right plant for a specific situation. People who live very close to nature – the Amazonian Indians, for instance – claim that the plants themselves 'tell' them which disease they are for. One could interpret this as instinct or very finely tuned senses which develop when living in a natural environment. It is unlikely that people in Western countries have even a tiny remnant of that instinct, but we can learn from the knowledge accumulated by our predecessors as well as from modern scientific research into plant properties.
SEEK HELP IF NECESSARY
Of course, there are limits to what herbs can treat and there are situations where self- medicating with herbs is not the best choice, and throughout the book I make it quite clear when it is advisable to seek professional help.CHAPTER 2
How to get the best from this book
This book is designed to be a quick reference source. If you have a particular health problem, look it up either in the index or in the appropriate section: for instance, if you have a cold, refer to the respiratory tract section; if you have stomach ache, refer to the digestive tract section.
PRECAUTIONS AND DOSAGE
Before you commence any treatment, I would strongly recommend that you read all the introductory chapters, paying special attention to the precautions and dosage chapters in Part One. The advice that follows in Part Two will make much more sense if you read these chapters, as you will become familiar with the terminology and concepts. This is particularly important if you have never used herbs as medicines before, but even a seasoned herb user should familiarise him- or herself with the dosage chapter.
IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS
Chapter 4, on herbs and the environment, is also crucial – there are environmental reasons why it is preferable to use some herbs and not others, and if you want to be a responsible herb user this section is a must.
Before buying any herbs, refer to the Resources section. It will tell you where to find a trustworthy supplier, which is really important from the safety point of view and will also make a difference to your pocket.
IF YOU HAVE NEVER USED HERBS BEFORE
If you are a complete novice at using herbs for self-treatment I would advise you stick to one herb at a time before you go on to mixing different herbs together. That way you will minimise the possibility of any allergic reaction, and you will learn to observe the effects of any individual herb on your body. A lot of treatment advice in this book is based on single herbs anyway. Once you are confident with using single herbs, read Chapter 8 on combining herbs and then you can start mixing and matching different herbs to suit your particular situation.CHAPTER 3
FOLLOW THE ADVICE ON DOSAGE
The herbs recommended for self-treatment in this book are extremely safe, but you must follow the guidelines on dosage as strictly as you would with conventional medicine. Do not take larger doses than recommended and make sure that you adjust the dose for children, pregnant women and people over 70. General dosage advice is given in Chapter 6; please familiarise yourself with this information. More specific advice is given when discussing particular treatments.
Please pay attention to the specific precautions highlighted throughout the book, as some herbs are not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, for example, or for young children or people taking conventional medication.
With one or two exceptions, I do not recommend that you treat children below two years old without first consulting a medical herbalist. I also advise against using essential oils for babies, small children and pregnant women without first consulting a trained aromatherapist or herbalist.
SEEK HELP IF NECESSARY
There is no problem with self-diagnosis and self-treatment as long as you can recognise situations where you should seek professional help. Use your common sense – if someone appears to be very ill, do not delay seeing a health professional.
The following are some of the symptoms that require prompt attention from a doctor.
Prolonged severe pain, including constant head pain (irrespective of whether the pain has resulted from injury or not).
High fever of over 39°C/102°F (invest in a digital thermometer – they are easy to use and read).
Prolonged vomiting and diarrhoea (especially in small children).
Marked changes in normal behaviour (especially in small children and the elderly).
You should also seek professional medical help if:
you are unsure of the treatment
you are concerned about any symptoms, even those that seem benign
you are not getting better in spite of the treatment: you should normally expect an improvement within a few hours to a few days, depending on the problem
the condition is long-standing or a complex one with many symptoms.
DRUGS / HERBS INTERACTION
In rare cases certain herbs can interact with certain drugs, so if you are taking medication prescribed by your doctor or hospital you should check with a medical herbalist whether it is safe to take herbs. You can ask your GP too, but unless a doctor is trained in herbal medicine he or she is unlikely to know much about herbs. In most instances taking herbs alongside pharmaceuticals is safe, but it is best to double check. It is also important to tell medical staff that you are taking herbs if you are about to undergo an operation or medical investigation. To be on the safe side, stop taking any herbs a week beforehand. Throughout this book I alert you to possible drug interactions when talking about specific herbs.
POSSIBILITY OF ALLERGY
Very occasionally, herbs can cause allergic reactions. If you develop any rash, itchiness, headache or stomach upset while taking a particular herb, stop using it immediately. If you are prone to allergies, watch out for herbs belonging to the daisy family, known as Compositae (examples from this book include yarrow, chamomile and echinacea) and use them in very small amounts to begin with.
RULES FOR SAFE HERB USE
It is sensible to follow a few rules for maximum safety when using herbs:
Make sure you have the right species – refer to the Latin and common name list at the end of this book. Anything that you buy over the counter must be labelled with the full Latin names of plants.
Make sure you are using the right part of the herb – there is often a marked difference in the actions of different parts of the same plant. For instance, dandelion root stimulates the liver while dandelion leaves are primarily a diuretic.
Make sure you buy from a reputable retailer and use reliable sources of information. See the Resources section for more details.
Always follow the advice on dosage and check any contraindications.
Excerpted from Herbs For Home Treatment by Anna Newton. Copyright © 2009 Anna Newton. Excerpted by permission of Green Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: OPTING FOR HERBS,
Chapter 1 Why herbs?,
Chapter 2 How to get the best from this book,
Chapter 3 General precautions,
Chapter 4 Herbs and the environment,
Chapter 5 Tea, tincture or tablets?,
Chapter 6 Dosage,
Chapter 7 Choosing the right herbs for the situation,
Chapter 8 How to combine herbs,
Chapter 9 What if it doesn't work?,
PART TWO: AILMENTS AND TREATMENTS,
Chapter 10 The circulatory system,
Chapter 11 The digestive system,
Chapter 12 The muscular and skeletal systems,
Chapter 13 The nervous system,
Chapter 14 The respiratory system,
Chapter 15 The skin,
Chapter 16 The urinary and reproductive systems,
PART THREE: IMPROVING YOUR VITALITY,
Chapter 17 Maintain good energy levels,
Chapter 18 Increase your mental and physical stamina,
Chapter 19 Revive your libido,
Chapter 20 Feel motivated and happy,
Chapter 21 Defy the ageing process,
Chapter 22 Make a full recovery from a serious illness,
PART FOUR: CREATING YOUR OWN HOME APOTHECARY,
Chapter 23 Buying from reputable sources,
Chapter 24 Growing your own herbs,
Chapter 25 Drying herbs,
Chapter 26 Making your own tinctures, infused oils, syrups and ointments,
PART FIVE: HERBAL FIRST-AID KIT FOR TRAVELLING,
Chapter 27 Travelling in Western countries,
Chapter 28 Travelling in remote and exotic places,
Appendix 1 List of common and Latin herb names,
Appendix 2 Glossary of actions,