Introduction to Herbal Medicine

Herbal Medicine should be considered an essential part of your preparedness plan. Learning these skills and using them in your daily life will increase your knowledge and skills to become a competent family herbalist. It will also have the side effect of increasing your personal health. This introduction will hopefully add to your journey of becoming a family herbalist. 

Herbal Medicine vs. Pharmaceuticals

While over the past 5-10 years there has been somewhat of a resurgence of using plant based medicine to heal illnesses, herbal medicine is still by and large looked down upon by most in modern society as a legitimate way to treat illnesses that affect our body. Even many that might use some element of herbal medicine in their lives might only do so as a sort of tonic for overall wellness to improve energy, lighten a mood or to improve one’s general health. The idea that a plant can have the sort of medicine to cure an illness and even a serious one seems foreign to most people but it was no that long ago that people looked very differently upon the legitimacy of plant based medicine. 

Until the 1930’s most all medicines prescribed by physicians was either directly a plant, an extract of a plant or derived from a plant. It was not until the 1930’s that synthetic or manufactured pharmaceuticals became easier to make and around that time companies began to realize that by making a product that was proprietary blend it could be patented and by their increasing the potential profits from the sale of the drug. Very quickly a quite successful campaign began to discount the validity of plant based herbal medicine. Since then herbal medicine has been looked upon as something from the ancient past or used by the fringe in most of our society but in many parts of the world herbal medicine is still considered a very important way to heal and improve our bodies. 

Psalms 104:14 says, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth”. Since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, humans all over the world have been using the healing medicines in plants to treat our bodies but what are some of the differences between plant medicines and man made pharmaceuticals? One thing to remember is that plants can work very differently that a pharmaceutical and can work differently for different people. While a pharmaceutical may be designed to treat a specific symptom a plant maybe able to treat many different illnesses. The common Dandelion for instance can be used to treat liver illnesses, stomach discomfort, sore throats, stress and for menstruation health to name a few. Many times a plant simply aids the body in healing the illness instead of specifically attacking the illness and any other tissue around it like many pharmaceuticals will. Some plants treat slowly over days or weeks allowing the body to calmly adjust to the changes instead of releasing high concentrated doses into the body while also causing side effects like many pharmaceuticals will. To put it simply, plants were designed by our creator to work with our bodies. 

Basic Uses and Extractions

One of the wonderful things about using plants to heal our bodies is that there are so many ways to use them. Most are familiar with the more common ways to use the plant medicines such as; teas, tinctures and salves but there are many more ways and depending on the plant and the reason one may need it might dictate how to use it. Some other ways include; smoking, inhaling, external compresses, steaming, infusion and a wide range of ways to extract the medicines in water, oils, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, syrup, honey and more. One way though that many do not always think about is just simply eating them. 

Past cultures did, of course, use plants to treat illnesses but they did not always take them as a form of medicine like we think of today. In the past people simply ate their medicine everyday because large portions of their diets were made up of wild edible plants that are filled with medicine. Learning to incorporate wild plants into your diet is maybe the simplest way to get the medicines your body needs. 

Simple ways to extract plant medicines:

Tea – Possibly the simplest way to extract plant medicine and yes it is an extraction. Whether a cup of tea is made for enjoyment of treatment it is an easy way to take your medicine. A tea is also great for children since it can be made more palatable. A tea is simply a mild or diluted extraction. If you are not getting the results you need from a tea you made need to use a stronger extraction method. 

Infusion/extractions – An infusion or an extraction of a plant can mean a more concentrated amount of the medicines in the plant. It can also be used when extracting certain elements of the plant medicines, flavors of the plants or to simply preserve the plant medicines. Water, oil, vinegar, glycerin, wine, syrup and honey can all be used to extract and infusion the plant medicine. A simple water infusion is a more concentrated tea and can be used as more of a tonic. The herb is typically steeped in hot water for 2-4 hours before drinking. Because the flavors of the plant are stronger, this is typically only done with more palatable herbs. Oil infusions are commonly use externally and are a main ingredient in herbal salves. The herb typically infuses in the oil for 2-4 weeks but can be slowly heated in the oil for a faster infusion. Vinegar, wine, syrups, and honeys are generally infused over a period of 2-4 weeks and can be simply taken as a medicine but can also be used in cooking to all healthy flavor to your food. Dried herbs ar typically used to prevent spoilage. 

Tincture – A tincture in what many think of when taking herbal medicines that don’t taste well. A tincture is typically made with 40% alcohol or 80 proof but needs to be at least 30% for the preservation qualities. Higher alcohol proofs might be needed depending on what is being extracted from the plant such as saps or resins. Because of the alcohol content a tincture can last for many years if stored properly due to this a tincture makes a great way to stock up on herbal meds for preparedness purposes. Since an alcohol is a solvent it breaks the plants down more than other extraction methods making a much more concentrated medicine. Generally only a few drops of tincture is needed in a dose of medicine. Since the alcohol also works as a preservative spoilage is generally not a worry and either dried or fresh herbs can be used. While vodka is commonly used to make a tincture because of its lack of flavor any distilled alcohols with at least 60-80 proof can be used. A tincture can be taken alone or added to a drink to lessen the alcohol flavor. Because of the concentration of a tincture caution should be used to not take too much of the herb especially with children. 

Common Medicinal Plants

Being able to identify the plants you use is critical and most likely the most difficult part to herbal medicine. A misidentification of a plant can be deadly so only use a plant that you are absolutely sure of what it is. While it may take you some time to learn how to identify many plants there are most likely several that you already know. Try to learn 1 or 2 at a time. Once you get to know  those plants well then move on to learning others. Many of the common plants around you and even in your yard have amazing medicinal qualities. In fact many medicinal herbs like to grow in disturbed areas or other wise known as sidewalks, backyards, road sides or anywhere humans disturb. 

Dandelion

One of the most common plants and yet an amazing medicine and food source. Every part of this plant is edible and medicinal and each part can have different medicinal properties. 

Blood Pressure

Diuretics, also known as “water pills,” are commonly used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, liver disease, and some types of kidney disease. While valuable, the drugs may cause side effects, including muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness, and changes in blood sugar.

Some scientists believe that dandelion’s diuretic properties may have medical uses, including the treatment of prediabetes or premenstrual bloating and water retention.

A 2009 study, overseen by the National Institutes of Health, found that a single dose of dandelion extract increased the frequency of urination—but not the volume—in the 28 volunteers within five hours of a dose.

While the researchers were unable to determine how dandelion triggered this effect, the frequency/volume suggests that the extract may function as a bladder irritant. Further research is needed to determine whether ongoing exposure to an extract may cause side effects.

Skin Damage

In folk medicine, dried dandelion root is often ground into a paste and mixed with water to create a soothing paste for skin disorders like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and boils.

While there is little evidence that dandelion can treat these conditions better or faster than leaving the skin alone, it does appear to have mild anti-inflammatory and antipruritic (anti-itching) properties. Research also suggests that it may help prevent sun damage.

A 2015 study from Canada reported that dandelion extracts are able to block harmful ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation when applied to the skin, protecting it from sun damage while lowering the risk of skin cancer.

While this suggests a potential avenue for drug development, dandelion is also known cause contact dermatitis in some people, especially children. As such, you need to take care when applying any dandelion remedy to the skin to avoid an allergic response.

Diabetes

Dandelion root is believed to have anti-diabetic properties due to a soluble fiber known as inulin. Inulin contains a complex carbohydrate known as fructooligosaccharide (FOS) which supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and eliminates the unhealthy ones. This alone increases insulin sensitivity by slowing the flow of sugar from the intestines to the bloodstream, preventing spikes in either your blood sugar or insulin levels.

A 2016 review of studies from Aarhus University in Denmark suggested that dandelion extract also stimulates pancreatic cells to produce insulin, better controlling blood sugar and avoiding hyperglycemia.

Liver Injury

Dandelion is often consumed as a tonic under the presumption that it “cleanses” the liver. There is some evidence, albeit sparse, to support this long-standing claim.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported that mice fed a dandelion root extract experienced a significant slowing in the progression of liver scarring (fibrosis) compared to mice given a placebo.

According to the research, the extract was able to inactivate the primary cells involved in fibrosis, called hepatic stellate cells. Doing so all but lifted the oxidative stress on the liver, allowing the liver to heal and slowly regenerate.

Cancer

Preliminary research suggests that dandelion root may have promise as an anti-cancer agent. it does so by inducing apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death, in certain cancer cells. Apoptosis affects all of the cells of the body, allowing old cells to be replaced with new ones. With cancer, apoptosis ceases, allowing the tumor cells to grow unimpeded.

A 2012 study from the University of Windsor in Canada reported that dandelion root extract was able to induce apoptosis in pancreatic and prostate cancer cells in test tube studies, either slowing their growth or preventing their spread.

No other cancer cell types were affected in this study. Several later studies have shown that different dandelion root extracts were able to trigger apoptosis in leukemia and melanoma.

While the studies are promising, further research is needed before dandelion root can be recommended for either the prevention or treatment of cancer.

Possible Side Effects

Dandelion root is generally considered safe and well tolerated in adults if consumed in moderation. Some people may experience side effects, including heartburn, diarrhea, upset stomach, and irritated skin.

If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, feverfew, yarrow, or plants in the Asteraceae family (such as sunflowers and daisies), you should avoid dandelion root as it may trigger rash, watery eyes, and other allergy symptoms. Dandelion also contains iodine and latex, so avoid it if you have allergies to either of these substances.

Pregnant women, nursing women, and children are advised to avoid dandelion remedies due to the lack of research into their long-term safety. It is also possible that consuming too much dandelion may reduce fertility in women and testosterone levels in men due to a substance in the plant, called phytoestrogen, which mimics estrogen

Drug Interactions

Dandelion can interact with certain drugs, either affecting how the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream, metabolized by the liver, or cleared from the body in urine. Speak with your doctor if you are taking a dandelion remedy along with any of the following drugs:

  • Antibiotics like Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Penetrex (enoxacin)
  • Antidepressants like Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Antipsychotics like lithium and Haldol (haloperidol)
  • Diuretics like Lasix (furosemide)
  • Estrogen-based contraceptives
  • Statin drugs like Mevacor (lovastatin) and Lipitor (atorvastatin)
  • In some cases, a dose adjustment may be needed. Other drugs may also be affected, so never hesitate to tell your doctor about any herbal, naturopathic, homeopathic, or traditional medicine you may be taking.

Dosage and Preparation

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of dandelion root in the United States. However, in Europe, both the European Commission and the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommended the following range of doses considered safe for adults.

  • Fresh dandelion root: 2 to 8 grams daily
  • Dandelion root powder: 3 to 4 grams mixed with 150 milliliters of warm water
  • Dandelion tea infusion: 1 tablespoon of chopped root mixed with 150 milliliters of hot water for 20 minutes
  • Fresh root extract: 1 to 2 tablespoons daily
  • Dried dandelion extract: 0.75 to 1.0 grams daily

Dandelion root supplements are also available in drugstores and vitamin supplement stores, along with tinctures, teas, extracts, ointments, powders, and dried organic root.

As a rule of thumb, never exceed the dosage recommended by the manufacturer. If you experience side effects of any sort, stop treatment and call your doctor.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-benefits-of-dandelion-root-89103

Stinging Nettle 

Stinging nettle is one of my personal favorites. Think of it as a taking a complete vitamin. It makes a great infused tea for a daily tonic and is much better at boosting energy than caffeine. The stinging leaves have also been used to help relieve arthritis pain much like bee stings can be used. Nettle is also a great food source and in many places you can get 3-4 harvests per year. 

Health Benefits

Alternative practitioners believe that stinging nettles can reduce pain and inflammation associated with both infectious and noninfectious conditions. Some of the claims are better supported by research than others. Amon the conditions stinging nettles are purported to treat are:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Eczema
  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Anemia
  • Hay fever
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Tendonitis

Although research on nettle’s health effects is limited, studies suggest that it shows promise in the treatment of the following conditions:

Enlarged Prostate

A number of studies have suggested that nettle may help relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate gland (also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH). The effect is attributed to a plant-based compound known as beta-sitosterol, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2011 study from India examined the use of a stinging nettle extract in lab rats with medically induced BPH. After 28 days of treatment, the rats experienced a reduction in prostate size similar to the effects of the prostate drug finasteride.

The effect in humans has not been as consistent, in part because the studies usually involved a combination of herbal remedies, including stinging nettle. When investigating beta-sitosterol on its own, the effect on the prostate gland was far more clear.

According to a 2016 review of studies in the Journal of Cancer Science and Therapy, beta-sitosterol is able to reduce prostaglandin levels that directly influence prostate inflammation, reducing the blood flow and size of the gland itself.

Moreover, the effect appeared to be dose-dependent, meaning that larger doses conferred to greater reductions in prostate size. Still, it is unclear how much stinging nettle is needed to deliver a therapeutic dose of beta-sitosterol. Future research will ideally focus on this.

Can Saw Palmetto Treat an Enlarged Prostate?

Allergies

A number of studies have suggested that nettle can help alleviate allergies and ease symptoms like sneezing, nasal congestion, and itching.

In 2009 lab study published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists found that nettle was able to reduce allergy symptoms by interfering with two key processes: the histamine response and the degranulation of mast cells.

Histamine is a compound that triggers the body’s immune response to an allergen. The stinging nettle extract appears to block histamine from reaching receptors on tissue, reducing the severity of symptoms.

At the same time, stinging nettle prevents an enzyme known as tryptase from reaching mass cells. Under normal circumstances, tryptase causes mast cells to break open (degranulate) and release additional histamine into the bloodstream. Stinging nettle appears to blunt this effect, reducing the amount of histamine circulating in the body.

As with the BPH studies, it is unknown what dose of stinging nettle would be needed to achieve allergy relief.

8 Natural Remedies for Allergy

Osteoarthritis

There is evidence that taking a stinging nettle supplement or applying it to the skin may reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis (“wear-and-tear” arthritis).

It is believed that the very irritants that cause the “sting” of stinging nettles can inhibit enzymes known as cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). These are the same enzymes targeted by nonsteroidal painkillers like Aleve (naproxen), Voltaren (diclofenac), and Celebrex (celecoxib).

According to a 2013 review of studies from the University of California, Berkeley, stinging nettle possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties that are non-toxic to cells and may be superior to traditional pain relievers.

These conclusions were not entirely supported. A 2013 review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews pointed out that studies investigating the use of stinging nettle in treating osteoarthritis were of “very low quality.”

The researchers further asserted that other herbal remedies appear far more promising, including Arnica extract gel and Capsicum ointments and patches.

Herbal and Natural Supplements for Osteoarthritis

High Blood Pressure and Diabetes

Alternative practitioners have long considered stinging nettle to be an effective means of treating hypertension and diabetes. This has been evidenced in part by 2016 study in the Journal of Translational Medicine in which lab rats experienced vasodilation (the relaxing of blood vessels) when injected with a crude stinging nettle extract.

A related study conducted in 2013 reported that a 500-milligram oral dose of stinging nettle taken every eight hours for three weeks was able to lower the blood pressure and blood sugar of people with advanced type 2 diabetes.

Despite the positive findings, the effect was not considered robust enough to be a viable stand-alone option for either hypertension or diabetes.

Rather, it suggests that stinging nettle may be useful for people on antihypertensive or antidiabetes drugs who are still having difficulty controlling their condition.

Possible Side Effects

Stinging nettles are generally considered safe based on their traditional use as food and in folk remedies. Side effects are relatively mild. If taken by mouth, you may experience stomach upset and sweating. If used topically, it is not uncommon to develop skin irritation and rash.

Because of its possible effects on blood pressure and blood sugar, stinging nettle should be avoided if your hypertension or diabetes is well controlled with medications. Even if it isn’t, speak with your doctor before using stinging nettle to fully understand the potential risks and benefits.

Stinging nettle also exerts a mild diuretic effect, mainly by irritating the kidneys. Avoid stinging nettle if you have a pre existing kidney condition as the long-term use may increase the risk of kidney damage. Stinging nettle can also amplify the effects of diuretics (“water pills”) like Lasix (furosemide) and should be avoided.

This same diuretic effect can reduce the concentration of lithium in the blood, undermining the efficacy of the drug and potentially causing a rebound of depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia symptoms.

Due to the lack of safety research, stinging nettle should not be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.

Dosage and Preparation

Sold in many health food stores and pharmacies, stinging nettle is available as capsules, tinctures, teas, wax-based salves, and ointment. Freeze-dried preparations of nettle leaf are also available.

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of stinging nettle supplements. Stinging nettle capsules are usually offered in 300-milligram to 900-milligram formulations and are generally considered safe at these doses.

Topical stinging nettle ointment is intended for the short-term treatment of dermatitis and other mild skin conditions. It should not be used as your daily cream as it may cause rash and irritation.

Fresh stinging nettle can also be sourced through specialist grocers. It can be steamed or sautéed in the same way that chard and kale are. Nettle has a spinach-like and slightly minty flavor that many find appealing, particularly when added to vegetable or puréed soups. Some people will finely chop the herb to make a refreshing medicinal tea.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-benefits-of-nettle-89576


Starwest Botanicals is a trusted name that I use to purchase my herbs and herbal supplies.


Wild Lettuce

A common roadside weed and a close cousin to your salad lettuce, Wild Lettuce can be used as a strong pain reliever. Many have equated it to opium which isn’t exactly true. It has no relation to opium and does not have the same potency but is has been used in the past as a non-addictive substitute. A tea of the leaves can be used for a milder dose of the pain relieving medicine. The sap or juice of the plant is a white latex like liquid, very milky. This is where the medicine is found in the plant. Caution should be used due the potency of the plant. Wild Lettuce can cause a mild “high”, dizziness or lightheadedness. 

Wild lettuce is a natural remedy sourced from the Lactuca virosa plant. Extracts of the plant’s sap, seeds, and leaves are typically used in wild lettuce products. Touted as a natural treatment for a wide range of health problems, wild lettuce is said to lower stress and relieve pain.

Benefits

Certain compounds found in wild lettuce appear to have pain-relieving and sedative effects, according to preliminary research conducted on animals.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2006 found that lactucin and lactucopicrin (chemicals naturally present in wild lettuce) reduced pain and promoted sedation when given to mice.

There’s currently a lack of studies testing wild lettuce for its effects on human health. What’s more, animal-based research on wild lettuce is also very limited.

Uses

When used in alternative medicine, wild lettuce is said to be an herbal remedy for the following health conditions:

Wild lettuce also is used to stimulate circulation. And, when applied directly to the skin, oil extracted from the seeds of wild lettuce is thought to offer sanitizing benefits.

In addition, some individuals consume wild lettuce recreationally for its potentially mind-altering effects. Supposedly similar in action to opium (and used as an opium alternative by physicians in the 19th century), wild lettuce is said to possess sedative and hypnotic properties.

Caveats

Because wild lettuce and its health effects have been tested in very few scientific studies, the safety of long-term or regular use of wild lettuce products (such as dietary supplements) is unknown.

However, there’s some concern that wild lettuce may trigger a number of side effects, including accelerated heart rate, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and extreme drowsiness. And, in some cases, applying wild lettuce to the skin may lead to skin irritation.

Additionally, people with benign prostatic hyperplasia or narrow-angle glaucoma should avoid use of wild lettuce. It’s thought that the use of wild lettuce may aggravate these conditions.

Because wild lettuce may alter the function of the central nervous system, it also should be avoided for at least two weeks prior to undergoing surgery. Moreover, wild lettuce should not be used in combination with medications that affect the central nervous system (such as sedative medications like clonazepam and lorazepam).

It’s important to keep in mind that supplements haven’t been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-benefits-of-wild-lettuce-88661

Goldenrod 

Goldenrod is a common early fall bloomer and can be found in fields and on roadsides. There isn’t many things more beautiful than a sea of Goldenrod in bloom, a mature plant can easily reach over 7’ tall. Goldenrod among other things, is an excellent treatment for colds and allergies. 

 The Health Benefits of Goldenrod

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis, S. odora, S. virgaurea, and many others) is part of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family. The pollen is sticky and heavy so it doesn’t float into the air and insects pollinate the plant instead of wind. The properties of goldenrod are similar to many other herbs: antifungal, diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, astringent, antiseptic, and carminative. However, the actions of goldenrod to the kidneys, urinary tract, skin, allergies, and cardiovascular system are impressive.

The aerial part of the plant is used and is harvested late summer into early fall before the flowers are in full bloom. There are many varieties of goldenrod and although I have not heard or experienced any adverse effects, it’s best to research the plant when in doubt.

Preparations of goldenrod include tea, tincture, infused oils, poultice, and powder. Follow your directions for making these preparations.

Bladder, Urinary Tract, & Kidneys

Goldenrod has a history for use with the bladder and urinary system. The astringent and antiseptic qualities tighten and tone the urinary system and bladder making it useful for UTI infections. The German Commission E has officially approved goldenrod for urinary and bladder inflammations. It is a kidney trophorestorative (tropho is Greek for nourishing), so it both nourishes and restores balance to the kidneys. According to Peter Homes, it is a good choice for long term use with chronic issues to this area of the body.

The Skin

The Latin name solidago means to make whole. The flowers and the leaves can be infused with oil or used as a poultice for wounds and burns. The infused oil combines well with plantain, yarrow, and St. John’s wort for a nice wound healing skin salve. It also makes a nice rub for tired achy muscles and arthritis pain.

Seasonal Allergies & Colds

Goldenrod often takes the rap for the inconspicuous ragweed plant but goldenrod is actually a nice antidote for seasonal ragweed allergies. Its astringent property calms runny eyes, runny nose, and sneezing that comes with late summer and early fall allergies. I have used goldenrod tincture successfully for my ragweed allergies for two years.

Its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties make this a good choice for sore throats.  As an expectorant, goldenrod can expel mucous easily from the lungs. Try it infused with honey or as a tea with honey added. The diaphoretic property of goldenrod helps to open pores of the skin to release sweat during a fever.

Antioxidant

For a period of time in the U.S., goldenrod was known as Blue Mountain Tea. When I first tried making a tea from goldenrod, I was expecting something pungent and challenging in flavor and was delightfully surprised to find it to have an agreeable taste. In any case, it is a good source of the constituent rutin, a powerful flavonoid that benefits the cardiovascular system. Rutin has the ability to support circulation for the cardiovascular system as well as to increase capillary strength. Some say it is higher in antioxidants than green tea!

This has a slightly bitter astringent value as well as a sweetness.  You taste the astringent bitter when it goes down. I prefer goldenrod tea mixed with some mints.

Anti-Fungal

As an antifungal, goldenrod contains saponins and is a useful alternative for Candida type yeast infections.

The flowers are edible and supposedly very good lightly fried. Although I’ve not tried this yet, it’s on my list!

Goldenrod is an abundant plant and there is plenty of it to go around. The meadows and waste spaces are full and good for showing the plant off and there may be some in your backyard ready for harvesting. At least for now it is an underused and under-harvested plant with many wonderful uses and health benefits and just waiting to be your next ally. This is a great time of year to harvest goldenrod (or you can buy it here). I’m heading out for some right now. I hope I’ve talked you into doing the same!


Starwest Botanicals is a trusted name that I use to purchase my herbs and herbal supplies.


Plantain

Another very common weed that is most likely growing all around your house. This plant is also edible and the young spring leaves make a great addition to any salad. Plantain is great for treatment of bee stings as well as burns and rashes. Plantain is commonly used as a spit poultice which is a fancy way of saying, chew the plant up and place the chewed part along with your spit on the sting or burn. An interesting side note related to this plant is that in recent years scientists discovered that upon hearing the cry of a child a mother’s salivary glands product antibacterial enzymes. This puzzled scientists until they found out that throughout history it has been common practice for a mother to treat an injured child with a plant that they chewed in their mouth and placed on the wound. The most common plant used for this has always been Plantain. 

Health Benefits Of Plantain

Plantains have wide-ranging antimicrobial properties besides being anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It can not only soothe insect bites and superficial wounds but prevent infections and accelerate healing. An active biochemical aucubin is mainly responsible for the antimicrobial action of the herb. Another substance allantoin in the herb helps with skin tissue regeneration.

Plantains also have an astringent property that has a cleansing effect on the body. It helps dry up excess secretions in the respiratory tract and the digestive system, thus being useful in treating colds and diarrhea. The astringency is moderated by the demulcent effect of the mucilage in the herb, so this herbal remedy is much gentler than other commonly used astringents.

The edible leaves of broadleaf plantain are rich in calcium and other minerals and vitamins, including Vitamin K. This vitamin helps stem bleeding from cuts and wounds. Tender leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, but older leaves have to be cooked.  

How To Collect Plantain Herb

Despite their medicinal and nutritional value, plantains have a weed status, and are, in fact, invasive in many areas. If you find them growing in abundance in wastelands in your area, it’s better to gather them from there, rather than introduce them into your garden. But make sure that the area is clean, and not chemically treated.

Most importantly, you should be able to positively identify the correct plant. The plants don’t have any stems above the ground. All you see is a tuft of leaves coming from a point. The characteristic flower stalks help identify plantain among other rosette-forming plants, but they may not be present all the time. If you are in doubt, get the help of a knowledgeable person.

Plantain leaves are mainly used for herbal preparations, so it is best to pick just the leaves, rather than dig out the entire plant. Pinch off unblemished leaves, selecting slightly mature ones over the very tender leaves, unless you’re planning to use them in salads. Mature leaves have a higher concentration of potent phytochemicals.

How To Use Plantain For Healing

Plantain is used to treat a variety of everyday problems, from mosquito bites and skin rashes to kidney problems and gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases. Let’s see how you can use this herb for healing.

Burns – Apply a poultice immediately and apply a bandage with leaves. Follow it up with a plantain salve.

Cuts and open sores – Stop bleeding from fresh cuts by applying crushed plantain leaves. Wash with plantain tea or diluted tincture (1 tbsp to a glass of water) to prevent infections and promote healing.

Boils and acne – Touch with a drop of tincture or apply salve.

For mouth ulcers – Swish 2-3 Tbsp plantain tea in the mouth 3-4 times a day. You can use 1 tbsp of tincture diluted with a cup of water too.

For throat pain/infection – Gargle with plantain tea or diluted tincture. Take 5-10 drops of tincture under the tongue and ingest it slowly.

Dandruff and other scalp problems – Apply plantain tea or oil infusion to the scalp and wash off after an hour.

For poison ivy/sumac/oak – Apply a poultice immediately, and then wash the area with plantain tea. Apply plantain sludge (more details at the end of this article) until the stinging pain is gone.

For sunburn – Apply fresh poultice of plantain sludge liberally. Wash the area with the tea and then apply the salve.

To improve liver and kidney function – Drink 1-2 glasses of plantain tea every day.

For relief from gastrointestinal inflammation – Take the tincture under the tongue or drink plantain tea.

For cold, flu, and respiratory infections – Take the tincture under the tongue or drink freshly brewed warm tea with honey.

Recommended Books

There are thousands of books related to herbal medicine and many of them are excellent. Because of this it does make it difficult to list a few recommended ones. If you asked 10 herbalists to list their favorite books you would most certainly get 10 different answers. 

This first books you should be looking for are good plant identification books. 

Peterson’s Field Guide Eastern & Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs – Steven Foster & James A. Duke

Forager’s Harvest – Samuel Thayer

Botany in A Day – Thomas J. Elpel

Next you will need a few herbalist books to help you get started on knowing how to use those plants you have harvested. Rosemary Gladstar is a well respected herbalist and has authored several books that are easy to understand. Here are a few beginner herbalist books. 

Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier

The Herbalist by Joseph E Meyer (one of the first known herbalist books printed, while old and out of print it is still filled with valuable information and can often be found used online)

2 thoughts on “Introduction to Herbal Medicine

  1. Yes! I have been waiting for this. These plants are the most prevalent in my area and are very easy to identify. This is a well thought out article that will be of great use. I was actually quite surprised at some of the known uses for these plants. In addition you have all the facts backed up with external links. No better time to double down and commit it memory. Thank you for your time and efforts, it is much appreciated.

    1. Thank you very much!I think good starter herbs are the ones that are around us already and easy to identify. I plan on more writing on this subject so there will be more to come.

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