Herbal Primer Using the Healing Herbs


The use of medicinal plants for the relief of the common ailments to which
the flesh is “heir” is of very ancient origin. In fact many of
the herbs we use so casually today, such as ginger, garlic and cardamon,
were recommended by physicians, and used by common people, for many of the
same health imbalances that we use them for today–over 5,000 years ago!
This safe history of use is reassuring in an age where dozens of new synthetic
drugs are coming on the market every year. Although a few of these drugs
may be of some use, and are thoroughly tested for safety, many herbalists
believe they are not energetically oriented to our human constitution, and
may later cause further imbalances, as well as use up vital energy–which
our body uses for its repair and healing process.

Today’s herbalism is an exciting re-discovery of our heritage of long acquaintance
with mother earth’s remedies. The energy of the chemical compounds in these
plants may be imbedded in our very DNA, for it is likely that we co-evolved
with them over many thousands of years. The use of medicinal herbs is also
prominently mentioned in most spiritual works throughout the world, such
as the Bible and the Rig Vedas. This is an indication that
herbs are not just a collection of active chemical compounds that simply
affect the dynamic biochemical balance of the body, but they can also play
an important part in our spiritual and emotional well-being as well. This
aspect of herbalism is often emphasized by today’s herbalist, who honors
the blessings of the herbal “green people.”

Today, herbalism is in the process of rediscovering its “roots.”
A new world herbalism is evolving from the various healing cultures, especially
Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional European Medicine

The following herbal prescriber comes from over 20 years and 3 generations
experience with herbs, and drawing on the collective experience of many
North American and European herbalists, which I honor as my teachers and
family members.

All the herbs mentioned can be found in natural food stores or herb stores
throughout the country, either in bulk form, liquid extract, extract tablets
or capsules or in powder form.

The common ailments mentioned are grouped according to body systems to make
the information more accessible.

Upper Respiratory Tract Conditions and their Complications


Colds are a natural part of the human life cycle and offer us valuable protection.
They are mediated by a number of viruses, such as Rhinovirus. The
average person has 2.4 colds/year in the U.S.–which adds up to a whopping
3/4 of a billion cold cases overall, throughout the country. Despite the
transitory misery, colds have a strong positive side–they increase elimination,
both by sweat and through the copious discharge of mucus from the nose;
they reduce our feeling of well-being, encouraging us to rest; and they
activate and exercise many immune functions–like a fire drill. Colds are
not considered serious in systems of traditional healing–for instance,
in Chinese Medicine they are considered “surface” phenomenon.
If we rest and drink cleansing teas and immune activators, the miserable
feelings should be minimal. In fact, our opportunity is to feel better after
the cold because of the excellent healing and environmental “adjustments”
our bodies have accomplished.

Colds are often characterized by an early-warning signal in the form of
a slight sore throat and can often be bypassed entirely by immediately taking
full dropper doses of echinacea tincture every two hours (if the sore throat
is particularly severe, a half dropperful of propolis or usnea tincture
should be added as well.) The echinacea is known to accomplish some of the
same beneficial activities as the cold itself, such as activation of our
phagocytes, or “garbage elimination” system.

Where runny noses are involved, golden seal is known to be useful for easing
excess secretions. A classic soothing tea for colds which aids the release
of heat from the body, and supports the body’s desire to eliminate accumulated
toxins, can be made by mixing equal parts of peppermint leaf, yarrow flowering
tops, and elder flowers. Use one teaspoonful per cup of the mixture and
steep 20 minutes. Drink several cups of the mixture throughout the day and
get plenty of rest. Further herbal remedies for this common ailment can
be found under Fevers, Coughs, Sore Throats and Sinus Infections.


Besides the peppermint, yarrow, elder tea for reducing heat in the body,
try adding 4 drops of lavender oil to a bowl of tepid water and sponging
the hands, feet, and forehead with the mixture. Another excellent remedy:
steep common honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) flowers (or fresh or
dried elder flowers) in hot water for 20 minutes, let cool, add the juice
of one-half lemon and a teaspoon of honey. Let the mixture cool and drink
several cups of it as needed.


Coughs that produce white or clear sputum, especially when chronic, usually
result from a colder condition than yellow or green mucus which means there
is more heat.

For coughs accompanied by heat, to soothe and relax the upper respiratory
tract, make a tea of the following herbs: plantain leaves (1 part), coltsfoot
(1 part), thyme (1/2 part), marshmallow root (1/4 part), and licorice (1/4
part). Drink freely throughout the day. Full dropper doses of echinacea
can be taken in addition, every 2 hours, to activate macrophages in the
bronchial area.

My favorite cough remedy is a tea of 2 parts organic lemon peels, 1 part
garden sage (Salvia officinalis) and 1/2 part thyme. Add the herbs
to boiling water, remove from the heat, cover and steep for 15 minutes.
Add the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp honey and drink 2 or 3 cups during the
day as needed. Over the years, I have found this blend to be delicious and

For coughs due to coldness, or for chronic coughs of long-standing, expectorant
herbs are generally recommended. A good expectorant tincture product might
include herbs such as grindelia, yerba santa and balm of gilead. This mixture
can be used also be used as a tea, adding some of the herbs for coughs due
to heat above, as needed.

Sore throats

For painful sore throats, the natural antibiotic, usnea, works well either
singly or in formulations, both as a gargle and internally in tincture form–40
drops mixed with water. White sage tea, 1 teaspoon in 1 cup water steeped
for one minute, and mixed with lemon juice and honey, is very antiseptic.
Green tea is another option, as it contains tannins (polyphenols) which
are antibacterial and astringent, helping to eliminate mucus and reduce
the infection. Herbal immune activators and antiseptic herbs such as echinacea
or propolis are sometimes added, as well as soothing antiinflammatory herbs
such as licorice or marshmallow root tea. Antibiotic tinctures can be added
to this soothing tea base.


Influenza is a viral-based elimination syndrome that is more severe than
a cold–but it is often difficult to tell the two apart.

The aches and pains, fevers, and congestion which accompany flu are all
addressed in the following blend of herbs–boneset (2 parts), elder (1 part),
peppermint (1 part), echinacea (1 part), and yerba mansa (1 part). Drink
it warm and freely.

Other known flu herbs are garlic, which I sometimes take by cutting up a
clove or two into pill-size pieces and swallowing with tea, and anti-viral
herbs such as lemon balm, St. John’s wort, baptisia or thuja.

If digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and abdominal tension or soreness
occur, add marshmallow root, lemon balm or black walnut in tincture or tea
form. If there is fever and nervousness, add lemon balm or blue vervain
in tea form.

Sinus Infections

For reducing heat and infection in the sinuses, echinacea (3 parts), usnea
(1 part) and golden seal (1 part) work well in combination, either in capsule
(2 every 4 hours) or tincture (40 drops of echinacea, 15 drops of usnea
and 15 drops of golden seal every 4 hours). A mild golden seal tea used
as a nasal wash can speed up the process. To help relieve stuffiness and
promote drainage, put 4 drops of eucalyptus oil in a bowl of boiled water,
put a towel over your head, lean over the bowl, and inhale for a few minutes.


When mild upper respiratory tract ailments, such as colds or sinustis are
not treated and accompanied by rest, the infection may go deeper, leading
to bronchitis. At this stage, it is essential to rest, eat light, nourishing
food, and follow full courses of herbal treatment for at least a week. Usnea,
grindelia, yerba santa and echinacea are especially indicated.


Teas or extracts of the following herbs can help alleviate the frightening
symptoms of breathlessness and wheezing common to asthma sufferers: grindelia
and yerba santa are more appropriate for asthma accompanied by heavy white
sputum, for their expectorant and antispasmodic effects on the bronchi;
coltsfoot, marshmallow root, mullein and licorice are better for dry types
of asthma for their soothing and moisturizing qualities, and ma huang (use
cautiously) for its brocho-dilating effects. It is sometimes beneficial
to eliminate dairy products for several months when one is experiencing
symptoms of asthma, and regular aerobic exercise is surprisingly effective.

Besides hereditary influence, asthma has emotional, immune, and stress components.
Emotional upset and depression is aided by St. John’s wort standardized
extract (1 tablet as needed), and anxiety by passion flower, California
poppy, and valerian (use the fresh plant tincture or extract). For immune
weakness, use an astragalus and reishi mixture and for stress, eleuthero
and licorice is helpful.

Women’s Imbalances


To help balance hormones, strengthen the generative organs, and lessen monthly
emotional ups and downs, any of the following herbs may be used in tea,
extract, or capsule form, though because of the strong taste, most people
usually prefer to take an extract or powder in tablet or capsule form: Vitex
(essential), black cohosh, false unicorn root, skullcap, and Dandelion.
Begin taking the herbs twice daily 10-12 days before the onset of menstruation
and continue until 3 days after. Because the health of the liver is considered
an important factor in PMS, dandelion root (tea or tincture) and milk thistle
(standardized extract or tincture) can be added for additional support.
In particularly difficult cases, the herbs should be taken as a tonic for
several months or until the condition improves.


One dropperful of vitex (chaste tree) tincture taken each morning is the
most frequently prescribed natural remedy in Europe to relieve hot flashes,
night sweats, emotional swings, and other symptoms of menopause. Vitex works
through the pituitary gland to balance all the reproductive hormones. Dong
Quai, though not hormonal, is also considered an important herb for menopause.
It is the premier builder for any blood-deficient condition, and is especially
recommended for anemia, or as an addition to other female tonic herbs.

Vaginal Yeast Infections

Many women have found near-miraculous relief from the burning and itching
of yeast infections by taking 1/2 teaspoon of tea tree oil, adding it to
a quart of water and douching. Experience shows that this mixture does not
cause further irritation. Some women have found it helpful to use capsules
of acidophilus as vaginal suppositories, and research clearly documents
the benefits of oral supplementation with a good probiotic formula, which
usually includes Lactobacillus acidophilus or other beneficial bacteria.

If the condition is chronic and difficult to heal, it is very important
to strictly avoid hot, spicy foods and caffeine-containing or refined sugar

Men’s Imbalances


As men pass the age of 50 or 55, testosterone levels start to decline, which
can lead to an irritation or enlargement of the prostate gland, as well
as lowered sex drive.

Inflammation of the prostate gland can be treated by drinking a tea 3 times
daily made with equal parts of the following herbs: saw palmetto (tonifies
bladder and prostate), echinacea, nettle and horsetail (antiinflammatory,
diuretic), buchu (urinary antiseptic and tonic), and corn silk (soothing
diuretic and tonic). A new herb, Pygeum africanum, is gaining in
popularity as more clinical experience and scientific support accumulates.
This herb is taken in extract form (follow the instructions on the product

Pumpkin seeds, which are rich in zinc, are usually added to the diet, to
accompany the herbal program.

Low sexual drive

A lack of sexual energy can sometimes be addressed by tonifying the body
with these herbs–damiana, a stimulating nerve tonic, ginger, a popular
herb for increasing warmth and circulation, ginseng, probably the most documented
herb (by a long history of use and much laboratory work) for stimulating
the production of testosterone in the body, saw palmetto, a nourishing tonic
for the sex organs, and wild oats, an excellent nerve tonic, especially
recommended for supporting sexual energy. Eleuthero is highly beneficial
for supporting the adrenal system and increasing overall energy production
in the body. Make a tea of equal parts of the herbs and drink 2 cups per
day. A number of commercial products which contain some or all of these
herbs are widely available in natural food stores.

Note: a number of herbs are often sold as sexual tonics and testosterone
stimulants, including damiana, saw palmetto, sarsaparilla, and wild yam.
These herbs, though they have their place in herbal therapy, are not
documented either by history of use or scientific testing, to replace testosterone
or increase the production of testosterone in the body. Yohimbe, the African
plant widely known as an aphrodisiac has been documented medically for its
ability to relieve certain types of functional impotence, and yohimbine
hydrochloride, an alkaloid derivative from the plant, is prescribed by doctors
for this condition. Although yohimbe extract and powder can be purchased
in natural food stores, it should be noted that the herb is a central nervous
system stimulant and in its concentrated extract form can cause such side-effects
as nervousness, anxiety and sleeplessness. Use the herb cautiously.

Digestive Disorders

Stomach Ache

Stomach aches brought on by nervous tension or overeating can often be relieved
by drinking a cup of tea made from 1 part chamomile, 1 part catnip, 1/4
part ginger, and 1/4 part licorice. For a fast kitchen medicine remedy,
fill one 00 capsule with ginger powder, one with cinnamon powder, and a
third with golden seal powder in the larger part of the capsule and cayenne
in the smaller part and take with tea or other suitable liquid.

Other important digestive herbs, many of which are best taken in tea form,
are fennel, caraway, peppermint, artichoke leaves, and gentian. A little
experimentation will determine which herbs and combinations work best for


Nausea, whether caused by overeating, motion sickness, hormonal imbalances,
overindulgence in alcoholic beverages, or other factors, can by relieved
by a combination of ginger (either 2 capsules or 1 dropperful of the tincture
in a little water) and 2 drops of lavender oil in a cup of water. Great
things have been said about a combination of kudzu and umeboshi plum. Mix
1/2 teaspoon of kudzu in a little cool water, then add the mixture to 1
cup of warm water to which an umeboshi plum has been added.


This is often a chronic condition brought on by a combination of heredity,
nervousness and stress, overwork, lack of vigorous physical activity and
lack of fiber in the diet. Herbal laxatives, such as senna or aloe, which
add more moisture to the stools or stimulate peristalsis are popular, but
should not be depended on for long-term use. This can lead to habituation
and further dissipation of vital energy in the bowels.

Even the most intractable constipation is easy to remedy when a high-fiber
diet is followed, along with a good program of physical exercise, coupled
with stress-relief techniques. It is also wise to massage the abdominal
area with a little flax seed oil (or castor oil if more stimulation is desired)
in a clockwise direction for 10 minutes, morning and evening. Go in deep
and try to work out any tender spots. Give the intestines a rest by not
eating past 7 pm or in the morning until one is active for at least 30-60

Safe herbal bowel tonics that can be used for up to a month or two, in tea,
powder or extract form, include the following, (in order of potency from
least to most potent):



yellow dock

cascara sagrada

Chinese rhubarb (caution, use small amounts, for not more than 2 weeks)

Intestinal Gas (Flatulence)

A very effective, practical and fast-acting remedy is 1-3 drops of peppermint
oil added to a cup of water–or take 1/2-1 teaspoon of fennel or anise seeds,
chew them up thoroughly and swallow with water or tea, a little at a time.
A useful tea blend can be made using 1 part chamomile, 1/2 part ginger,
1/2 part wild yam, and 1/4 part lavender. A strong tea of chamomile flowers
is the universal remedy for bowel irritation and colic, with or without
gas, both in children and adults.

Sluggish liver, poor fat digestion

The liver is a vital organ for proper immune and digestive function, and
plays a crucial role in energy storage and supply, as well as being the
major organ of detoxification.

To help the liver function more efficiently, make a tea or take an extract
of one or more of the following herbs, chosen for their bitter, tonifying
and bile-promoting properties: milk thistle (extract only), dandelion, skullcap,
artichoke leaf, oregon grape, gentian, cardamon, orange peel or ginger.
Drink a cup of the tea or 30 drops of the extract in water fifteen minutes
to 1/2 hour before each meal. Many commercial preparations of these herbs
are available under the general name “bitters.” They promote proper
liver function and help restore weakened digestive power.

Cardiovascular Problems

High cholesterol

Blood cholesterol is considered an important risk factor for heart attacks,
stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. While a few important herbs are
considered useful for lowering blood cholesterol, they work slowly and must
be persisted in over a period of months or years, and ideally, are coupled
with a low-fat, high fiber diet and proper vigorous exercise.

Garlic is by far the most widely-documented and clinically useful herb and
home remedy for lowering blood cholesterol. Cook with it, eat it raw (if
you don’t mind the odor) and take garlic supplements, many of which offer
high quality and potency, thanks to modern analytical methods.

Other useful herbs include green tea extract, dandelion root (unroasted)
taken daily as a tea or extract, alfalfa powder, shepherd’s purse, the Chinese
herb eucommia, and the “medicinal high-fiber foods,” oat bran
and wheat bran.


A combination of arnica, calendula and St. John’s wort oils is very effective
for bruising. Apply the preparation as soon as possible to increase its

Immune Disorders

Hay Fever

To effectively combat the common symptoms of hay fever–itchy eyes, runny
nose and sneezing–it is important to begin herb treatment at least a month
before the allergy season begins in earnest. The following Chinese herb
blend for symptomatic relief of hay fever has turned many allergy sufferers
into believers: 1/2 oz pinelia, 1/2 oz astragalus, 1/4 oz ma huang, 1/4
oz licorice, and 1/8 oz ginger. Simmer the herbs gently in 4 cups of water
for 45 minutes; drink one cup morning and evening. Because ma huang contains
the stimulating alkaloid, ephedrine, it is not recommended for those with
high blood pressure or weak digestion.

Other excellent hay fever herbs include stinging nettles (antiinflammatory,
antihistamine activity), eyebright (mild antihistamine), dong quai (immune
modulator), and golden seal (antiinflammatory, mucous membrane tonic).

When one has extremely severe allergies, it is good to add adaptogenic herbs,
such as Siberian ginseng, licorice, reishi or schizandra, to help support
the adrenals, a weakness of which is often associated with hay fever. Avoiding
dairy products, and possibly wheat, during these times of seasonal discomfort
can also be helpful.


This common ailment is best treated by herbs that support immune function,
retard the growth of Candida albicans, support proper digestion,
and that support the adrenal-vital energy functions of the body. Proper
rest, diet and how stress is handled makes a major difference, in my experience.
I have found the most effective herbal program to include astragalus and
reishi for the immune system, eleuthero and rehmannia for the adrenals,
pau d’arco, garlic, black walnut and usnea for inhibiting the growth of
Candida albicans, and ginger powder or tea or bitter tonics to aid
digestion and assimilation of nutrients.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

This increasingly common ailment is probably a non-specific viral syndrome
brought on by environmental and emotional stress and aggravated by poor
nutrition, overwork, too much headwork, and lack of proper exercise. It
is often a disease of mismanagement of our personal vital energy resources.
Use the same herbs as for candidiasis, but add licorice, St. John’s wort,
lemon balm and Lomatium as anti-virals.

Kidney bladder imbalances

Bladder infections (Cystitis)

To soothe the burning sensation which accompanies bladder infections, make
a cold-water infusion of marshmallow root by soaking 4 teaspoons of the
herb in a quart of water and letting it sit overnight. Drink the preparation
freely. One or more of the tinctures of usnea, sandalwood, golden seal,
or echinacea can be added in severe cases, for their antiseptic and antibiotic
qualities. Where there is suppressed urination, pipsissewa, dandelion leaf,
and parsley root tea should be added.

Bladder infections are another instance where one should avoid cold drinks,
spicy foods, products containing refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Soothing
sitz baths are helpful for bladder infections, as they bring blood to the
area and help flush out the infection. Alternate the bath by sitting in
hot water for three minutes, followed by one minute of cold water. Do three
rounds in the evening.

Unsweetened cranberry juice powder or liquid is a classic remedy to accompany
the herbal treatments, and is even recommended by doctors, recently being
written up in the American Medical Journal.

Skin Ailments

Poison Oak

Grindelia tincture used externally and internally is very helpful for stopping
the itching and burning of poison oak. This sticky plant contains resins
and when applied externally, reduces the irritation and can keep the rash
from spreading to other parts of the body. If one gets poison oak around
the eyes, it is good to use aloe vera in this sensitive area for cooling
and drying up the rash.

One of the best-tested and near-miraculous remedies I’ve ever found (I usually
throw caution to the winds, wading through poison oak in the fall looking
for edible mushrooms) is the following mixture. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt
in 1/2 cup of water, blending in 2 or 3 teaspoons of a fine cosmetic clay
(preferably skin-colored). When the consistency is that of a thick paste,
but is still spreadable, beat in 5-15 drops of peppermint oil. The salt
and clay draw and dry and the peppermint oil (due to its menthol) lowers
inflammation and cools by stimulating the skin’s “cool” receptors.


Keeping peppermint or lavender oil in a handy place in the kitchen is excellent
burn insurance. Both of these oils, when applied promptly, work quickly
to alleviate the pain of burns and facilitate healing. With any first or
second-degree burn of localized extent, it is essential to immerse the affected
area (where possible) in cool water for 10-20 minutes. For more serious
burns, it is often necessary to seek medical support.

Another tried and true remedy for burns is the application of oils or salves
containing St. John’s wort or calendula, the latter for its strong antiinflammatory
and immune-activating virtues and the former for its antiinflammatory effect
on the skin.

Cuts, Bites, Stings

Small cuts can be easily cared for by washing the area with an herbal soap
(containing echinacea or calendula) and then applying moist compresses of
echinacea tincture, which can accelerate wound healing and protect healthy
cells from invasion by bacteria or fungus. Tea tree oil, a strong antiseptic,
also works well and does not sting when applied. For more serious cuts,
apply cayenne or yarrow leaf powder directly to the wound to staunch bleeding;
this sounds like “heroic” herbalism, but the cayenne does not
cause burning when used in this way.

The most time-honored remedy recommended by herbalists for cuts, as well
as any kind of spider bites or bee stings is plantain. Plantain is always
available as a garden weed or waste-lot plant. There are two methods for
its preparation: the blender method or the saliva method. Use the saliva
method by chewing one leaf up thoroughly to make a mucilaginous paste and
apply to the spot. This method is excellent for kids (who love the attention),
for oneself or family members. The blender method works for the more fastidious,
but it takes longer and requires more equipment. I recently watched a plantain
“poultice” heal a severe staph infection, where the whole forearm
was swollen bright red. The whole program consisted of a plantain poultice
on the focal point of the infection (in this case, the knuckle), with the
addition of 20 drops of echinacea tincture and 10 drops of usnea tincture.
The poultice was changed every few hours and usnea and echinacea was taken
internally, 1 dropperful of each every 3 hours. By the next day, the swelling
and redness had mostly subsided, and antibiotics were avoided.

The use of fresh plantain for any kind of infection has been supported by
the discovery in its leaves of the antibiotic substance aucubin.

Sports Herbs

Strains, sprains

Sprains are best treated initially with cold water, followed by arnica compresses
(30 drops of liquid extract in a bowl of water) to help reduce inflammation.
(Caution: Do not use arnica if the skin is broken.) Repeat every 2 hours.
After the first 24 hours, warm arnica compresses should be used. Arnica,
in homeopathic doses, can be used internally, taken as directed.


Herbs known for their potential energizing effects include damiana, Panax
, eleuthero, wild oats, and rosemary (in either tea or extract
form). These herbs are safe, do not contain stimulating alkaloids (such
as caffeine or ephedrine) and can be taken as needed, though ginseng might
be too stimulating for some people and should be used moderately.

Herbs that are stimulating to the nervous system, but are known to have
side-effects such as nervousness, restlessness possibly raising the blood-pressure,
include coffee, black tea, guarana, kola nut, chocolate, and ma huang (Ephedra
). Although the latest figures show that over 120 million people
drink coffee in this country, this and the other stimulant drugs should
be used cautiously, as they are possible risk factors for heart disease
and nervous disorders, at the very least.

Nervous System

Stress relief

Stress is apt to weaken or imbalance our nervous system, leading to symptoms
such as anxiety, tension or depression. It can also impact our immune and
hormonal systems (which work together closely), accompanied by such symptoms
as lowered resistance to infections, or eventually, such ailments as Chronic
Fatigue Syndrome or Candidiasis. Constant or long-term stress can also affect
our digestion, leading to ulcers, constipation or irritable bowel syndromes.

For helping to relax a tense mind or body, a flavorful, relaxing tea can
be made by steeping one part each of chamomile, lavender, linden, and lemon
balm and 1/2 part orange peel. This stress-reducing tea is excellent after
dinner and has the added benefit of aiding digestion. For extra-strength
stress relief, add equal parts of valerian (tincture or powdered extract
from the fresh plant is best, in my experience), passion flower and California
poppy to the above mixture–or take in capsule or extract form, as the taste
is not as pleasant.

For adrenal weakness, herbs such as euleuthero, licorice, rehmannia and
reishi can be found in many commercial preparations.

For immune weakness, astragalus, ligustrum, reishi and shiitake are widely
recommended for their powerful deep immune supportive properties. The bulk
herbs can be purchased in Chinese herb stores or many natural food stores.
These can be added to soups and stews. My recipe for “Wei Qi”
(protective vitality) soup:


Fill a soup pot with water (about 1 gallon) and add 5-10 sticks of astragalus,
1-2 medium sized reishi mushrooms, one quarter cup of ligustrum fruits and
5-8 small to medium shiitake mushrooms (available from most markets). Simmer
the herbs for 30 minutes, then add an assortment of your favorite vegetables
(such as carrots, beets, potatoes, yams, parsley and celery). The addition
of a quarter cup of barley will make the soup thicker, and is very strengthening
and soothing to the digestion. When the soup is done, drink the broth and
eat the vegetables. Store in the refrigerator for several day’s use. The
more fibrous herbs such as astragalus are too tough to eat, so simply put
them aside. The shiitake mushrooms are delicious and fine-textured, however.

Sleep disturbances

Drinking a cup of the following herb mixture can often ensure a restful
night’s sleep–passion flower, skullcap, valerian, hops, and California
poppy. Steep 2 teaspoons of the mixture in one cup of water. These herbs
can also be taken in extract form, 1 dropperful 1/2 hour before bedtime.
For children who don’t sleep well at night, try giving them a bath before
bedtime to which a handful of linden tied up in a muslin bag has been added.


A combination of hops, California poppy and hawthorn, either in tea or tincture
form, effectively allays anxiety, having a quieting effect on the central
nervous system.


Herbs which can help lift depression include St. John’s wort, rosemary,
lavender, wild oats, and damiana. Steep 2 teaspoons of the mixture in a
cup of water and drink 3 times daily. An mood-elevating bath can be made
by adding a few drops of lavender, rose, or orange oil to the water. The
same oils can be added to sweet almond or apricot kernel oil to be used
for massage. St. John’s wort is the most commonly prescribed natural remedy
in Europe for mild depression. Take 1-2 tablets of the standardized extract
as needed, but not more than 4 in a day.


For symptoms of drug withdrawal, whether from nicotine or alcohol, wild
oats have been shown to be useful for their strengthening effect on the
nervous system, as well as their anti-addictive properties. A tea can be
made, steeping 1 teaspoon of herb in 1 cup of water, or a liquid extract
can be used–40 drops 3 times per day.


For headaches, try this “aspirin replacement” herbal blend (no
side-effects)–passion flower, periwinkle herb (Vinca major), wood
betony, white willow bark (1 part each), and lavender (1/2 part). Steep
2 teaspoons of the mixture in 1 cup of water and drink 1 cup as needed.
Various commercial preparations are available which contain one or more
of these herbs.

For migraine headaches, feverfew is the herb of choice, and it has 2 double-blind
studies demonstrating its effectiveness to its credit. Take 1-2 tablets
of the powder, or 1-2 dropperfuls of the tincture morning and evening. Experience
shows that it may take up to 3-6 months before its full effects are felt.
Some people have experienced relief where nothing else has worked. The herb
must be taken on an on-going basis.

Smart Herbs: memory and brain herbs

Ginkgo has a positive effect on cerebral circulation, glucose metabolism,
and neurotransmitter balance, all of which can have a strengthening effect
on the memory, as well as improving mental vigor. Take 1-2 tablets (of the
standardized extract) or dropperfuls of the tincture morning and evening.
The traditional Ayurvedic herb, gotu kola, is also recommended by herbalists,
especially as a fresh plant tincture, for maintaining strong mental vigor.

Herbs for Daily Use

Arnica, oil–One of the best-known trauma herbs, used externally as an oil
or liniment. Use homeopathic product for internal use.

Astragalus–The premier deep toning immune herb, used as a tea, tincture
or powdered extract.

Calendula oil–An excellent skin remedy, applied locally for burns, bites,
stings and other trauma.

California poppy–The extract (tincture or tablet form) is helpful for relieving
tension, sleeplessness and anxiety; safe for children.

Chamomile–A world-renowned digestive and relaxing herb for colic, bowel
irritation, relaxation; safe for children.

Echinacea–One of the best studied and clinically proven herbs for immune
stimulation. Best taken in up to three 10-day cycles, then discontinued.
Use only when needed in large amounts (1-2 droppersful several times daily).
Small doses (5-15 drops daily) can be useful as a mild immune tonic for
longer-tern use.

Elder Flowers–The flowering tops of blue or black elders makes an excellent
tea for reducing fevers and increasing elimination of wastes for colds and

Eleuthero–The best-researched “adaptogen,” which helps us to
adapt to stress by supporting adrenal function, and increasing energy efficiency.
Often used by weight-trainers and other sports enthusiasts.

Eucalyptus oil–The oil has strong antiseptic properties and is useful in
steams for sinus problems to relieve congestion.

Ginger–The best herb for supporting digestion, relieving nausea (from any
cause) and generally stimulating circulation. Taken as a tea, extract or
as a powder in capsules.

Ginkgo–One of the most interesting herbs of the last few years. Improves
brain function, including memory and alertness. Protects blood vessels,
improves circulation and is a powerful antioxidant. Best herb for ringing
in the ears (tinnitis).

Ginseng–The panacea herb of ancient China. Excellent for people over 50,
to improve vital energy, sexual energy and enhance digestive powers. Often
blended with other herbs in formulas.

Golden Seal–This North American native herb is widely known and used for
colds, flus and sinus infections. Lowers inflammation, helps cool infections
of the mucous membranes. Useful when blended with echinacea (1:3).

Gotu kola–The ancient Ayurvedic herb, thought to improve memory and mental
vigor and act as an adaptogen. Preliminary research supports this view.
The herb should be used fresh, as the dried herb rapidly loses its potency.

Grindelia–A native of North America, this sticky yellow-flowered plant
from the daisy family was a favorite Native American remedy for poison oak
and other rashes. It was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia as
an internal remedy for asthma, bronchitis and other upper respiratory tract

Hawthorn–The extract is well-researched and has a long history of use as
the herb of choice for strengthening and protecting the cardiovascular system,
especially the heart. To be used in extract form long-term, even over a
number of years.

Hops–One of the major flavor components of beer. An excellent digestive
bitter herb which has good relaxing properties.

Lavender oil–The distilled oil from lavender is used in aromatherapy and
as an internal medicine to lift the spirits and allay nausea.

Licorice–Licorice root is an important herb for flavoring and harmonizing
herbal blends. It has proven anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties
and is commonly used for upper respiratory tract, digestive tract and urinary
tract irritation or infections. The herb has also shown benefit for healing
ulcers and is considered an important adrenal support herb.

Marshmallow root–This mucilaginous herb is used as a tea or liquid extract
to soothe mucous membranes in the digestive, upper respiratory and urinary
tracts. Marshmallow has recently shown some immune-stimulating properties.

Milk Thistle–The great liver protector and healer. Well-researched and
clinically-proven for hepatitis, cirrhosis or for extra nutritional support
for people who drink alcoholic beverages or use pharmaceutical or recreational

Nettles–An excellent nutrient herb which has also shown anti-allergic properties
for hay fever, and antiinflammatory activity for enlarged or irritated prostate

Peppermint, oil–One of the best home remedies for relieving intestinal
gas, bowel inflammation or irritation. A tea of the leaf is also widely

Plantain–The ubiquitous weed that every herbalist loves. It has a high
percentage of mucilage to soothe, allantoin to speed wound-healing and aucubin
as a strong anti-microbial substance to prevent infections. Use fresh
as a poultice, tea, or tincture, or the fresh juice internally or externally.

Reishi–An herb renowned for its powerful deep immune-strengthening activity.
It has also shown blood-sugar regulating properties and may help lower cholesterol.
Use as a tea, tincture or powdered extract.

Rosemary–This common garden herb contains natural camphor, which helps
energize the nervous system, without over-stimulating. It also contains
powerful natural anti-oxidant properties and is a good digestive herb.

Shiitake–This common mushroom is as delicious as it is medicinal. One of
its active constituents, lentinan, has shown anti-tumor, anti-viral and
immune-strengthening properties. It is used in soups, stews, stir-frys and
as a tea or extract.

St. John’s wort extract, oil–The extract of this common European and American
weedy plant shows great promise as an anti-viral (against the AIDS virus),
anti-inflammatory and remedy for mild depression. The standardized extract
is used internally, and the oil is applied externally for burns and nerve
pain or trauma due to tension or accidents.

Tea Tree oil–An Australian import emerging as an important herb for fungal
infections of the skin or nails, vaginal yeast infections and gum inflammation
or sores.

Usnea–Called the herbal antibiotic, this common lichen has shown powerful
inhibitory activity against strep, staph and pneumonia infections. Excellent
in combination with echinacea for strep throat or staph infections (such
as impetigo).

Valerian–A traditional herb with a wealth of clinical evidence to support
its use as a sleep-aid, nerve tonic and relaxing herb.

Vitex–One of the best-known women’s herbs, it was recommended by Hippocrates
(450 B.C.) for the same purposes as today: menstrual imbalances, hormonal
difficulties (PMS, menopause), and to bring on mother’s milk.

Herbal Contraindications

A Note of Caution

Although the charge is often made that herbalists say that all herbs are
safe, no responsible herbalist would ever make such a claim.

Herbs are often very safe–usually much safer than synthetic drugs, both
on the person taking them and on our environment and energy resources. But
they are complex mixtures of chemical compounds that can heal, change different
body processes, and sometimes cause side-effects, especially when overused
or used unconsciously.

Below is a list of the best-documented possible side-effects of the herbs
mentioned in this article. Contraindications can be further researched in
the books listed in the resource section.

Arnica–taking the herb, tea or tincture internally may lead to severe gastrointestinal
irritation. Using the tincture or oil on open wounds or scrapes might increase
inflammation. Arnica in homeopathic dilution is not toxic.

Essential oils (lavender, tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus)–these plant
essences are highly concentrated and should be used cautiously–reduce dose
if any irritation develops, either externally or internally.

Golden seal–People with weak, cold digestion should use this herb sparingly.
Do not use continuously for more than 10 days or 2 weeks–large doses (more
than 2 “00” caps 3 x daily) is not recommended. Because it stimulates
the uterus, it is not to be taken during pregnancy.

Laxatives (aloe, senna, cascara, rhubarb)–long-term use (over 2 weeks)
might lead to dependency, loss of bowel tone and intestinal irritation.

Licorice–for people with high blood pressure, edema or electrolyte imbalance:
long-term use of licorice root or its products (more than 2 weeks) can lead
to sodium retention, excessive potassium excretion, and water retention.
Moderate use is not considered problematic.

Red Clover–it contains small amounts of coumarin derivatives, which, when
taken in excessive amounts, might potentiate blood-thinning drugs, such
as warfarin. Red clover may be mildly estrogenic.

St. John’s wort–large amounts might make the skin more sensitive to sunlight.
For people whose skin is already sensitive, take extra precautions when
using the herb therapeutically.

Valerian–very large amounts of the tea (over 2 cups at a time) or powdered
extract might cause headaches in some people. Some people who take valerian
are stimulated rather than calmed by the herb, but this paradoxical effect
is rare with the fresh plant tincture, tea or extract.

Vitex–Not to be taken concurrently with birth-control pills.


The Shelf Life of Herbs and Herb Products

The overall effectiveness of any herb or herb product is determined not
only by the quality of the herbs that went into them, but how long they
have been sitting on the shelf. Most herbs are best stored in their whole
form, kept in amber glass jars packed as close to the top as possible, and
stored in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Under normal circumstances,
most powdered herbs will only retain their full potency for a matter of
2 or 3 months. If they are encapsulated and in plastic bottles, as many
herb products are, one should not count on any more than a one-year shelf-life.
Whole herbs, if stored correctly may retain a fair quality for up to 3 years.
Tinctures, according to recent studies, may hold much of their activity
for up to 3 years, if stored in a cool, dark place. Extracts in tablet or
capsule form will last longer in amber glass jars than in plastic bottles,
which will allow oxygen and moisture to enter.

The Importance of Herb Quality and Organic Herbs

All herbalists agree that herb quality is a number one priority. We are
not satisfied with the quality when herbs are poorly grown, improperly harvested,
dried or stored. Fortunately, the proper techniques for insuring the highest
quality herbs are becoming better known and more closely followed. However,
there are still some very good quality and some very poor quality herbs
and products on the market. National organizations like the American Herbal
Products Association (AHPA) and the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) are
working hard to educate manufacturers and consumers about the importance
of herb quality. For more information, write and support the efforts of
these organizations by becoming a member of the AHG, or ask your manufacturer
if they are a member of AHPA–if not, encourage them to join.

The best assurance today that you are getting the very best quality herbs
is to look for “certified organic” products. When a company cares
enough to pay more for these herbs, it will usually take more trouble in
the manufacturing process. Of special concern is the rapidly dwindling resources
of some native plants, such as echinacea and golden seal. We cannot afford
to take these plants from the wild for much longer–so support organically
cultivated herb products and insure the continuation of our wild heritage.

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Written by Christopher Hobbs LAc AHG

Explore Wellness in 2021