There is growing interest these days in herbal healing and remedies, and rightly so. The cost of pharmaceuticals is astronomical, and many don't work. Side effects are horrendous.
Herbal healing is a natural, inexpensive method you can use at home - if used with care.
What most people unfamiliar with herbs are not aware of is that up to 70% of pharmaceuticals, and possibly more depending on your source of information, are still derived from plants. This has both good and bad consequences.
Herbs can have side effects. They can react with prescriptions you may already be taking. They can also cause issues if over-used or abused.
The purpose of this section is to introduce herbs and herbal remedies in a safe, educational manner.
The information below, and on the following pages largely comes from classes and books by my favorite herbal teachers. Each has greatly aided in my herbal education and my love of plants in general.
Among these are Rosemary Gladstar, David Crow, Susun Weed, Rosalee De La Foret and Michael and Leslie Tierra. These wonderful teachers and many others have graced my book shelves and my life and given me much to be grateful for.
You'll find a page about my favorite herbalists with short biographies and links to their websites as well as some of my favorites among their works shortly.
First, let me say that yes, using herbs in your cooking is beneficial. However, if you are trying to lessen the symptoms or cause of an ailment, the minute amounts of herbs normal to cooking isn't going to do much.
Certainly, it won't hurt, but the amount of herbs needed for healing is more than most people would be able to eat.
Herbal preparations come in many forms.
Decoction is a word you will run into often in books about herbal healing. Basically this is a very strong tea which is then reduced. The water and herbs are boiled together, then strained, and the mixture is simmered down to 1/2 or 1/4 of the fluid. They are used both internally and externally, depending on the ailment.
Syrups fall into this category.
An infusion is also quite common, and is also made as a tea, but in a weaker solution and with a slightly different method. Infusions can also be made with oil or alcohol. With infusions, one brings water to a boil, then lets it cool just a bit before adding the herbs. They are allowed to steep anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple days.
Tinctures are made by steeping herbs in 100 proof alcohol for a period of time, usually about three weeks. They must be kept air-tight and in a dark, cool place, and they must be shaken every day during the process. Usually either Everclear whiskey or vodka is used. Some people use brandy for certain applications.
Herbal healing also makes use of pills, capsules and suppositories in certain instances. In both methods the herbs are powdered and then mixed with a substance to form either the pill or the suppository.
For pills, generally a clay or wax is used. Pills can be molded or formed by rolling tiny balls in your hands.
Gelatin capsules can be purchased, and filled with finely powdered herbs. These are useful if you are taking large amounts of one or two herbs frequently during the day. They are much easier to work with if you are going to be out but will need to take your herbs, or if the herbs are particularly bad tasting.
Suppositories are normally mixed with a good quality coconut oil, molded and then frozen or at least refrigerated.
Lotions and ointments are made by mixing a decoction with an oil and a wax. I tend to use coconut or extra virgin olive oil and unbleached or natural beeswax. The amount of wax added determines the texture and "softness."
Plasters are made by powdering the herbs and mixing them with just enough water or oil to make a very thick paste which is then applied either directly to the skin, or to a damp towel which is then put non-herbed side to the skin (think mustard plaster for loosening congestion).
In certain instances, herbal healing may also include methods such as douches and enemas. Coffee enemas are now all the rage, having largely replaced colonics in the public consciousness. Both are useful in their own way.
There are a few points that are important to know when deciding which method of herbal healing you wish to use and for what.
First of these is that - generally speaking - it is the volatile oils within the herbs that are its effective parts. While the whole herb works synergistically, it is these volatile oils that carry the healing properties in most cases.
There are several "classes" of herbs, based on the taste these oils carry.
Pungent herbs are used in moderate amounts in herbal healing. They tend to be warming and a bit on the spicy side. Some examples are garlic, cayenne pepper, basil and ginger.
Salty herbs, do not necessarily taste salty. In this case, the term "salt" refers to a high concentration of mineral salts found in various parts of the plant. Stinging Nettle is a salty herb.
Sour herbs tend to be used in the reduction of inflammation and to stimulate digestion. They are largely astringent plants, and will help with swelling, healing wounds and to tighten tissues. Rose, Elderberry and lemon balm are all sour herbs.
Sweet herbs are adaptogens. They may not have a sweet flavor at all, but tend to be generally nourishing and calming. They are the most well-tolerated herbs because of their mild action and sometimes rather bland flavors. Chai is considered a sweet herb.
Finally, the bitter herbs are used in herbal healing to cool the body and promote healing by aiding in drainage of mucous. Most of these will cause salivation, which helps to dissolve food particles, stimulate digestion and release enzymes to help digest proteins. Thus, bitter herbs are wonderful aids to the liver and therefore for detoxification. Artichoke, chamomile, chocolate and coffee are great examples of bitter herbs.
Some plants used in herbal healing can be used in their entirety, but many remedies are based on specific parts of the plant.
Certain herbs of which the stems or roots are used will dictate what sort of remedy can be made. For instance, most stems are made into tinctures, infusions or decoctions because they are very hard to powder and cannot be swallowed easily.
At times, the leaves of a plant may have different healing properties than the flower, fruit, bark, stem or root. And in some rare cases, each part will have healing qualities and each will be used for different purposes AND in different preparations.
On the pages for the specific herbs, each plant will have all this listed and more.
Each listing will have information on the parts of the plant used, the methods of preparation best performed, the energetics of the herb (hot, cool, dry, moist, etc), the "flavor" - bitter, sweet, pungent and so on, the botanical name as well as common names, a picture, and more.
I'll warn you here about one more thing as well. In some circles, there are spiritual and magickal as well as healing qualities possessed by herbs. On the herbal pages, this information will be listed as well for those I have information on.
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