Herbal Medicine :: The Overview {My Medicine Cabinet}

A series of posts about herbal medicine and what has worked for me and my family so far.

There are a lot of “common ailments.” I’m just going to write up an overview of the kinds of things we keep in our medicine cabinet and what we use them for in general. By no means is this list exhaustive or all inclusive. However, specific recipes will be discussed more in depth in subsequent posts. Please let me know if you are particularly interested in any particular remedies and I’ll try to cover those first.

A word about dosage. Depending on the specific type of herbal remedy you are using (teas, tinctures, decoctions, infusions, essential oils, pultices, et cetera) the dosage will be different. I’ll get more into the specifics later on. And generally speaking the range goes something like this:

infant – quarter dose | child/teen – somewhere between quarter dose and full dose | adult – full dose

But that’s really ambiguous, since dosage changes depending on what the substance is, and how it’s prepared.

Okay. So. Our medicine cabinet. Prepare yourself.

I keep raw herbs for things like teas, decoctions, and infusions. 
My go to raw herbs are the following:

Marshmallow Root – Primary preparation: decoction. Is an expectorant and supports the mucus membranes. It also can reduce the inflammation in mucus membranes. We use it while sick, especially when croupy coughs come bugging us. It is soothing like nothing else I’ve ever tried.

Echinacea Purpurea Root – Primary preparation: decoction. Supports immune function. We use this while sick, at the first sign of sickness (sinus, scratchy throat, fatigue, general ache-ness). You can know if it’s fresh and potent because it makes your tongue feel kind of tingly. It’s also quite bitter.

Rosehips – Primary preparation: tea. High in vitamin C which is an immune boosting vitamin. We use this also while sick to help our immune systems function at the their best, though I also use it in my own mix of “mother’s milk tea.” Rosehips have a natural sweetness to them. I prefer to pair rosehips with nettle and raspberry leaf (my “mother’s milk tea” blend, and is certainly not exclusive to those who are lactating).

Calendula Flowers – Primary preparation: oil infusion. Known for its skin healing properties. It’s also known as the common marigold. We use this for things like diaper rash, scratches, scrapes, cuts, burns, dry skin, eczema (although, in babies, eczema is usually a sign of an allergy. So topical use for fast relief is great, but finding the underlying cause is better in the long run), post-partum loveliness, et cetera.

Nettle Leaf – Primary preparation: tea. Apparently very nutrient dense (though I’ve never bothered to look it up), and high in vitamin K. We use this while sick, but I primarily use it in my “mother’s milk tea” blend because it has been recommended to me now by at least three midwives. It smells a little like fish food, or grass, but I haven’t noticed that in its flavor.

Raspberry Leaf – Primary preparation: tea. Recommended for mothers later in their pregnancies, and for lactating mothers. I haven’t read much else into it than that, though it too has been recommended to me by many midwives and so goes into my “mother’s milk tea” blend. It has a natural sweetness to it, and I find the flavor and smell delicious.

Whole Foods for medicine:

Garlic – Primary preparation: peeled and smashed or tea or oil infusion. Known for millenia for it’s antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. We use this at the first sign of sinus sickness, as a preventative for secondary infections (like earaches, sinus infections, and to help sinus passages clear). Onion can also be used, and seems more mild. If we use it raw, we wrap it in a bandana and wear it on our heads like Rambo. Yes, we smell…but at least we can breathe. And as far as the infusion goes, we use the oil as ear drops to avoid earaches. Sometimes I apply it to my face to help release congestion.

Lemon – Primary preparation: fresh squeezed(lemonade). All citrus is high in vitamin C. Lemons are particularly known for their astringent qualities, and in this case when paired with garlic that has steeped in boiled water make a great soothing beverage while sick.

Oranges/Grapefruits – Primary preparation: peeled, raw. I learned from a midwife that vitamin C is essentially useless to our bodies unless paired with bioflavinoids. Where are bioflavinoids found? In the white pithy stuff on citrus fruit. This is why orange juice, while delicious, doesn’t really help our immune systems while sick, unless maybe it’s freshly juiced. Juice is essentially just sugar water and some antioxidants when it comes to using it for medicinal purposes in this case.

Raw Honey – Primary preparation: none. When honey is raw (meaning not filtered or pasteurized) it contains pollens, and bee barf from the places the bees visited to get the stuff to make their food. Forgive me, because I haven’t studied it that in depth. When the honey is local it can help you acclamate yourself to place-specific allergens. Also, the sugars contained in honey are extremely complex and basically perfect for our bodies to absorb and utilize. So when used in moderation (meaning like a teaspoon per cup of tea), can actually prove quite nourishing. Also some people consume it by itself as a soothing throat coat/cough remedy. Obviously, if you’re allergic to bees, this is not recommended.

Tart Cherries & Cherry Juice – Primary preparation: none. I read this article about how tart cherry juice has been shown as a natural sleep aid because it contains chemicals that boost melatonin production. Since I am a new mom, and was basically desperate to try anything to help our little one sleep more soundly (because we’re all happier when that happens), I gave it a try. Since we have started a daily dose of this juice, when she’s not sick or teething, she goes to sleep around 9 pm and wakes up around 6 am. This had not happened in many many months. And now while she’s still sleeping, I find myself waking up at her usual wake up times (11 pm, 3 am, 5:30 am) because I got so used to it.

Ginger – Primary preparation: grated, raw. Known for its gastric settling qualities. When paired with equal parts raw honey, this makes a delicious, spicy, and soothing beverage. We use it for gastric upset, nausea, motion sickness.

Prepared Herbal Stuff:
Tinctures, are a ratio of herbs to high grade and percentage alcohol (think vodka) that have been soaking for awhile and then filtered out and stored for later use. Extracts are basically the same thing but use glycerin instead of vodka. Both are shelf stable, alcohol tinctures last longer. They can be very potent so exercising caution is a must (especially when it comes to dosage for children), but are also more convenient than raw herbs.

Echinacea/Orange Blossom Blend – Prepared specifically for kids. Taste factor, I suspect. Used as an immune boosting herb while sick. Alcohol can be diluted in hot water. Herb Pharm is a good brand to purchase from (and I have seen them at herb shops, whole foods type stores, and even Fred Meyer). Though you can prepare your own, and it is cheaper, I find the information for dosing helpful on the already made/purchased from the store stuff.

Arnica – Purchased while pregnant with Peanut from my midwives, so I’m not sure how it was prepared… Arnica flowers are used for their trauma/wound healing properties. They also help regulate inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to injury, and is not necessarily a bad thing. Arnica helps keep the inflammation under control while still aiding the body in performing it’s natural functions. We use this for bruises, bumps and scrapes, and tension headaches. I have to say I kind of have a personal vendetta against ibuprofen now that I know it can screw up gut flora, and I know two people personally who have ibuprofen intolerances because of overuse in headaches. I am wary of my husband going down the same path, so now that we’ve found something that actually helps him (yay!) get rid of tension headaches quickly, and safely, I am a big advocate for arnica’s use. Not to mention it’s ability to heal bruises in my little one. Sold. **UPDATE** I did not realize that the arnica we use is actually homeopathic (which is okay to take internally). NOT a tincture. Arnica tincture should never be ingested, only applied topically to non-abrasive wounds…like bruises. If you see blood don’t use Arnica tincture directly on the wound.

Myrrh – Purchased while pregnant with Peanut from my midwives, so I’m not sure how it was prepared… We used it to help Peanut’s cord stump heal quickly. But other than that, I honestly can’t remember what it’s good for. I haven’t read much about it, and so it mostly just sits in the cabinet and looks pretty.

Syrups, are herbs that have been stewed and then mixed with honey…essentially. They can be more complex than that. But for our purposes that’s basically what they are.

Elderberry – Can be used as a preventative for sickness, and also while sick. It’s sweet, goopy, and my daughter likes it. Plus it seems to help so far. I’ve only recently added this to our arsenal.

Essential Oils, are the volatile oils that are found in herbs. They are extremely concentrated, take a lot of complex equipment to produce, and are really expensive. So far in my quest for finding good, reliable information about herbal medicine…essential oils have been the most elusive. Cheap ones are most often filled with other filler oils and so aren’t pure, or lack medicinal/therapeutic qualities. And expensive ones all have their own claims, “proven” by their own people about the effectiveness and quality and are just… well, expensive.

Oh, and it’s always a good idea to dilute essential oils with a little bit of what they call a “carrier oil” like olive or coconut oil. It helps it apply easier, and (especially for babies) doesn’t irritate the skin as much.

Melaleuca – Antifungal, Antimicrobial. We use it for anything from foot fungus, to burns, to quick heat rash healing.

Lavender – Calming, and soothing. Peanut used to get horrible nightmares when she was just a few months old. A little bit of lavender helped calm her down when nothing else would. I also use it in baths sometimes. We also use it for a milder burn/scar application to aid in healing.

Eucalyptus – Invigorating, and really strong smelling. I use this to help release congestion, mostly in bath time for Peanut. I also, in my super cheap glory looked up the oils that DoTerra puts in their “On Guard” blend…because I’m way too cheap to buy them, but I like that blend. I bought Eucalyptus and the next four listed essential oils to make my own “On Guard” blend. Which we have used, and now I need to make more.

Red Clove – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

Orange Blossom – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

Cinnamon – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

Rosemary – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

*disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. I am not saying any or all of these things will work for you or yours. I write simply for educational purposes only 🙂 This list is not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure any disease or illness.

Herbal Medicine :: Finding Good Information

A series of posts about herbal medicine and what has worked for me and my family so far.

The FDA doesn’t have much to say about herbs and herbal medicines, except that professional herbalists and holistic doctors can’t legally claim to treat, diagnose, cure, or prescribe herbal medicines and the like to their clients. They must assume the role of consultant, unless they have a recognized and accredited medical degree. But even still, legally, herbs cannot treat, diagnose, cure, or be prescribed.

Some herbalist people I have talked to prefer it this way. At least the FDA (and all the rest) aren’t really medling in the industry to make a profit. Some say this is because there really isn’t a huge profit to be made off of things people can grow in their own gardens. All I know is, they don’t regulate herbs and herbal medicines. I’m not sure why they don’t want to regulate them, but I’m sure if I did a little more sleuthing I could find some reasons. However, because of this, the general public is not very keen on the idea of utilizing herbal medicines in their lives because there is really no public support for their efficacy in healing (even though there is a lot of independent research on their efficacy). The American government essentially has put a “use at your own risk” stamp on herbs, because they have not yet been proven safe…which I find ironic because the American government also says about all sorts of other things (GMO foods and pharmaceutical drugs to name a couple) that they are okay because they have not yet been proven dangerous. 

So why am I writing about this? Because an industry that is still widely unregulated can have products and claims that are absolutely bogus–or worse, dangerous. I’m kind of reminded of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” On the flip side, that also means that consumers determine and demand quality products from the industry product makers without all the red tape put up by government regulations. This also requires that consumers are well educated and forceful about what they want. Whether or not this is a good thing is all about what your personal political philosophies are.

Because of all this, finding good reliable resources for information and where to find quality products can be (and for many is) extremely confusing. Especially because anybody online [ME] can claim anything they want about herbal medicine and pass it off as true. And the sad part is many people buy into the popularity of some and believe everything they have to say on the subject–then possibly run into serious problems at worst, or a hoax at best.

So, how do we source good information? In my own quest, I try to seek out people in the industry that I trust who are professional and have good credentials. Then I ask them about their resources. And some of what I have tried is trial and error, because not every remedy will work for every person.

Some of My Resources
Information about Herbal Medicine:

The American Herbalists Guild is “the only peer-reviewed organization for professional herbalists in the United States.” (“Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent’s Guide Aviva Romm, M.D. p247).

“Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent’s Guide” by Aviva Romm M.D. In the later chapters of her book she discusses herbal remedies that can be used for sick children in a variety of circumstances. I have had good success with them.

Mountain Rose Herbs. For books about Herbal stuff. Based out of Eugene, OR and in my humble opinion seem legit. And they have many books I want to purchase.

Mountain Rose Herbs also keeps a blog which contains recipes and how-to’s for all the different types of things you can do with herbs.

I took a free webinar from John Gallagher, an independent herbalist, about using common foods to help boost your immune system (and how basically everyone uses vitamin c incorrectly). His website is called learningherbs.com

A really interesting series of articles about where/how to source essential oils (that I haven’t really verified, but she seems to have done some serious research).

Some say he’s a cooke but, I have had good success following his recommendations for things like indigestion and morning sickness. I’m generally wary of websites that seem to overly promote purchasing stuff. However, many of his recommendations don’t require the purchase of his supplements. Dr. Mercola.

And my personal favorite place, your public library! Libraries are full of old and new *published* books about herbs and herbal medicine. And the best part is, it’s all free!!! Unless you’re a slacker like me and turn stuff in late all the time.

Sourcing Good Quality Herbs
Can be a little trickier… but so far, I have had good success with local apothecaries and co-op granola faerie grocery stores.

Also if the herbs you find are certified organic by the Oregon Tilth people (who were one of the first people to start certifying things “organic” before “organic” was a thing) then it’s probably legit. As far as I know, they also produce some bulk herbs… I have some in my house.

Two other places, I have yet to actually purchase from are,

Mountain Rose Herbs. Who have a huge supply of bulk herbs and medicine making supplies. And I’m biased because they have a really well designed website… part of the graphic designer in me…

And a new one I just discovered: Frontier Co-op based right outta my midwestern Iowa.

Generally speaking, it is cheaper to purchase in bulk online than it is to purchase in store. But sometimes ya just need them herbs quick.

Anyway, happy sleuthing. Hopefully you find some of this helpful, if not at least a little interesting!

*disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. I am not saying any or all of these things will work for you or yours. I write simply for educational purposes only 🙂