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Selfcare withherbs

  1. 1. SELF CARE WITH HERBSa wise guideto starting out withnatural home remediesSimon Y Mills
  2. 2. © 2013 OurMedicine Publishing, Exeter, EnglandMost statements in this book are backed up by evidence,usually in published academic papers, and all are based onpersonal experience over many years of practice. There arelinks from the Herbal Hub website to more information andyou can also email feedback@herbalhub.netNote: This book is provided in good faith and with the best expertiseavailable as a tool for readers to make their own health decisions and to helpmake them as safely as possible. However every illness and every person isunique and no general advice can be true in every case. This book is nosubstitute for an individual consultation. The authors and publisher cannotaccept liability for individual cases where things go wrong.
  3. 3. IntroductionThe word ‘drug’ derives from an old European word drogenreferring to dried plants. All drugs, ancient and modern startedwith herbs. Over thousands of years, people had to work outwhich plants were useful and exactly how to use them. Thisinformation was passed down through history through everycommunity, and noted in ancient texts from Assyria, Egypt,India, China, Rome and Greece.The ancient traditions have now been brought up to date totake account of modern medical research and in manycountries is practiced by doctors and other healthprofessionals alongside modern medicine.This booklet will offer an introduction to herbs that anyone canuse at home. It will be under the following headingspage1 Why choose herbs? - the key questions!2 Are herbs safe to try? - “yes – mostly”!5 What can I try herbs for? - answers from those who have7 Where to start? - where to find reliable herbs10 How do I prepare my herbs? - turning a plant into a remedy11 What dose works for me? - am I getting enough?14 The story of herbal medicine - where this all beganThis book is also an introduction to the Herbal Hub Self Careseries (see the last page of this book for more titles). Here andalso at we will be learning how herbs maybe useful, how we know whether they are useful, when theyare worth trying and when to try something else. At best theycan really make a difference, at worst they rarely do any harmand you can stop them quickly without after effects.
  4. 4. - 2 -Why choose herbs?Living creatures have always relied on plants, for food andalso for medicine. Even animals eat plants that have medicinalrather than food properties and humans around the worldhave always used plants as their main source of medicines.Modern drugs started with plants and even now some are stillextracted from them.Without hospitals and medical services to fall back on peoplefound plants with the quickest and best effects to treat illness.There were common features to treatments being usedaround the world: when European settlers moved into theAmericas they found local populations using plants in similarways to them.(see the Story of Herbal Medicine on page 14)All this of course was before modern medicine transformedhealth care. A common question is whether herbs still haveany value today.Synthetic drugs are often powerful and there is strongevidence of their results in fighting specific diseases. Herbsare now mostly used as more gentle treatments and there isless modern evidence for them. However many herbaltreatments can quickly and safely be tested by personalexperience, and have a plausible scientific case. If usedwisely they can be a very useful complement to conventionaltreatment.Actually there is no need to make a choice between the two.Both have their place and can be used differently andsometimes together. In the Herbal Hub we will learn how to dothis safely and effectively.
  5. 5. - 3 -Are herbs safe to try?Not all things in nature are safe. Most plants producechemicals to defend themselves against infections andpredators; some can be poisonous. Those that are grown foreating usually have these elements bred out so that they arenice and easy on the body (and on the taste buds!).By contrast the plants traditionally used for medicines wereoften valued because they were provocative: correcting illnesscan be hard work and some old treatment plans were robust!Now that we have modern drugs and surgery for seriousmedical treatments we can choose plant medicines that aremore gentle. The ones we discuss at the Herbal Hub have along track record of safe use. We even have modern evidencefor this.Around the world plants are still used very widely asmedicines. Modern adverse drug reporting systems includereports of negative reactions to herbs as well. The WorldHealth Organisation International Drug Monitoring Centre inUppsala, Sweden collects these from around the world andreports that they make up around 1% of the total of allmedicine reports and that the vast majority are relatively minorsymptoms. Interestingly in Europe there is both widespreaduse of plant-based medicines (‘phytomedicines’) andmandatory reporting of their adverse effects by professionalsand manufacturers – the levels are still as low. Those wholook at these reports all agree that there is not much of apublic hazard out there. Most serious problems arise with poorquality products (see below) and the very occasionalindividual reaction that no one can predict. Nothing is risk-freeand rare events are always possible, but the safety record forthe prudent use of herbs is very good.
  6. 6. There are simple tips that can significantly reduce any risk oftaking herbs.1) Avoid self care with herbs ...o when taking powerful prescription drugs (eg. for bloodclotting, heart failure, diabetes, epilepsy, severedepression and psychosis, AIDs, and after transplantsurgery),o with kidney failure or liver diseaseo within 3 days of admission to hospital.2) There are some plants that affect drug activity. Grapefruitjuice is likely to increase the effect of some importantmedicines. St John’s wort is likely to decrease activity. Youshould be particularly cautious in mixing these with anymedication. Other possible interactions exist but are unlikelyto be a risk except for very powerful drugs listed above.3) Pause herbal remedies if ever you notice an unpleasantreaction. The main effect of many herbs is on the digestionand this is where uncomfortable effects can sometimesoccur. Fortunately these effects are mostly temporary: theymay include nausea, upset stomach or diarrhoea.Headaches and drowsiness or increased urinary flow mayalso be experienced. Again these are mostly passingsymptoms and may be reduced by taking herbs after foodrather than before, taking in more water or at a lower startingdose. However the obvious point is - if you feeluncomfortable: stop - and maybe seek help from a qualifiedpractitioner who works with herbs.4) Do not take herbal remedies longer than you need. For manyeveryday cases discussed in the Herbal Hub this may be afew weeks or less. In cases where benefits are unlikely toshow for much longer it would be wise to seek advice from aqualified practitioner who works with herbs.
  7. 7. 5) Above all choose your herbs wisely. The internationalmarket for herbal remedies is largely unregulated. Be awarethat people really are not watching what you buy much of thetime. There are too many cases where the product does notmatch up to the label or where the label is not clear. Thereare some cases where this has harmed people. We will behelping you find reliable herbs on our Herbal Hub site. If youlive in or can get supplies from Europe or Australia orCanada you can get independently verified herbal products.In Europe there are registered or licensed herbal medicinesand on this site we list those on the market for eachcondition (in the UK initially). In Australia herbal remediesshould be registered under the Therapeutic Goods Act, andHealth Canada licenses herbs as Natural Health Products.New Zealand is planning similar legislation. In other placesyou have to look diligently at the quality of product. HerbalHub will produced and update guides to the market in theUSA.
  8. 8. - 6 -What can I try herbs for?Herbs can be used to help with many everyday problems. Inearly days they were the basis of some powerful treatmentsfor major conditions, because there were no other options.They have provided the basis for some of our most powerfulmodern drugs and also some robust techniques for helpingthe body defend itself against diseases. See The story ofherbal medicine at the end of this book.Now that we enjoy the benefit of medical advances todiagnose and treat serious conditions we can look to herbsmore as self care and support measures and choose thosethat are the safest to use for this purpose.Simple self care use is where the effect of the herb should bemost evident, sometimes quickly. Below are conditions thatare appropriate for trying herbal remedies and the length oftime that positive results should be seen.Herbal roleLength of time toshow effectsEasing sore throats, coughs and otherrespiratory symptomsone to three daysImproving digestion and bowel function one to three daysGentle calming for stress and irritability a few daysRelieving headache a few days*Discomfort and difficulty in passing water up to a weekHelping provide more energy three or four weeksLifting low mood and minor depression three or four weeksImproving sleep three or four weeksRelieving period and premenstrual difficulties up to 3 monthsRelieving migraines up to 3 monthsRelieving arthritic problems up to 3 monthsRelieving eczema and other skin problems. up to 3 monthsEasing symptoms of the menopause up to 3 months
  9. 9. In all cases do check with your health care professional beforeproceeding with self care in case the symptoms masksomething more serious, especially if they have lasted formore than a few weeks or keep recurring; and in all casesmarked with *.Other uses are harder to check progress yourself. However inthe following cases there is a strong traditional reputation andthey can be recommended if you take the relevantprecautions.Herbal role Review?Helping to recover from illnesses* andwhen tired and run downTake additionalconvalescent steps if noimprovement in a monthImproving circulatory function incardiovascular and diabetic illness*Do not continue if medicalmarkers do not improve inthree monthsPreventing respiratory infections* Do not continue if expectedseasonal patterns are notsignificantly changedIn all cases the use of herbs should be reviewed every 3months and the question asked: is this good to continue?If you come across claims that herbs can be used for moreserious conditions than those listed here, be cautious. If youhave a long term illness that you would like to try herbs forthen you should consult with a qualified health practitionerwho uses herbs professionally. In particular you should avoidproducts that are sold for the treatment of severe illnesses:these are almost by definition provided by people with littlemedical knowledge or care for your welfare.
  10. 10. - 8 -Where to start?Before finding your herbs it will help to be clear what you wantthem for: read the previous passage and then work out yourhealth needs as well as possible. There are guides toindividual conditions on the Herbal Hub and much goodreliable information elsewhere. However be cautious aboutwhat you read on the internet – if the site is selling a productyou should double check what it says against independentsources.When you have decided what you want the herbs for and howthey may help then you can choose from the followingsources.6) Retail outlets or on the web. It is important to do yourhomework here too. See the Box on page 9 for thedifference between medicines and supplements. If youare able to find the appropriate medicine then at least youcan be sure of the quality. In the UK these will be markedby licence or registration numbers on the pack (PL... andTHR .... respectively). They will have permitted claims onthe label to guide you in your choice and full informationleaflets inside the pack. The Herbal Hub lists all herbalmedicines available in the UK. Further national lists inEurope will follow.If you choose a supplement you should aim for a reliablemanufacturer with a reputation to maintain, or sourcethough someone that you trust or has professionalexperience. In general be particularly cautious whenbuying directly off the web as standards can be seriouslydefective on some sites.You may also choose herbs in their loose dried form. Docheck that they are not too old, faded or musty. Driedherbs should be stored carefully and renewed at leastannually. When good they should have bright colour andclean aroma. Some remedies like ginger and garlic canbe sourced as foods – check quality in the usual way.UK Traditional HerbalRegistration logo
  11. 11. Is this herb a supplement, a medicine or something else?Herbal remedies are regulated in different ways around the world.Among those whose job it is to protect us from taking the wrong thingsinto our bodies there has always been the view that what we eat is afood and what we use to treat illness is a medicine. Because medicinesmake changes to the body they need to be much more tightly controlled.They are expected to satisfy strict requirements on three criteria: thatthey work (efficacy), that their risks do not outweigh their benefits(safety), and that they deliver exactly what the label states (quality).Foods generally have to be safe for human consumption without thesame strict controls.Herbs can be both foods and medicines or maybe something inbetween! In Europe (including the UK) they have tended to be classedas medicines if they are used for health purposes. It is now possible toregister a herb as a medicine for minor conditions suitable for self careon the basis of its traditional use. This replaces the need to proveefficacy with expensive clinical trials. However other medicinerequirements are the same and the user can be assured that safety isbeing actively monitored and that the medicine delivers the exactmaterial and dose on label.In the USA by contrast herbal remedies are sold as ‘dietarysupplements’ and are permitted to carry claims that they support ahealthy function in the body. However without the formal requirementsof medicine manufacture good and poor products cannot easily bedistinguished and dosage and other quality standards may be hard toassure. You need to be diligent to be sure that you obtain reliableproducts from recommended manufacturers at an effective dose. Thereare also herbal ‘food supplements’ in Europe. Here they will have noclaims on the label and will lack the THR... or PL ... registration numberon the pack.An inspired blend of these two regimes is in countries like Canada,Australia and New Zealand where herbal products have to be producedto medicine quality although are not classified with synthetic medicines..
  12. 12. 7) Growing or collecting. This takes planning and skills.Growing will take time, collecting is usually confined to afew weeks each year.In both cases you willalso have to knowabout drying andstoring yourremedies. In the caseof collecting you willreally need to identifyyour plant accurately.There are caseswhere people havepoisoned themselvesby choosing thewrong plant. Pleaseuse a good plantidentification guide.You will also need tolearn how to prepareyour remedies – thefollowing sectionshould help.8) A professional consultation. The advantage of seeing aherbal practitioner, naturopath or other health professionalwho uses herbs is that you both get a tailored formulationand usually get the herbs as well. The Herbal HubPersonal Advice page will progressively list directories ofherbal experts around the world.
  13. 13. - 11 -How do I prepare my herbs?If you buy your herbs loose or grow or collect your own youwill need to prepare them as useful remedies. For internal usethe standard ways are to use hot water, either by infusion ordecoction.1) Infusions are like making tea. Theherb is steeped in recently boiled water,usually covered to prevent loss ofimportant volatile constituents. This isappropriate for leaves and flowers andpowders, where the active principlesare easily extracted.2) Decoctions are used for plant partsthat are more resistant to leaching theirconstituents like wood, bark, and roots.They are chopped and boiled in water,either slowly with a cover on, or boileddown to the required quantity from alarger volume of water.It is also possible to use powders mixedwith food and drinks or even inserted intocapsules at home. With powders be carefulthat they are fresh as possible: theydeteriorate rapidly.
  14. 14. - 12 -What dose works for me?This is one of the most debated topics in herbalmedicine! Most people now take doses lower than inthe past and lower than most doses found effective inmodern clinical trials. The question is are peopletaking enough to work?Human experience of herbs evolved when they werethe only medicines available and were needed to treatsevere conditions. Doses often had to be very high.However even for everyday family remedies the normwas to hit the condition quite hard.A typical dose for a family remedy was sometimesrecorded in old household measures as 1oz of driedherb in 1 pint of water (by infusion or decoction – seeabove) with a wineglassful of this taken 3 times a day.For the more precise reader this converts into theequivalent of 2-4 grams of dried herb 3 times per day(depending on extraction rates). If this was taken incapsule form this could be the equivalent of up to 15large capsules of dried herb at a time! This is clearlymuch more than the usual supplement dose. It is alsofar more than taking a teabag in a cup of hot water.Most modern clinical research also supports relativelyhigh doses. To meet these in practice many of theleading herbal medicine companies produceconcentrated extracts in standardized forms. Forexample the leading ginkgo medicine is 50 timesmore concentrated than the equivalent simple leafcapsule or tablet. Herbal practitioners will usually usemore concentrated products as well.However there is also a tradition, notably in Germany,of using small doses. This sometimes merges withthe very different homoeopathic tradition of usingextremely small doses of fresh plant and promotingan energetic quality of the plant instead. There are
  15. 15. some low dose herbal products manufactured bycompanies that service both traditions in Europe. Themanufacturing process may convey some extrabenefits here.So what to recommend? When using simple herbs foryourself it is probably better to assume that you mayhave to take larger doses to see the full effect.However it is also advisable to start small and workup only when you are comfortable to do so. Doses aquarter of those found in the relevant pages on theHerbal Hub are quite a good starting point, workingthem up as they appear to help, and stopping them ingood time if they do not suit.The main point to make about dosages however isthat if you have not tried the herb at near itstraditional dose you may not know what it can do.Unfortunately most users have missed out here.
  16. 16. The Story of Herbal Medicine- 14 -The modern idea of herbs as ‘supplements’ or as gentle remedies overlooks animportant feature of traditional medicines. For thousands of years they were allwe had! ‘Drugs’ were prepared by our ancestors to treat severe conditions andthose used most were those that had the quickest and most dramatic effects. Weknow they could work: some of our modern drugs are direct conversions fromtraditional ones.However to tap the real potential of traditional plant medicines we shouldunderstand that they were used very differently from modern medicines.Nowadays with all the benefits of scientific research we have become good atunderstanding what happens in diseases. In many of them we can get medicinesthat target what has gone wrong very precisely.In all earlier times diseases were seen by how they felt and looked. Theyappeared to be disturbances to the usual healthy state. Most early (‘acute’)symptoms, like fever, inflammation, pain, vomiting, coughing, and diarrhoea wereTRADITIONAL DRUGS MODERN DRUGSopium poppy morphine, codeine and other pain reliefwillow bark.Meadowsweetsalicylates such as aspirin and NSAIDssenna, cascara, aloes anthraquinone laxativescalabar bean physostigmine and eye medicinesfoxglove, lily of thevalleydigoxin and related heart drugssquills, ipecacuanha Emetics (to induce vomiting) andexpectorants (to clear the lungs)coca cocaine and local anaestheticshenbane, nightshades,daturaantiasthmatic drugs, scopolamine,
  17. 17. signs that the healthy body was defending itself, the extent of the symptomsreflecting the vitality of the body as much as the severity of the disease. The firstjob of medicine was to understand what the body was trying to say and help it doits job better. The penalty for getting this wrong was also clear to our ancestors:badly managed acute symptoms could kill or maim, or if less serious could becomeembedded, long-term (‘chronic’) and much harder to treat.In this last observation our ancestors were not wrong! We often think we shouldprevent or suppress acute symptoms. However modern science also confirms thatthey all start as defensive responses to infection or damage. We now have muchmore chronic disease than we used to.Traditional medicines were classified by their ability to make defensive responsesmore effective and less harmful. For example we now treat fever and inflammationwith anti-inflammatories. By contrast, in almost every culture in the past the aimwas to give remedies to boost the fever and inflammation and help them finish thejob with the least possible distress. Often we can see these as working byimproving circulation: in the past these remedies were classified as ‘heating’because that was how they felt.Coughs and mucus production were seen as attempts by the body to defenditself against noxious influences in the air. Depending on the type of trouble‘heating’ or spasm-reducing medicines were chosen to improve the defence ratherthan suppress the symptoms. Digestive and bowel disturbances were treated withremedies (like most of the spices) that reduced spasm and pain yet also seemedto improve digestive performances.Sometimes remedies were chosen because they seemed to encourage naturalexcretions and were used to improve detoxification, as laxatives, diuretics, andemetics.
  18. 18. Many of these remedies were used to nudge or even kick the body into betterdefensive performance. Few were used for long and an average traditionalprescription might be for a day or so at a time.Other remedies were then used to support recovery from illness. People hadgreater respect for the message that fatigue sends, the need to convalesceproperly to avoid relapse. Recuperative care could sometimes be quitesophisticated. There would be a broad spectrum of rest and diet measurescomplemented with plants with strong reputations for building strength. We oftenrefer to the medicines used for this purpose as ‘tonics’.This last group may be particularly relevant in modern times. Too often we assumethat a disease is cured because it has been hit by an antibiotic, anti-inflammatoryor anti-cancer treatment and forget that there should also be proper attention torecovery. Herbs can be very useful here. We will find out more in booklets ontreating specific conditions.Exploring the principles of traditional European, Islamic, Chinese and Indianmedicine offers many more such fascinating insights. We will be elaborating themin other books in the Herbal Hub series. They are not instant solutions to theworld’s problems. Nor do we advise anyone to tackle serious disease on their own.However they can offer valuable tips for self-managing everyday ailments that areless dangerous.
  19. 19. MORE FROMNatural family medicine that has stood the test of time and science!Take charge of your family health needs with these practical guides to themost effective things you can do at home:o CONVENIENT - tried-and-tested approaches to each problem at your fingertipso USEFUL - organise your progress with your own PERSONAL JOURNAL and step-by-step plano TRUSTWORTHY - check out the evidence with links to the Self Care Llibrary andother independently rated information sourceso EFFECTIVE - create your long-term recovery plan for managing your symptomsonce and for all, and for building your future healthWe have studied the evidence and worked with patients for many years.These are the best approaches we can find!Coming upo Sleep Workbookwork through the best modern and traditional ways to get good sleepo Back Pain Workbookan integrated approach to managing back pain - from the experts!o Fatigue Workbooklearn age-old ‘convalescent’ approaches to restoring strength and energy with the rightbalance of rest, exercise, diet and natural ‘tonic’ remedieso Coughs and Colds Workbooknatural ways to fend off respiratory infections and quickly treat coughs, colds and sorethroats when they happeno Digestion Workbookget on top of your indigestion problems, food intolerances, IBS and other bowel upsetswith this organized work plan, and the most valued natural remedies on the planet!others to follow ...