Herbal Medicine: Safety Basics

I’ve said it before and I’m happy to say it again and again: herbs are not exempt from safety standards just because they are natural. It is essential to treat herbal medicine like any other medicine — with caution and respect. Herbs can interact with other drugs and with each other. Similar to the precautions you take when ingesting prescription medicine — staying away from alcohol, leaving the operation of heavy machinery to others — there are a few steps you can take to ensure the safe and effective use of herbal medicine. Herbalist Susun Weed recommends four simple safety steps:

Confirm that you are using the correct plant. One of the easiest ways to get into trouble with an herb is to use the wrong one. Be sure to buy herbs from reputable suppliers and only purchase herbs that are labeled with their botanical name. Botanical names are specific, but the same common name can refer to several different plants. “Marigold” can be Calendula officinalis, a medicinal herb, or Tagetes, an annual used as a bedding plant.

Use simples. A simple is one herb. Adding more herbs to a formula increases the chances of side effects. Many people mistakenly believe that herbs must be combined to be effective. When herbs are mixed together in a formula and someone taking it has distressing side effects, there is no way to determine which herb is the cause. With simples, it’s easy to tell which herb is doing what. If there’s an adverse reaction, other herbs with similar properties can be tried. Limiting the number of herbs used in any one day to no more than four offers added protection.

Understand that different preparations of the same herb can work differently.

- Tinctures and extracts contain the alkaloids, or poisonous, parts of plants and need to be used with care and wisdom.

- Dried herbs made into teas or infusions contain the nourishing aspects of the plants and are usually quite safe.

- Dried herbs in capsules are generally the least effective way to use herbs. They are poorly digested, poorly utilized, often stale or ineffective, and quite expensive.

- Infused herbal oils are available as is, or thickened into ointments. They are much safer than essential oils, which are highly concentrated and can be lethal if taken internally.

Use nourishing, stimulating, and potentially poisonous herbs wisely. Herbs comprise a group of several thousand plants with widely varying actions. Some are nourishing, some are stimulants and sedatives, and others are potential poisons. To ensure safety we need to understand each category — its uses, the best manner of preparation, and best dosage.

[via: Natural Bloom]


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