10 Easy Steps to Using Herbs Wisely

Kitchen Herbs with Mortar and Pestel Copyright Jill HendersonBy Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

With a growing distrust of big pharmaceutical companies and a government that seems to approve new drugs with lightening speed, it is no wonder that millions of Americans are turning to herbs to treat everything from the common cold to cancer.  Should you decide to dive in to a self-prescribed herbal remedy there are 10 easy steps to using herbs as safely and wisely as possible.

1. Seek a professional diagnosis first and foremost.
It is not too hard to tell if you have poison oak or if you have a sore throat, but unless you see a doctor you can’t just guess that you are diabetic or that you have heart disease and then treat yourself accordingly. If you have unusual or multiple symptoms for which you cannot determine the cause, get a professional diagnosis immediately.

2. Do your homework.
Research is an herbalist’s best friend. The more you know about your illness or condition and the herb(s) you intend to treat it with, the better you will be able to administer that treatment and to recognize any potential problems when they occur.  Search out the advice of several authentic and trustworthy sources before embarking on any herbal therapy.

3. Give your doctors a heads-up.
Just because you want to go natural doesn’t mean you won’t need help.  Keep your health practitioners and pharmacists informed and up to date on all alternative therapies you are using and ask if there are cautions or contraindications with any prescription drugs you are already using.  This is especially true for women who are pregnant, and the very old or the very young; for those with serious or life-threatening illnesses, or compromised immune systems; anyone taking prescription drugs or other herbal treatments and those who are scheduled for surgery of any kind.

4. Be practical.
Start alternative therapies with a certain amount of skepticism and let their actions prove their effectiveness.  Just because an herbal therapy worked for someone else does not mean it will work for you.   Try a different herb or therapy (or a different practitioner, for that matter) until you find one that does.

5. Change bad habits.
Alternative therapy alone won’t change certain external causes of illness. For example, if you are overweight you need to eat better and exercise, if you are stressed out you need to rest, if you smoke you need to quit, and so on.  No pill or herb will ever solve those problems. They may help you change your lifestyle and your health, but they cannot do it for you.

6. Give it time to work.
Most herbs work progressively to alter body chemistry and function.  Applying a cooling poultice to a sunburn brings immediate relief, but using herbs to treat a chronic illness takes time.  Give herbal treatments time to reach their maximum potential.  Depending on the situation, you may not see profoundly positive effects for weeks or sometimes even months.  Keep a journal to help you keep track of changes or progress and always seek professional council for long-term therapies or if conditions worsen.

7. Alter dosages.
Always begin a therapy using the lowest recommended dosage from the manufacturer or your herbalist.  If a therapy isn’t working or has reduced effectiveness, you may either need to alter the dosage, switch to a different herb, or seek a new diagnosis.  If you feel the need to increase the dosage of a herb, do so very slowly in small increments and allow adequate time between adjustments to allow for observation.  On the other hand, if you are experiencing only minor ill effects, you may want to reduce the dosage accordingly or switch to another herb, depending on the severity of the symptoms.  Never exceed the recommended dosage unless under the supervision of a professional and stop all treatments if side effects are severe.

8. Keep a record of your treatments.
Records are vital when treating a long-term or chronic illness. Keep a small journal or notebook list your symptoms, the diagnosis, the treatments used, for how long, and any positive or negative changes.  Don’t dwell on it, but be aware of any changes in bodily function, awareness, or sensations.  If the therapy is altered or discontinued, make note of that, too. Diaries will also help when and if you need to seek professional help. Any practitioner not interested in what alternative therapies you have tried or are currently using does not have your best interest at heart and should be replaced with one who does.

9. Know when it is time to seek professional help.
Don’t let an illness spiral out of control. If what you are doing has not helped at all, if the symptoms worsen, or if you develop new symptoms, seek a professional practitioner immediately. And don’t ever try to replace your current prescription drugs with herbs unless under the guidance of a professional. This is especially true for diabetics and those on heart medications.  Play it safe and ask for professional help when you need it.

10. Don’t get too serious.
The budding herbalist or enthusiast who wants to be able to treat the day to day aches and pains of his or her family don’t need to memorize every herbal tome available in order to do it effectively and safely.  When the previous 9 tips for using herbs wisely have been followed and there is no serious health threat at hand, enjoy using herbs for healing.  Have fun!  Maintaining your health does not have to be a chore; rather, it should be a pleasure that involves all our senses.

Excerpted from my book, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs
© Jill Henderson.  Reposting permitted with permission.

THPOKH-214x3211532Love Herbs?  Check out my book,
The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs

The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a no-nonsense guide jam-packed with no-nonsense information on growing, harvesting and using 35 of the world’s safest and most flavorful herbs. In addition to the 35 detailed herbal monographs are entire chapters on growing, harvesting and using kitchen herbs to spice up your favorite dish or create healing herbal remedies. This is one book you will turn to time and time again!

Available in print and E-book in the Show Me Oz Bookstore!

Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.

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8 responses to “10 Easy Steps to Using Herbs Wisely

  1. Wonderful advice, Jill. Love your book. Everyone should have it.

  2. This is really great advice. As a pharmacist I see too many people get themselves in trouble by trying to go natural and not realizing some herbs do interact with prescription meds. Your book looks to be a great resource!

    • Thank you, lilkaraphael. I love using herbs and natural remedies when I can, but I also like to keep it real and safe. It’s good to that we can look to pharmacists and other professional practitioners for the help and support we need to use herbs, and medicines, wisely.

      • I think many people I come across would be much better off using herbs for common ailments instead of taking pills out of a box. A great number of medicines begin with some fundamental property found in nature. I wish the U.S. was more inclusive of herbal therapies like many in Europe. Now THAT would make a dent in the high cost of health care.


      • I agree! It would make a dent in the cost of health care. I know we’ve come a long way in the use of herbs and ‘alternative’ therapies here in the US, but there’s so much that could be done if there was a will. America should work on creating a database of herbal research – much like the German Commission E.
        Now that would be cool!

      • I agree. I suspect the money in big pharma may have something to do why that is yet a reality in the U.S.

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