Herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years. Ayurvedic medicine has been around at least 10,000 years. Chinese medicine has been around for at least 5,000, and people have used plants for their medicinal properties for our entire existence with record dating back to over 60,000 years ago. While modern medicine has it’s place, more and more people are looking for an alternative approach to healthcare and regaining interest in the oldest medicine known to man; herbal medicine.
There are many reasons for wanting to learn about herbs and natural medicine but with over 60,000 years of herbal medicine, the information can be overwhelming. Here are some tips and a few “must have” herbs to keep on hand for your family medicine chest.
1. Choose only high quality herbs
Anyone who’s ever decided to buy herbs has probably gone to the “herb” section of places like Walgreens, Ralphs, or Target thinking that all herbs are created equally when in fact that cannot be further from the truth. Even places like Whole Foods that sell higher quality organic herbs are still not up to the standard they should be. Why? Because herbs have a very limited shelf life ranging from 6 months to 2 years depending on the type of herb. When stores buy herbs that are in capsules or pre-packaged they are buying in mass quantities and leaving them in their warehouses sometimes longer than that! By the time you take the bottled herbs they may be years old, in an already watered down form, and leave with you bupkis. Sometimes you will feel the effects but in general, think of your herbs as food, because they are. If you wouldn’t buy or drink milk past it’s prime, don’t buy or take herbs that have been sitting on a shelf for longer than anyone knows.
2. There Are Many Ways To Enjoy The Benefit of Herbs
Depending on what herbs you are using and what benefits you’re hoping to gain herbs have tons of great methods for use including: tea, tea bath, epsom salts mixed with herbs, topically as paste or poultice, salves, oils, and much more! There’s no limit to how herbs can help you and accommodate you in your everyday life.
3. What Are The Main Herbs I Should Have or Use to Start My Medicine Cabinet?
There are millions of herbs but there are a few great ones that are great to have on hand or to start collecting if you would like to grow your medicine cabinet. Just remember, pick high quality fresh dried organic herbs and toss them after 6 months- 1 Year if they are leaf of flower herbs and 2 years if they are root or bark herbs.
Here is the list of herbs including their benefits:
Catnip is an antispasmodic and is a a classic children’s remedy for colds, flues, fevers, anxiety, sleeplessness, restlessness, sore throats, diarrhea, colic, teething, stomachaches, and gas. It goes great in tea mixed with other herbs such as chamomile, lavender and lemon balm. If you’re little one is under the age of two and nursing, you can even drink catnip in your tea which will be passed on to baby!
Another classic, chamomile is an anti fungal, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antispasmodic. Chamomile stimulates and soothes the nervous system and is best used for restlessness, when you’re feeling irritable, sensitive and works well with teething, colic, and indigestion. Because of the pollen that comes with fresh chamomile many people do get allergies to anything containing chamomile. Before purchasing, test chamomile products in store or at an apothecary to insure you’re not buying something you might be allergic to.
Aside from being delicious in cooking and baking, Cinnamon is a stimulant, wonderful for colds, flu, chills, and mild fever and helps the body regulate blood sugar by supporting the body’s predicating of insulin. Cinnamon foot baths are great for circulation and it’s also calming to the stomach for vomiting, indigestion, gas, and cramping.
As one of the most popularized herbs you’ve probably heard how incredible echinacea is for just about everything. Echinacea is an anti-inflammatory, immune booster, known as a blood purifier, stimulates wound healing, and is effective against viral and bacterial infections when used at the first signs of sickness. Although it can help cut sickness times down, it’s crucial to use at the first signs of sickness for optimum results.
Although having been around forever and having great following in places like England, Elderberry is having a moment right now. You can’t talk about herbs and medicine cabinets without hearing about elderberry teas, tonics, syrups and anything else you can put it into. As well as being wonderfully delicious elderberry is extremely beneficial against cold and flu. Make an Elderberry syrup and give them as gifts this Winter to friends and family to keep them healthy and cold free! Just remember to keep some for yourself as well.
Fennel is another example of herbs that are great in cooking but what many people don’t know is that it’s amazing for your digestion. As a natural “antacid” fennel is unparalleled in relieving gas, colic, and cramps. Next time you reach for the Gas-X or Midol, try having some tea with fennel first and see if you can’t forgo the over the counter drugs for some yummy natural medicine found in fennel.
As a super fan of garlic I couldn’t imagine needing another reason to eat garlic but if you need some here they are. Garlic is another one of those “cure all” herbs that is great for fevers, earaches, sore throats, lung disorders, coughs, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and breathing as well as being great for heart health, lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and regulating blood sugar. You can buy garlic in capsules but again, make sure they are high quality and beware, you will smell like garlic! That may or may not be a bad thing…
There is not really anything better for upset stomach then ginger. It’s famous for it’s ability to calm indigestion, gas and motion sickness. Many women swear by ginger as it can be one of the only reducers of morning sickness during pregnancy. There are many ways to use ginger including teas, ginger chews, and ginger ale. Please just make sure you get a high quality, organic ginger ale or ginger beer (which is non-alcoholic) instead of brands like Canada Dry which won’t actually help you but cam prolong your healing with massive amounts of sugar. Ginger is also a great preventive herb meaning taking it ahead of any sickness can build the immune system and keep sickness at bay.
Confused by the picture? That’s because this is actual licorice root as opposed to the licorice candy you may be used to which comes in assorted colors, most commonly black. Licorice candy however, doesn’t actually contain real licorice but is instead manufactured with anise seed which is a similar taste but costs less to make. Licorice is an expectorant, and is good for coughs, nasal congestion, and upper respiratory infections. Licorice is also fantastic for topical use which makes it effective for treating chicken pox and herpes. Just remember, next time you reach for the licorice candy keep walking and pick up a licorice stick to chew on.
Refreshing, uplifting, and cooling, peppermint is excellant in many forms to assist in IBS, cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Be careful as too much when not feeling well can have the opposite effect.
The best way to insure you are using top quality, organic, herbs is to simply grow them yourself or find an apothecary with positive reviews, that you can trust. Many of these herbs are fairly easy to grow and maintain and the results are endless. This list is a great starting point for anyone looking to delve into natural health along with being fun and in many cases, very delicious. If you are interested in learning more there are numerous recources such as:
‘A Modern Herbal (All Volumes) The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic, and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses’ By Margaret Grieve
‘The Way of Herbs’ By Michael Tierra
‘Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family’ By Rosemary Gladstar
If you are interested in gardening your own herb garden make sure to keep an eye out for The Dowdy Shepherd gardening series for the best tips for all levels, locations, and styles of gardening. Happy health!
*This information is provided for convenience and is not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent disease. It is not a substitute for medical advice. Information is based on general knowledge and is not meant as any type of health claim. If you would like diagnosis please contact a naturopath, or licensed herbalist for tailored healthcare.