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Be Your Own Herbal Expert - Pt 3 - by Susun Weed

In your first lesson, you learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes.  And you discovered that using plants in water bases (as teas, infusions, vinegars, and soups) - and as simples - allows you to experiment with and explore herbal medicine safely.

In your second lesson, you learned about herbs for teas and how to preserve and use their volatile oils. You leaned about vitamin- and mineral-rich herbal infusions, and how to use them to promote health and longevity. And you continued to think about using herbs simply.

In this lesson you will explore the differences between nourishing, tonifying, stimulating/sedating, and potentially-poisonous plants. You will learn how to prepare and use them for greatest effect and most safety.

All Herbs Are Not Equal

All herbs are not equal: some contain poisons, some don't; some of the poisons are not so bad, some can kill you dead. I divide herbs into four categories for ease in remembering how (and how much) to use. Some herbs nourish us, some tonify, some bring us up or ease us down, and some are frighteningly strong.

Nourishing herbs are the safest of all herbs. They contain few or no alkaloids, glycosides, resins, or essential oils (poisons).

Nourishing herbs are eaten as foods, cooked into soups, dried and infused, or, occasionally, made into vinegars. They provide high-level nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, proteins, phytoestrogens and phytosterols, starches, simple and complex sugars, bioflavonoids, carotenes, and essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Nourishing herbs in water bases (infusions, soups, vinegars) may generally be taken in any quantity for any period of time. Side-effects - even from excessive use - are quite rare. Nourishing herbs are rarely used as tinctures (in alcohol), but when they are, their effects may be quite different.

It is generally considered safe to use nourishing herbs in water bases with prescription drugs. They may also be taken even if you are using tonifying, stimulating/sedating, or potentially poisonous herbs.

Some examples of nourishing herbs include:

 

·          burdock roots

·          chickweed herb; tincture dissolves cysts

·          comfrey leaf

·          elder blossoms and berries

·          fenugreek seeds

·          garlic

·          mallow leaves and roots

·          mushrooms

·          nettle leaves and seeds

·          oatstraw

·          plantain leaves and seeds

·          red clover blossoms

·          seaweeds

·          rose hips

·          slippery elm bark

·          violet leaves and blossoms.

 

Tonifying herbs are generally considered safe when used in moderation. They may contain alkaloids or glycosides or essential oils, but rarely in quantities sufficient to harm us.

Tonifying herbs act slowly in the body and have a cumulative, rather than immediate, effect. They are most beneficial when used for extended periods of time. Tonifying herbs may be used regularly (but usually not daily) for decades if desired.

Tonifying herbs are prepared in water and alcohol bases: tinctures and wines, as well as infusions, vinegars, and soups.

The more bitter the tonic tastes, the less you need to take of it. The more bland the tonic tastes, the more you can use of it.

Side effects from overuse and misuse of tonics is uncommon but quite possible. The dividing line between what is tonifying and what is stimulating differs from person to person. Ginseng is tonifying to my sweetheart, but stimulating to me. Even herbal authorities disagree on which herbs are tonifying and which stimulating.

Take care to counter any tendency to overuse tonifying herbs or you may experience unwanted side effects.

It is generally considered safe to use tonifying herbs in water bases if you are taking prescription drugs. You may also use tonifying herbs while using nourishing, stimulating/sedating, and even potentially poisonous herbs. Tonifying herbs in alcohol bases are considered safe to use with nourishing herbs, but may produce unexpected results if combined with drugs or strong herbs.

Some examples of tonifying herbs include:

 

·          burdock seeds, especially in an oil base

·          chasteberry

·          mug/cronewort herb, especially in vinegar

·          dandelion leaf, root and flowers

·          echinacea root

·          ginseng root

·          hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers

·          horsetail herb

·          lady’s mantle

·          motherwort leaves and flowers

·          sarsaparilla root

·          yellow dock leaves, roots, and seeds

 

Stimulating/sedating herbs frequently contain essential oils, alkaloids, glycosides, or resins. Because these substances cause strong physical reactions, stimulating/sedating herbs are known from their rapid and pronounced effects, some of which may be unwanted.

Stimulating/sedating herbs are most often prepared as tinctures (and wines), vinegars, teas, and infusions. Many stimulating/sedating herbs are used as seasonings in cooking as well. Despite my cookbook's injunction to use only a little, I long ago learned that more aromatic herbs in my soups gave a "livelier" result.

Because long-term use of stimulating/sedating herbs can lead to dependency, dose and duration of use must be carefully watched. A moderate to large dose, taken infrequently will   produce better results than a small dose taken over a longer period.

Side effects from the use of stimulating/sedating herbs in water bases are not common but possible. Side effects from use in alcohol bases are frequent. Whenever stimulating/sedating herbs are used regularly, health is compromised.

It is not safe to take prescription drugs with stimulating/sedating herbs, but they may be taken even if you are using nourishing and/or tonifying herbs.

Some examples of stimulating/sedating herbs include:

 

·          leaves of aromatic mints such as catnip, lemon balm, lavender, sage, skullcap

·          cinnamon bark

·          coffee beans

·          ginger root

·          kava kava root

·          licorice root

·          passion flower

·          tobacco leaves

·          uva ursi leaves

·          valerian root

·          willow bark and leaves

 

Potentially  poisonous herbs always contain alkaloids, glycosides, resins, or essential oils. And they contain large quantities of those poisons, or in very potent forms.

Potentially poisonous plants can cause death directly, through the actions of their poisons on their targets (such as cardiac glycosides which stop the heart) or indirectly, by causing the liver and/or the kidneys to fail (as they attempt to cope with and clear the poison from the system).

Potentially poisonous herbs are usually extracted into alcohol (tinctures) and used in minute doses (1-3 drops). For safety sake use potentially poisonous herbs as infrequently as possible and for the shortest possible time.

Powdering and encapsulating increases the risk of side effects from any herb, but when we take stimulating/sedating and potentially poisonous herbs in capsules, the side effects can be deadly.

Homeopathic pharmacy uses many potentially poisonous plants, but in such dilute doses that death is impossible. Side effects can occur, even with homeopathically tiny doses, however.

Potentially poisonous herbs activate intense effort on the part of the body and spirit and may cause nausea, visual disturbances, digestive woes, and allergic reactions even when used correctly.

 

Always be extremely cautious when using potentially poisonous herbs. Consult with at least three other knowledgeable herbalists who have used the plant in question before proceeding.

In general it is not considered safe to take potentially poisonous herbs while taking prescription drugs, other potentially poisonous herbs, or stimulating/sedating herbs. It is generally safe to use potentially poisonous herbs while using nourishing and tonifying herbs.

Some examples of potentially poisonous herbs:

 

·          belladonna

·          castor beans

·          cayenne

·          cotton root

·          goldenseal

·          liferoot/groundsel

·          nutmeg

·          poke root

·          rue leaves and flowers

·          tansy leaves and flowers

·          wormwood

 

Experiment Number One

Spend some time alone quietly breathing. Tune into your body piece by piece (toes, feet, calves, knees, thighs, and so on). Use colors to draw yourself. Don't worry about making art.

For the next month include some nourishing herb in your diet. Example: on Monday include seaweed as a vegetable for dinner, on Tuesday drink a quart of nettle infusion, on Wednesday make a soup with burdock and other roots, on Thursday drink a quart of red clover infusion, on Friday make garlic bread with at least one clove of freshly chopped garlic per slice, on Saturday drink a quart of oatstraw infusion, on Sunday drink a quart of comfrey/mint infusion. And so on.

One month later, sit alone and breathe quietly. Tune into your body piece by piece. Use colors to draw yourself. Has anything changed? You can continue this experiment for as long as you like.

Experiment Number Two

Repeat experiment number one, but instead use any one tonic (preferably one that lives where you do) at least four times a week for one month. Again, note any changes in how you feel, how much energy and stamina you have, how much curiosity and delight you experience in life. You can continue this experiment for as long as you like also.

Experiment Number Three

What stimulants and sedatives do you use regularly? What happens if you give up one or more of them for a week? For a month? Try - on different days - at least one herbal stimulant and one herbal sedative and keep notes of your reactions.

Experiment Number Four

Choose one potentially poisonous plant that grows near you and cultivate a relationship with it. Read about it. Talk about it with others who have a relationship with it. Keep a special book for writing about your poisonous ally.

Further study

1.        Name five more nourishing herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage.

2.        Name five more tonifying herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage.

3.        Name five more stimulating/sedating herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage.

4.        Name five more potentially poisonous herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage. In what case and how would you use each?

5.        What is the difference between a tonic and a stimulant?

 

Advanced work 

  • Give the botanical name (genus and species) for each plant listed.
  • List five nourishing herbs commonly sold in tincture form and describe what they are used for in that form.
  • Learn more about homeopathy.

 



Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of herbs and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common weeds, simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed's four herbal medicine books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing, and breast health.

 

Visit her site  for information on her workshops, apprenticeships, correspondence courses and more or contact her at:


Susun Weed

PO Box 64

Woodstock, NY 12498

Fax:  1-845-246-8081


For permission to reprint this article, contact us at:
susunweed@herbshealing.com

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Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

 

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Browse the publishing site - Ash Tree Publishing - to learn more about her alternative health books.

 

Venture into the NEW Menopause site to learn all about the Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.

Or Join the Forum! Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Forum - an open space for discussion. Make yourself at home, post a message or start a discussion. This place is for you to share your questions, concerns, and comments with other wise women like you. Take a moment to register and become part of the community. Enjoy!
 

 

Susun Weed’s books include:

 

Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

Author: Susun S. Weed. Simple, safe remedies for pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and newborns. Includes herbs for fertility and birth control. Foreword by Jeannine Parvati Baker. 196 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $11.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

 
Healing Wise 

Author: Susun S. Weed. Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $17.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

 

New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way

Author: Susun S. Weed. The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Foreword by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $16.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

For more great info on menopause, visit the site.

 
Breast Cancer? Breast Health!

Author: Susun S. Weed. Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations.

Retails for $14.95 Order at: Ash Tree Publishing

For more great info on Breast Health, visit Susun's Breast Health site.



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