Furthering Your Knowledge about
Guidelines for the safe use of herbs
When used in the correct manner,
both herbs and pharmaceutical medicine play a valid role in
the treatment of ill health. Acknowledging the validity of
both paradigms will result in better quality care for the
Tips for beginning to use
- If you are not familiar with plant medicine, then enter
into this realm by selecting just one herb to study and
get to know the personality of that plant like a close friend;
if possible observe the environment in which it grows, become
familiar with its expected effects on the body and try using
the herb as a tea, familiarizing your self with its unique
subtle personality and strengths.
- With an herbalist's eye, have a look in your kitchen spice
cupboard…are there any herbs waiting to be tasted
and experienced? Select a couple and learn about their medicinal
properties. If the herbs in your kitchen have been stored
for over a year, it is likely that the medicinal potency
will be reduced.
- Choose to use herbs for non-emergency situations, such
as indigestion, sleep support and relaxation and continue
to expand your knowledge and personal experience with each
plant. Humans tend to learn by experience and being creatures
of habit, we often reach for what is most familiar; begin
incorporating herbal choices into your daily living, thus
these plants may be more likely to be used in acute situations.
- If feeling ambitious, do some research and create a simple
herbal first aid kit to use in your home.
- Familiarize yourself with the philosophy of herbal medicine
and the interconnectedness of plant and human life.
- Read about the body systems and general function of each
system (the digestive system, respiratory system, reproductive
and urinary system). Herbal medicine can address dis-ease
in each body system.
- When using tinctures, follow the instructions provided
on the label, do not assume that a higher dosage is better,
unless recommended by a professional herbalist.
- Select a couple key reference books; see below for some
How to choose quality dry
When purchasing herbs in dried
form, note the color and fragrance of the plant. Ideally
the plant colour should be brightly coloured, retaining
its original hues and not appear faded or dull. While not
all herbs are fragrantly appealing, the scent of the herb
should remain distinct and strong smelling.
Tea Tasting: Most teas probably
will not taste delicious, however they should have a characteristically
potent, strong taste.
A client has more information
available to assess quality and potency of an herb when
purchasing in bulk rather than already packaged into tea
bags. It is impossible to know how long a packaged tea has
been on the shelf, thus the potency of the tea is largely
unknown and many commercial tea bags are bleached. When
purchasing a bulk tea, one can assess quality and potency
by the above suggestions and also has a choice of strength
Store dry herbs in glass containers,
with tightly fitting lids and keep away from heat and direct
sunlight. Remember to label the container including the
common and Latin name of the plant and the date of bottling.
It is very easy to forget how long a tea has been sitting
on the shelf. Generally herbal teas should be consumed within
one year to guarantee freshness and optimal potency.
Tinctures should be stored
away from heat and direct sunlight in an airtight container.
The shelf life of a tincture is at least 3 years.
Where to go for valid information…
There are many well-trained
health care practitioners, each with a different specialty.
So it is important to remember… would you visit a
plumber if your house was experiencing electrical problems?
Both experts are trained in the field of home repairs, however
one professional can provide more accurate information in
the area which you are seeking information; the same reasoning
applies to the field of herbal medicine. If questions arise
about plant medicine, seek answers from a professional trained
extensively in botanical medicine and do not hesitate to
inquire about the scope of training and the length of schooling
in the field.
In the last decade there has
been a flock of publications on botanical medicine entering
the market, this has made herbal information far more accessible
to the general public; unfortunately not all the information
entering the public domain is authentic nor is all information
Some helpful criteria for
choosing a good reference book
Who is writing the book? Is
the author a practicing herbalist with clinical experience
or a researcher, scientist or general writer, reporting
on, citing research or extrapolating information from other
publications? While scientific facts and studies are important
to further our understanding on plant medicine, it is important
that knowledge is being shared in the correct context. For
example, when studies are conducted on plants through in
vitro and in vivo studies and even when conducted on animals;
the study results will likely vary drastically when compared
to the medicinal use in a clinic environment. If this information
is not fully communicated by the writer and not fully understood
by a reader then it may impact and slant the understanding
the reader will have on the safety and relevancy of botanicals
for medicinal use. Information on herbal medicine provided
by a practicing herbalist will be more applicable and relevant
for human use, plus a practicing clinician can pass on precious
insightful knowledge gained from personal experience and
Does the writer include information
on the philosophy of herbal medicine? Learning about plant
medicine in the correct context helps the reader understand
how plant medicine works in the body. Herbalists of all
traditions embrace the concept of the connectedness between mind, body and spirit
and believe in supporting optimal body function while assisting
the body to heal itself.
Credibility: Does the author
cite reference sources? Has the reference book been peer
reviewed? Who has published the book? –commercial
publishers generally conduct vigorous review processes for
accuracy and checking the factual information.
Compile more than one reference
book; find at least 2 or 3 books you can use to cross-reference.
It is common to discover conflicting information on botanicals,
thus do more reading, if necessary, consult a practitioner
and ultimately use your own personal experience as your
There are many levels of information
depending upon your familiarity with plants and medicine.
Some books are user friendly and tailored to beginners;
other publications contain more clinical information and
medical terminology most useful for a clinician or advanced
reader. Some of my personal favourites include:
- The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey
- Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal by David
- Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar
- Susan Weeds' Wise Women Herbal, numerous introductory
books on herbal medicine
- Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and
Infants by Mary Bove
Moderate level and professional
- Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Thomas Bartram
- Herbal Medicine Healing and Cancer by Donald
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy by Simon
Mills and Kerry Bone
- Herbal Medicine by Rudolf Fritz Weiss
- Herbal Remedies for Women by Amanda McQuade Crawford
- Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle by Ruth