Health is not the result of a single thing, or even a series of things, done right. Health is a reflection of the balance that is maintained among the different aspects of self, environment, experience, association, and food. There cannot be detriment in any one of these groups without that detriment being reflected to some degree in the others.
We achieve nothing from the simple removal of symptoms. Thus before any true change can occur one must understand two things:
- The basic cause of damage on all levels (physical, emotional, spiritual)
- The willingness to surrender to one's own deepest wisdom and implement positive alternatives.
To reach for a remedy before allowing time to consider these two ideas is certainly a mistake.
Without the proper mindset for benefit, even the most innocuous natural remedies (herbs, vitamins, dietary changes) can be counter productive. For example: if one were only interested in removing the symptom and made use of certain allopathic drugs that provide quick symptomatic relief would do well to consider that many of these drugs may cause weakness and diseases to occur later on. The proper attitude may be developed as one begins to see their life's roadblocks from a larger perspective and realizes that each of these blocks serves to convey valuable lessons.
The purpose of an ailment is to inform us that we have developed an imbalance and to provide a focal point for healing and change in regards to that imbalance. If we fail to learn from this process then we have failed to get well and improve. Maladies are not caused by bad diet, accidents, self neglect or any other so called causative factor. Rather they are simply the side effect of a deeper cause that is manifest in the situations we place ourselves causing these factors to exist in the presence of imbalance. A Lao Tzu put it: "A person will get well when they are tired of being sick."
How To Prepare Your Own Herbs
Herbs are steeped in a tightly covered pot with water that has just been brought to a rolling boil in order to utilize volatile oils or delicate plant parts such as flowers and soft leaves. Before adding the herbs to the water, it is taken off the heat source and allowed to stop boiling. Steep the herbs in the tightly covered pot for ten to twenty minutes. A variation on this is called "sun tea" and is made by placing herbs in water within a tightly covered glass container. The container is then put in direct sunlight for several hours.
In this preparation herbs are simmered for approximately one hour to extract deeper essences from coarser leaves, stems, barks, and roots. Usually this is done with the herbs simmering uncovered and the amount of water decreases by about half through evaporation; this can be a timer of sorts. Keep in mind that some herbs (valerian, cinnamon root, burdock root, for example) contain important volatile oils which must be gently simmered or steeped in a covered pot.
This is basically a way in which less-than-pleasing herbs are administered to children. It is very easy to prepare and can make a big difference in a child's willingness to take an herb. Simply mix a small amount of the herb to be used with any flavorful medium such as honey, molasses, maple syrup, or fresh ground peanut butter until a soft paste is formed.
For the treatment of superficial ailments, a fomentation (a.k.a. compress) is an external application of herbs that can be used to stimulate the circulation of the blood or lymph in certain areas of the body. It can be considered a form of transdermal herbal administration. Certain herbs are far too strong to be taken internally thus must be applied to the skin where only a small amount will be absorbed at a slower rate. To prepare the fomentation one first makes an herbal tea and dips a moisture absorbent cloth into the tea to be applied to the affected area as hot as possible without causing injury. The towel is then covered with a dry flannel cloth and heating pad or hot water bottle to provide sustained heat. A plastic covering is used to protect bedding if the fomentation is worn overnight.
To stimulate circulation of blood and lymph, to relieve colic, to reduce internal inflammation, and to restore warmth to cold joints, a fomentation comprised of ginger is suggested. To prepare this, grate two ounces of fresh ginger root into a pot of hot water and stir and press until the water turns yellow. Afterwards, apply the fomentation with an alternate towel standing by ready to be applied as soon as the first one turns cold. To restore vitality to a part of the body that has been immobilized or weakened, a hot fomentation can be alternated with a shorter application of cold. Heat serves to relax the body and open the pores, while cold will stimulate the body and cause contraction. The alternation of hot and cold will revitalize the area.
How They Can Be Taken
Gelatin capsules provide a useful method of taking herbs when the herbs are: 1. to be taken in small amounts (one-half to three grams at a time); 2. bitter tasting or mucilaginous; 3. to be taken regularly over long periods of time. There are several types of capsule sizes but the most common are small "0" and large "00" caps.
Generally you will use the larger "00" capsules unless the preparation is to be taken by a child or someone who has difficulty swallowing capsules. To aid the dissolving of the capsules it is best to wash them down with one cup of water or tea or take them with a meal. Many times it will be necessary to buy the herb already powdered in order to fill the capsules adequately. Be sure all powdered herbs are well blended by placing them in a small bowl and mixing thoroughly with a spoon before filling any capsules. It is pointless to use mild herbs in capsule form as they usually require very large doses and it would be impractical to take that many caps.
Liniments are herbal extracts that are rubbed into the skin for treating strained muscles and ligaments as well as the relief of arthritis and some types of inflammation. Liniments usually include stimulating herbs like cayenne and antispasmodic herbs like lobelia. Oils of aromatic herbs will penetrate into the muscles increasing circulation and bringing relaxing warmth to the area. To prepare a liniment, place four ounces of dried herbs or eight ounces of fresh bruised herbs into a bottle. Add one pint of vinegar, alcohol, or massage oil and allow the mixture to sit and the herbal constituents to extract. Shake the bottle and its contents once or twice daily. The extraction process will take three days of the herbs used are powdered but fourteen days if they are whole or cut.
The vinegar acts as a natural astringent and also as a preservative. It may be used directly or diluted to 50% strength with water. Alcohol is an excellent extracting agent and preservative. You may use a grain alcohol such as vodka or gin for internal use or a rubbing alcohol if used externally. The application of the alcohol extract will be somewhat cooling and the liquid will evaporate quickly leaving the herbal principles in the skin. A massage oil can be made by combining oils like olive, sesame, and almond oil. These are useful for extracting herbs with aromatic oils and for applications where one wishes to massage the area under treatment. Oils are preserved by adding a small amount of vitamin E at about 400 IU per cup.
When the major properties of an herb are associated with its essential oils, an oil extract will prove to be a useful method of preparing a concentrate from fresh herbs. Oils are prepared by macerating and pounding the fresh or dried herbs in a mortar and pestle. Olive oil or sesame oil is then added (one pint of oil to two ounces of herb) and the mixture is allowed to sit in a warm place for three days. A quicker method is to gently heat the oil and herbs in a pan for at least one hour. Then the oil is strained and bottled. Remember, herbs usually have volatile components and gentle heat is very low heat. Yet another method is the extract the herbal properties with alcohol (much like in making a tincture) then add oil and apply gentle heat to evaporate away the alcohol. Vitamin E oil at about 400 IU per cup will help preserve the quality of the preparation.
To obtain an oil made primarily of the essential plant oils, dip thin layers of cotton or cheesecloth in olive or sesame oil, wring out gently and cover each piece with a layer of herbs. Place these pieces of cloth on top of each other in a wide mouthed jar, covered tightly, for three days and then squeeze out the oil from the cloths.
Syrups are generally used for treating coughs and sore throats because it coats the area and keeps the herbs in direct contact. To make syrup, add about two ounces of herb to a quart of water and gently boil down to one pint. Strain the mixture and while it is still warm add one or two ounces of honey and/or glycerine. Licorice and wild cherry bark are two herbs commonly used both as flavors and therapeutic agents in syrups preparations. A syrup is usually used in doses of one-half to one teaspoon, as needed.
Tinctures are highly concentrated herbal extracts that can be kept for long periods of time because the alcohol is a good preservative. The final concentration of alcohol in the tincture should not be less than about 30%. Tinctures are particularly useful for herbs that do not taste good or are to be taken over an extended period of time. They may also be used externally as a liniment. Some herbs, such as black cohosh and chaparral, contain substances not readily extracted by water thus should be taken in pills, capsules, or tinctures rather than another preparation such as tea.
To make a tincture, combine four ounces of powdered or cut herb with one pint of alcohol such as vodka, brandy, gin, or rum. Shake the mixture daily allowing the herbs to extract for about two weeks. Let the herbs settle and pour off the tincture, straining off the powder through a fine cloth or filter. Do not confuse tinctures with commercially available fluid extract. The fluid extract is made by techniques that utilize multiple solvent extraction resulting in a very concentrated product. These products are up to ten times more potent than the tincture therefore are usually taken in quantities of only six to eight drops.
Astragalus: (Astragalus membranaceus)
is widely used in Chinese medicine touting both antiviral and immune enhancing properties. It can be found alone or in a variety or combination products. Astragalus increases the body's resistance to general disease and boosts the functioning of other herbs that are known to increase energy, aid digestion, and stimulate the production and circulation of blood. The herbs ability to enhance the immune system has been confirmed through pharmacological studies. It increases the activity of several kinds of white blood cells, as well as the production of interferon and antibodies. These properties are related to the root's content of polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are large molecules composed of chains of sugar subunits and are structural components of many organisms. Although conventional wisdom suggests that polysaccharides cannot be absorbed, they have been shown time and again to be quite valuable even though there properties are not yet understood.
Astragalus is a very good herb for athletes and active individuals who suffer from chronic infections such as bronchitis and sinusitis. It is also beneficial for people who lack energy or are vulnerable to stress or overtraining. The recommended dosage is 200 to 1000 milligrams a day of Astragalus membranaceus root extract standardized to provide 0.4% isoflavone or 0.4% 4'-hydroxy-3'-methoxy isoflavone 7-sug.
Bitter Melon: (Momordica chirantia)
It is no secret that the average American diet is laden with sugar and extremely processed carbohydrates. It is also no secret that this type of eating sends a person down the road of obesity and disease. Foods high in processed carbs cause insulin to spike severely and when consumed on a regular basis can lead to insulin resistance and eventually Type II diabetes. For centuries, Ayurvedic physicians have used bitter melon to help in the treatment of Type II diabetes. Several studies show that it can normalize blood-sugar levels in Type II diabetics, leading researchers to suspect that it works by either stimulating the release of insulin, or it has an insulin-like effect of its own.
As well as having the ability to help stabilize blood-sugar, bitter melon is appears to be an immune enhancer. Bitter melon has been shown to stop the growth of HIV in vitro and stimulate the production of disease fighting immune cells. It has also been shown to be effective at controlling cancerous tumors in animals. The average person will take one 500 milligram capsule 30 minutes before each meal. For maximum benefit, drink eight to ten glasses of water a day.
Can you pronounce this herb right? Let's see; say it out loud, now. Okay, it is pronounced su WAH ja. I'll bet you, like me, didn't say it correctly. Ciwujia is the whole root and rhizome of Siberian ginseng and, growing in the northeast part of China, has been used continuously in traditional Chinese medicine for nearly 1,700 years. The Chinese use it to treat fatigue and help bolster the immune system which it accomplishes without the use of caffeine. Studies show that laboratory animals administered ciwujia survived longer under low-oxygen conditions than animals not given the herb, and that the herb increased oxygenation of the heart-muscle tissues.
Extensive research done at the Academy of Preventive Medicine in Beijing, China, and the Department of physiology of the University of North Texas Health Science Center has shown that ciwujia can significantly improve workout performance by a carbohydrate-sparing action. Ciwujia shifts the body's energy source from carbohydrate to fat increasing fat metabolism by up to 43% during exercise. This carbohydrate shift also improves performance by delaying the lactic-acid buildup linked with muscle fatigue. In research, ciwujia raised the lactate threshold by 12.4% and increasing recovery.
Ciwujia has been shown to be quite safe. The common human dosage is 9 to 27 grams of raw herb daily. However, in several studies, ciwujia has been effectively given to laboratory animals at dosages ranging from 60 to 200 times the recommended human dose. Ciwujia also comes in tablets and capsules, and the recommended dosage for these forms is 100 to 1,000 milligrams of the herb standardized to provide 0.5% to 0.8% Eleutherosides.
Feverfew: (Tanacetum parthenium)
It is one of the various types of "natural aspirin" that stops inflammation thus the resulting pain. Feverfew accomplishes this by reducing the prostaglandin levels, according to several studies conducted in the United States. Often times it works even better than aspirin. It can also be used to relive migraines and allergies because it slows down platelet aggregation and the release of histamines. A tonic and a stimulant, feverfew is also commonly used for cramps, digestive upsets, and parasites. It is best known as a prophylactic to reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of migraine headaches. Feverfew is available in tincture and tablet forms, alone and in combination with other herbs. A recommended dosage range is 100-200 milligrams per day. To make feverfew tea, use 1 teaspoon of dried herb to 1 cup of water and drink 1 cup a day.
This member of the citrus family produces a tropical fruit that is used in Indian cooking and as a preservative. A number of species from the Garcinia family have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a wide range of ailments but most important to this article is its use as a natural appetite suppressant. The principle active ingredient in Garcinia cambogia is called hydrocitric acid (H.C.A.) and was reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition to burn fat but not cause a loss in body protein or lean mass in obese animals.
This study was eventually confirmed in humans as well and showed that H.C.A. could help promote modest weight loss in obese people. H.C.A. appears to work by temporarily blocking the synthesis of fat, so that the body is forced to burn more calories. There have however been other studies that showed Garcinia to be no better than a placebo. It seems that it works well for some people but does nothing in the way of fat loss for others. On the side, H.C.A. can lower high triglyceride levels, so even if its fat burning effects don't show themselves, less apparent health benefits do exist.
Garlic: (Allium sativum)
Garlic is a potent antibiotic, with antibacterial and antiviral effects as well. Garlic has many active constituents, including alliin, allicin, and sulfur compounds. These ingredients account for garlic's famous potency as an antibiotic and fungicide, and for its use in lowering the blood pressure and cholesterol level. In addition, alliin is an antibiotic agent, which means that it kills bacteria and many viruses, and sulfur compounds strengthen the immune system, lower high blood pressure, and fight infection. These two major properties of garlic make it an infection fighter easily comparable to penicillin. Other than fresh, garlic can be taken in tablet or capsule form with common dosages around 600 to 1,200 milligrams per day. The garlic should be standardized to provide 1-percent allicin. For fresh garlic, eat two raw cloves every day? not a particularly easy task.
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Ginger: (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger has been used in Indian and Chinese medicine for its tonifying and energizing properties for hundreds of years. Ginger is also known for its ability to settle an upset stomach, stimulate digestion, and relieve pains. It improves the digestion of protein, protects against intestinal parasites, relieves nausea and motion sickness, and strengthens the mucosal lining as well as being able to mediate healing, strengthen the immune system, and reduce inflammation. Ginger can be taken straight in the form of the fresh rhizome or if you do not enjoy the flavor, it can be combined with honey to form a pleasing electuary or syrup.
Often ginger is made into a tea or drink by adding the honey/ginger syrup to hot water. Ginger also comes as encapsulated extract or loose dried herb. Since its chemistry changes when it is dried—its anti-inflammatory properties and analgesic effects are increased—the best forms to take for inflammation are the dried powder and capsules, of course. A usual daily dosage is 2 to 4 grams of the fresh rhizome or the equivalent in other forms.
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Gotu Kola: (Centella asiatica)
This is a well known tonic herb that is usually stored in the "energy" section of health food stores but this herb should not be confused with the caffeine-containing herb kola nut. Gotu kola is a weedy looking herb that contains active triterpenoid compounds and is a staple of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. It is used as a tonic in both the East and the West to increase energy and endurance, improve memory and mental stamina, and alleviate anxiety and depression. A common dosage range is 50 to 150 milligrams per day of gotu kola leaf standardized to provide 10% asiaticosides.
Kola Nut: (Cola nitida)
Comes from the kola tree native to Africa, where it grows wild, and can also be found cultivated in South America and the West Indies. The seeds are large, flat red or white nuts housed in a woody dull yellow pod and are sometimes used in soft drinks and commonly found in herbal stimulants. Kola nut is used because it contains up to 3% caffeine which is more than coffee beans. It functions as a heart tonic and also relieves headaches and, of course, is used as a stimulant to prevent fatigue. Kola nut is available in powder, capsule, and tablet forms. A common dosage is 250 to 1,000 milligrams per day of kola nut seed extract standardized to provide 8% to 12% methylxanthines.
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Licorice: (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice is an herbal stimulant but its stimulating properties do not come from alkaloids. Instead, its stimulating action is provided by glycyrrhizin, known for its familiar sweetening flavor, and other biochemicals like flavonoids. Licorice stimulates the adrenal cortex and prolongs the action of the adrenal hormones, which play a major role in regulating the metabolism. It is relatively safe when used to jump-start the adrenal system which will in turn help recovery from overtraining. It does, however, seem to lose its effect with long term use and may cause side effects such as fluid retention, hypertension, and reduced stomach acid secretion. Just like any drug, if licorice is used excessively it can be quite toxic and should not be used by people with heart disease, liver disease, hypertension, or during pregnancy.
To refill energy, use 1 to 2 grams of licorice root product containing at least 4% glycyrrhizin three times daily for up to six weeks. After that, taper the dose to nothing over the course of two weeks. Standardized extract should be found in the form of liquid or capsule.
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Turmeric: (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric has been used in the traditional health care systems of many nations for centuries. The main pharmacological agent in turmeric is curcumin which has been shown in several studies to have protective properties similar those held by vitamins C and E. Turmeric is also used in Indian and Chinese medicinal systems for the treatment of inflammation. This use appears to be substantiated by recent scientific research showing that curcumin possesses significant anti-inflammatory action. Any herb that combats inflammation is known as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory otherwise known as an NSAID.
What's great about turmeric is you don't need any special extract and it imparts a delicious flavor to food. Purchase turmeric as fresh as possible and be sure that it is non-irradiated and organic. The recommended dose of turmeric is 400 milligrams three times a day. This can help with inflammation, pain, and muscle soreness.
Stevia: (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni)
A non-caloric herb, native to Paraguay, stevia has been used as a sweetener for centuries. Not only is it 150 to 400 times sweeter than sugar but it also packs numerous health benefits and is used as a non-caloric sweetener in Japan and other countries. This innocuous-looking plant has also been a focal point of conspiracy in the United States in recent years because of actions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Stevia is only sold legally in the U.S. under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act as a "dietary supplement" only.
This means you will not find stevia sold as a sweetener; it can't even be listed as a sweetening agent or referred to as "sweet". According to the FDA, to do so would make the product "adulterated" and therefore subject to seizure as if it were some kind of narcotic. Stevia being labeled as unsafe has been accredited to the link between the FDA and the politically powerful sweetener industry.
It would seem that the sweetener industry (NutraSweet, Equal, Sweet and Low, Splenda, etc.) is being kept in high business because of the FDA's insistence on covering any and all evidence supporting stevia's safety where neither practical experience nor scientific research is likely to bring a turnaround of its stand. Rob McCaleb, president and founder of the Herb Research Foundation, said: "Sweetness is big money.
Nobody wants to see something cheap and easy to grow on the market competing with the things they worked so hard to get approved." You see, stevia is easy to produce, quite effective, inexpensive, safe, and most importantly, it is un-patentable since it is a natural product. This means that no single company can benefit from holding any rights to stevia. Although stevia is used extensively in other countries and hasn't had a single report of adverse effects it is still deemed unsafe when aspartame is used in abundance and is the subject of over 75% of food additive complaints. It boils down to this: there is no big money in stevia for the FDA.
Stevia extracts can be found in various forms from liquid to crystalline to powder. Be sure to check ingredients lists of certain products because often times they'll use fillers like dextrose or maltodextrin which add calories. Also, different products will have slightly different flavors so be sure to try a variety. Remember that stevia does not taste like sugar even though it is much sweeter; it is a flavor that some people might have to get acquainted with. I think it is best used in recipes where one can greatly reduce the amount of sugar by supplementing it with stevia. Since stevia's sweetness is stable in just about all conditions, it is useful to cook with.
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Keep in mind that when using herbs you are using something that has potential to be quite powerful. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Also remember that herbs will often times interact with prescription medications so be sure to check with a professional if you have doubts or concerns. The extensive growth and use of alternative medicine and natural remedies in America is making it possible for people to valuable alternatives for health, healing, and disease prevention.
As global awareness of herbalism spreads, it is hoped that everyone will become more informed about the vast number of herbs available from around the world. With this information comes understanding and with understanding comes intelligent choice; to make your own choice is part of complete freedom.
Note: This is part two, click here for part one!