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Health from plants: herbal medicine is a safe and ancient practice: first the-word then the plant, then the knife: this was an old folk saying meaning that if a health problem did not resolve, herbal medicine was tried first, before medical intervention.

The practice of herbal medicine involves the use of parts of plants, trees, or shrubs. They can be prepared as extracts (tinctures), poultices, herbal teas, and in many other ways.

Herbal medicine uses the nurturing Wise Women Tradition, named by Susun Weed, one of North America's best known authorities on herbal medicine. It is holistic, addressing the whole person, and their signs, symptoms, and underlying cause of illness. It seeks to alleviate discomfort, address the root cause, and restore optimum health. It gives individual treatment because we're all different in mind, body, and spirit. Drugs, on the other hand are standardized, treating everyone the same.

Herbal medicine can also work in complement with drugs and regular allopathic treatments to lessen their negative side effects, as when someone is undergoing chemotherapy.

Plants have a complete spectrum of effects that work together and complement each other. They have a synergy. They are gently and easily assimilated. They do many things at once, unlike drugs, which are concentrated and manufactured to be very potent and address one symptom or set of symptoms.

For example, dandelion leaf is a diuretic. But unlike diuretic drugs that deplete potassium, it has a balancing effect: It is diuretic, while replenishing potassium.


Herbs have been used by people almost as long as people have been on the earth. People learned from observing animals, who seem to sense which plants are not safe to eat, and which ones are healing.

Herbs are the foundation of modern medicine and are used to make many mainstream medicines. One of the most common medicines derived from herbs is acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), sometimes known as aspirin. Compounds of salicylic acid are found in some plants, notably white willow and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). The herbal alternative, white willow bark, is used in herbal medicine because it has the same pain relieving effects without thinning blood.

Drugs have their place. I think of them as battlefield medicine. They were created to address serious wounds, and acute, emergency situations where a life was immediately at risk.

Plant medicine is not usually tested on animals and does not use animal ingredients, so it is cruelty-free. It is also very empowering: Anyone can do simple home remedies with little risk, and they can keep you, your family, and your animals healthy. Herbal medicine is gentle and effective for all.


Ayurveda is the "Science of Life." This Indian holistic medical system, at over five thousand years old, is the oldest medical scientific system in the world. In many ways, it is similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In India, Ayurvedic Doctors have catalogued over four thousand human diseases, and hundreds for animals, birds, and reptiles. Ayurveda can address every one of these diseases-even cancer.

Ayurvedics is based on the Tridosha system, where each person has an individual dosha (elemental constitution). To find your dosha, you take a quiz assessing your physical and behavioral characteristics. Your dosha is based on your parents' types from the time of your conception. Most people are a combination of all three doshas in varying proportions, and the three should be in balance for optimum health. For each type, there are type-specific foods and habits.

The Tridosha Elements are:

* Pitta--fire

* Vata air/ether

* Kapha--water/earth vessel

Ayurveda is very effective at clearing energy blockages and thus health problems, and it can really assist a practitioner in understanding her clients. In addition to treating the physical body with Ayurvedic herbs, it focuses on balancing the mind and spirit to achieve inner harmony.

Bach Flower Essence Remedies

Flower essences are homeopathic liquids used for emotional/behavioral issues in people and animals. (Homeopathy is a system of natural medicine that treats the entire person using highly diluted doses of substances derived from plants, minerals, and other materials.) Bach Flower Remedies are made from a cold infusion of a plant or natural substance. The infusion of flowers and leaves is soaked in pure water for twenty-four hours, alcohol is added to preserve it, then it is repeatedly diluted.

There are seven groups of flower essences based on the types of emotional imbalance, such as having insufficient interest in present circumstances. One remedy within this group is clematis, for those worried about the future. Another remedy in this group is honeysuckle, for those overly nostalgic people who are obsessed with the past. Another remedy is the well-known Rescue Remedy, which is made up of five Bach Remedies and is used for acute trauma, anxiety, and shock.

There are thirty-eight Bach Flower Remedies in the original kit made by Dr. Bach, who said that unhappiness comes from not following your path and from harming others. There are also other sets made in other locations, for example, in Findhorn, Scotland, where the people living on the land received messages of what to plant from listening to the land. The Findhorn community founders famously transformed a barren, rocky landscape into lush gardens by listening to the plant devas (fairies, spirits).

Spices/Culinary Herbs

Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine" said, "Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food." Plants are obviously food; in fact, some animals and people only eat plants. Here are a few examples of foods that are medicine too:

Cayenne pepper, ginger and rosemary are wanning and stimulate circulation. They are great for people with cold hands and feet.

Thyme and oregano contain volatile oils that are antiseptic. They relieve colds/flu, bacteria, and viruses, especially in the lungs and respiratory system. They make a nice steam inhalation, where water is boiled, herbs are steeped in the pot, and a towel is tented over the person, while he/she breathes in deeply over the pot.

Lavender is lovely to pep up cookies and in baking. It is a relaxing nervine and can help with headaches.

Fennel seeds, anise, ginger, and peppermint ease digestion, gas, and colic. They are carminatives that soothe the digestive tract.

Garlic, especially raw, is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal. Try it in garlic bread or salad dressing; remember the parsley to freshen your breath after!

Herbal medicine has always been a grassroots system- the people's and animals' medicine. Over eighty percent of the world's population still uses herbal medicine as their primary health care system--safely, holistically, inexpensively, and easily.

How to Make Herbal Infusions

A herbal infusion is basically a herb steeped in water for a long period of time in order to extract its soluble principles. Herb-infused oils can also be made.

Generally, these are the suggested times for infusing different parts of the herb:

flower/bud 5 to 10 minutes

leaf 15 to 30 minutes

root 8 hours to overnight

There are some exceptions, for example, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), which can be infused for four hours to withdraw the nutritional components, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and protein.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva ursi Kinnickinik) can be infused in cold water for eight hours for a urinary tract infection.

Be careful, as some herbs o with volatile oils, such as peppermint and rosemary, can turn bitter if left too long to steep.

Herbs that are aromatic, such as chamomile, need to be steeped covered to retain their volatile oils.

Some herbs, such as oatstraw, alfalfa, and horsetail are better decocted. To make a decoction, place two good handfuls of herb into one liter (4.2 cups) of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer for twenty minutes.

Most herbal drinks can be served hot or cold, and made with fresh or dried plants. You can add a wedge of lemon to bring out more of the phytochemicals.

Learn More

Nature's Children by Juliette de Bairacle Levy (Ash Tree Publishing, 1996)

Common Herbs for Natural Health (Herbals of Our Foremothers) by Juliette de Bairacle Levy (Ash Tree Publishing, 1996)

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 (Storey Publishing, 2008)

Healing Wise by Susun Weed (Ash Tree Publishing, 2003)

Rachel McLeod's Herb Garden columns in Natural Life Magazine in the 1990s: organic_gardening/index.htm

Amanda Dainow is an accredited Clinical Herbalist. She is Certified in Holistic Care for Animals, and is the Founder and Director of North Mountain Animal Sanctuary, in Nova Scotia. She has a full dispensary and offers Herbal Medicine consultations, Natural Animal Care consultations. Life Coaching, and Reiki for animals and people. She offers public workshops on Herbal Medicine and Natural Care for Animals. as well as distance consultations. Find her online at or
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Author:Dainow, Amanda
Publication:Natural Life
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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