If you’re new to herbal medicine, you may not know where to go for good care. Here are some tips for getting off to a good start.
• Look in the phone book and ask a lot of questions. If you can’t find a listing for herbalists, try related categories such as “holistic practitioners,” “chiropractors” and “naturopaths.” One resource is the Alternative Medicine Yellow Pages (Future Medicine Publishing, 1996), which can be found nationwide in natural food stores for $12.95. An updated version is expected out in early 1999.
• Ask your friends. Sometimes nothing is better than word of mouth. Don’t forget to inquire at your local health-food store.
• Ask your doctor. Don’t assume your physician will laugh when you ask about alternative medicine. More than ever before, medical doctors are asking questions, taking classes, and networking with alternative practitioners. And the Journal of the American Medical Association listed alternative medicine as one of the top topics for 1998.
• Call national resources. The American Herbalists Guild, which has members nationwide, can be reached at (435) 722-8434. The School of Phytotherapy (previously the National College of Phytotherapy) can provide information about the graduates of its bachelor’s program in western herbalism at (505) 275-0620. The American Association of Oriental Medicine can refer you to board-certified practitioners at (610) 266-1433.
The Three Pillars of Herbalism
Although most cultures have their own herbal remedies, three major systems of healing have had the most widespread influence.
Ayurveda: Pronounced “eye-ur-VAY-da,” this holistic science from India is more than 6,000 years old. Health is seen as a balance between the emotional, physical and spiritual. Treatments include yoga, meditation, exposure to specific sights and smells, changes in diet and herbs. Representative herbs include turmeric, ashwagandha, mustard, triphala, black pepper and ginger.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): The earliest written records of TCM date to about 3,500 years ago. The underlying worldview of TCM is Taoism, which conceives of everything in the universe as interdependent. Healers evaluate the whole person, including constitution, living habits and environmental conditions. Remedies may involve herbs (a category that includes some animals), acupuncture and diet. Representative herbs include ginseng, angelica, peony, magnolia and dong quai.
Traditional European Medicine: This began with the Egyptians and traveled through the Greeks, Romans, Persians to medieval Europeans and up to modern-day practitioners. Now the European Community combines traditional knowledge and modern science. This tradition is still a major influence in countries such as Germany and France.
Herb Forms and Doses
This chart gives the generally recommended dose for seven herb forms, based on herbs that are fairly mild and have a long history of safe use, such as chamomile, lemon balm or ginger.
When first trying an herb or herb combination, start with less than the recommended dose. Take more only after you’re familiar with the herb or if your health-care provider recommends it. Follow the directions on the product label if the dosage differs from this chart.
Keep that Toothy Grin
Herbs for dental care range from mints in toothpastes to clove oil for temporary pain relief. But for a healthy mouth, it’s important not to rely on herbs alone.
For most of us, a visit to the dentist is not high on our to-do list. But when dental problems come up, it’s important to make an appointment sooner rather than later, or it may cost more in the long run in terms of time, money, pain, and ultimately, teeth. So how do you know if it’s time? See if you have any of the following symptoms, then tally your score.
Tonic or Adaptogen?
Tonics and adaptogens are herbs that can improve your overall health. But some important distinctions between them can make a difference in effective treatment.
Tonic has the root meaning of “stretch” and applies to herbs that tone the body when used regularly. In healing traditions around the world, people hold tonic plants in the highest esteem, often paying more for them than any other medicine. Tonics restore and nourish tissue, generally for a specific system. Some examples: red clover flower (female reproductive system), saw palmetto (prostate), oat straw and seed (nervous system), ginkgo (nervous system), Cordyceps sinensis (athletic performance, stamina), dong quai (female reproductive system), the mushrooms maitake and reishi (immune system) and milk thistle (liver).
Adaptogens, like tonics, work to improve overall health. More specifically, they help us adapt to stress by balancing various systems of the body, including the adrenal glands and the endocrine, immune, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.
Two Russian scientists first applied the term to Asian and Siberian ginsengs. According to their definition, an adaptogenic herb must show a general effect, raise resistance to toxins, normalize body function regardless of the type of illness, and not influence normal functions any more than necessary. Examples: Siberian ginseng, Asian ginseng and ashwagandha.
Brown, Donald J. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health: Your Everyday Guide to Prevention, Treatment, and Care. Rocklin, California: Prima, 1996.
McQuade Crawford, Amanda. Herbal Remedies for Women. Rocklin, California: Prima, 1997.
Weil, Andrew. 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. New York: Knopf, 1997.