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Herb Basics

A Place to Start
Herb Companion
July/August 2006
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Vitamin C: Crucial for Your Liver, Too

In addition to its cold-preventing properties, vitamin C is perhaps the most liver-loving vitamin of them all, according to Ann Louise Gittleman in The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet. Vitamin C stimulates the production of glutathione, which is the liver’s premier antioxidant. Glutathione supplements cannot be taken by themselves because the molecules are too large to be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, so in order to make sure you have enough of this vital antioxidant, load up on vitamin C. By stimulating glutathione, the vitamin also helps bind up heavy metals, such as mercury and cadmium, and eliminate them from the body.

Gittleman recommends adding the juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon or lime to your daily drinking water to ensure you’re getting a sufficient amount of vitamin C in your diet.

Source: Gittleman, Ann Louise. The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2005.

PASS THE PARSLEY: IT’S GREAT FOR FRESH BREATH, IMPROVED DIGESTION AND MORE

Common names: Parsley, fairy feathers, garden parsley

Latin name: Petroselinum crispum

Family: Apiaceae

Part used: Leaf, root, seed

Medicinal uses: Besides its use as an after-meal breath freshener, parsley helps soothe the digestion and relieves intestinal gas and bloating. The herb has a diuretic effect, and has been used to treat urinary tract infections, edema and kidney stones.

Forms commonly used: Fresh herb, dried herb, tea, tincture, capsules.

Side effects: Moderate, culinary doses of parsley are safe and pose no cause for concern. Medicinal doses should be avoided during pregnancy (large doses of parsley may stimulate the uterus). Individuals with inflammatory kidney disease also should avoid the herb. In Europe, the herb is taken to relieve painful menstrual periods.

Notes: Native to Europe, parsley is now the region’s most widely cultivated herb. Parsley also grows in western Asia and is cultivated throughout the world. There are approximately 30 varieties of parsley, but flat-leaf (also known as Italian parsley) and curly parsley (the type normally used as a garnish at restaurants) are the most popular types.

One of the first herbs to appear in the early spring, parsley is used in the traditional Jewish Passover meal (known as the Seder) to represent new beginnings.

Parsley has been used since ancient Roman times to freshen the breath, and is particularly useful in masking garlic odor. The herb contains high levels of chlorophyll, an ingredient in many commercially available breath fresheners. The herb is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C and iron.

Parsley sometimes is used externally as a poultice for bruises and skin infections.

The herb is a crucial component of the tasty Middle Eastern bulgur salad tabbouleh -- along with mint, garlic and lemon juice. It is also one of the herbs in bouquet garni, a bundle of herbs (traditionally fresh parsley, fresh or dried thyme, and bay leaf) that were tied together and used to flavor soups.

GETTING PERSPECTIVE ON SAFETY

Many reports have surfaced recently about the dangers of herbal medicine. Even perfectly benign plants, such as chamomile and peppermint, are finding themselves on the “herbal blacklist.” Are we just now discovering the dangers of herbs? No — but we are now able to ingest herbs in tremendously potent forms. In the past, herbs were most often taken as teas, tinctures and syrups. But herbal capsules, which make it easy for us to swallow as much herb as we wish, and standardized preparations, which contain extracts of herbal constituents that are far more concentrated than nature ever intended, have not been available until recently.

Few herbs are actually toxic, but just about any herb may occasionally stimulate an idiosyncratic reaction in an individual. Strawberries, for example, are sweet nectar to some and noxious to others. This doesn’t make the berry toxic; it’s just a poor choice for that particular individual.

Don’t be scared off from herbal medicine by a few dramatic news stories. Use your head. Herbs are powerful medicine, but they don’t always have the same effect on everyone. Take the time to get to know the herbs and how they affect you; you’ll reap the benefits of energy, health and vitality for years to come.

Source: Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Books, 2001.

Terms to Know

Antitussives: Herbs that reduce coughing. These help when a cough is so persistent that the coughing person can’t rest. Some of the best antitussives include horehound and wild cherry bark .

Asanas: A series of poses used in yoga that are designed to stretch and strengthen the body, resulting in greater body awareness, flexibility and improved posture .

C-phycocyanin: An element found in the green superfood spirulina that works not only to inhibit free radical production, but also is effective in preventing blood platelet aggregation, thus helping to prevent blood clots .

Chá-de-bugre: Cordia ecalyculata, a widely used herbal weight-loss remedy in Brazil that is likely to become popular in the United States. The herb contains caffeine and is mildly energizing, decreases the appetite and has diuretic properties .

Demulcents: Herbs that help soothe coughs and sore throats. Examples include marshmallow, slippery elm and plantain .

Substance P: A neurotransmitter that delivers pain messages to the nervous system. When applied to the skin, a cream containing capsaicin, a compound found in cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum), stimulates nerve cells to release substance P, which temporarily relieves pain for such conditions as arthritis .


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