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Herb basics: Be Cautious with New Herbs

Our organs become more active at specific times of day
The Herb Companion Staff
November/December 1999
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Safety tip: Use herbs only as directed, or start with a low dose.
J. Coca

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Use caution with new herbs 

Most of the popular medicinal herbs, and especially those sold as supplements, are relatively safe when taken as directed. But users need to use common sense to avoid possible allergic reactions or harmful interactions with existing conditions or medications.

When you’re trying a new herbal supplement, start out below the recommended dose and monitor your responses very closely before increasing it. Look for any unpleasant side effects, such as rashes, dizziness, nausea, or headaches.

Some people have allergic ­reactions to plant foods or airborne plant substances. Since herbs are both plants and food, and herbal supplements may be very concentrated, it’s not unheard of for allergic reactions to occur. There are some common- sense predictors, however. For ­example, if you’re allergic to ­ragweed, you may want to be ­cautious about using chamomile, which is also in the aster family. Consult your herbal health care provider if you have other allergic tendencies.

Source: Chamberlain, Logan, Ph.D. What the Labels Won’t Tell You. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1998. 

Ginger for an upset stomach 

Ginger has been cultivated in China and India for millennia and reached the West at least 2,000 years ago. Traditional Chinese Medicine has relied on the herb to mediate the effects of other herbs, stimulate appetite, and calm the stomach. In European herbal traditions, ginger is used primarily to stop nausea and quiet an upset stomach.

It is believed to reduce nausea by increasing digestive fluids and absorbing and neutralizing toxins and stomach acid.

Garlic's healing benefits 

Garlic’s well-documented health benefits include its ability to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and help prevent yeast infections, cancers, colds, and flu. Garlic is also considered by some as an alternative to prescription antibiotics. Research outlines its potential to create an environment inhospitable to a wide range of micro­organisms, including at least eight types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and some fungi, including Candida, the microbe that causes yeast infections.

Most scientists credit a compound in garlic called allicin for the herb’s healing actions. Tests show that allicin inhibits the enzymes that bacteria need to grow. But other components in garlic are also important—especially sulfur-containing compounds, including S-allyl cysteine, or SAC, and S-allyl mercaptocysteine, or SAMC.

One or more fresh cloves a day is the desired dose, but you can also take capsules, “odorless” tablets, tinctures, and aged garlic extracts. Take up to three 500 to 600 mg capsules a day. Look for products that deliver at least 5,000 mcg of allicin daily.

Source: Foster, Steven. 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1998.

Tintures, capsules, or teas?

Some herbs are more potent in tincture form than in teas or capsules, according to herbalist and acupuncturist Christopher Hobbs. These herbs include:

•dong quai
•milk thistle
•saw palmetto

The constituents in the above herbs are more soluble in alcohol than in water, so you’re more ­likely to get the active ingredients from your herbs if you use ­alcohol-based tinctures.

Tinctures are generally made by steeping the dried or fresh herb in a 25 percent mixture of alcohol and water. Besides extracting the plant’s active ingredients, the alcohol acts as a preservative, allowing tinctures to be kept for up to two years.

Tinctures should be taken diluted in water.

Understanding our internal clocks 

If you often wake up between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. for no apparent reason, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner might look for liver or gallbladder problems.

TCM uses the “biorhythmic clock” as a diagnostic tool. It is a physiological theory that suggests different body systems become more active at various times of day. According to this school of thought, 9 to 11 p.m. would be the best time to go to sleep, because those hours are for energy replenishment. Rising early enough to have a bowel movement between 5 and 7 a.m. would be best, because that’s the time when the large intestine is most active.

Hobbs, Christopher. Stress and Natural Healing. Loveland, Colorado: Botanica Press, 1997.
Rona, Zoltan, ed. Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. Blaine, Washington: Natural Life, 1997.

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