Mother Earth Living

For Your Health: Q and A

Herbs can play an important role in helping to manage epilepsy.
By Rosemary Gladstar
November/December 2000


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In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. In this issue, Rosemary Gladstar and Robert Rountree answer your questions on stomach ulcers, epilepsy, and immune and menopausal herbs.

Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and several other books on herbalism, runs Sage Moun-tain Retreat Center and Nat-ive Plant Preserve in East Barre, Vermont. Her experience includes more than twenty years in the herbal community as a healer, teacher, visionary, and organizer of herbal events. 

Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center in Boulder, Colorado, where he practices integrative medicine. He is coauthor of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child (Avery, 1994) and Immunotics (Putnam, 2000), and is an Herb Research Foundation advisory board member. 

Please send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A,” Herb Companion Press, 428 N. Cleveland Ave., Loveland, CO 80537; fax (970) 613-4664; or e-mail us at HerbsForHealth@HCPress.com. Provide your name and full address for verification, although both will be kept confidential.

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

Natural Ulcer Help

I was recently diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, which I’d like to treat naturally. Is it safe for me to take supplements? Also, I often have terrible diarrhea after eating out at restaurants. Could this be related?
M. M.
via e-mail

Gladstar responds: First I wish to compliment you on seeking healthy solutions for your situation.

I would exercise caution whenever using a variety of supplements, as they are often potent substances: Interactions are unknown on many of them, many are of poor quality, and most are not “natural” in the pure sense of the word. If your body begins to show signs of stress roughly thirty minutes after taking a supplement, I would venture to say that it’s causing stress on your stomach. And, of course, if your ulcer begins to bleed after taking the supplements, I would immediately discontinue them.

My favorite herb for stomach ulcers, comfrey (Symphytum officinale), is unfortunately not recommended at this time due to frequent misidentification with other species containing high levels of toxic alkaloids. Comfrey is very soothing to the stomach lining and stops bleeding. However, because issues concerning its safety have not been resolved, marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), which is completely benign and effective, is often substituted. An equal part of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) can be added to marshmallow tea (or capsules) to help stop bleeding.

An old-time remedy that’s effective for stomach ulcers is fresh cabbage juice. It’s rich in vitamin K and will stop bleeding.

Cabbage juice and licorice extract can help soothe the gut.
—Robert Rountree 

Another herb often used successfully in the treatment of ulcers is licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra). You can encapsulate the powder and take 2 capsules three times daily. People with high blood pressure should limit the amount of licorice they use.

Although ulcers can be healed, generally the ulcerated area will be more sensitive to future agitation. Think of it as your stress indicator; it serves to alert you when dietary factors or stress are creating a situation for recurrence.

Rountree responds: In contrast to duodenal ulcers, which are caused by a bacterial infection, stomach or gastric ulcers appear to be caused by regular consumption of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs block an enzyme called COX-1 in the stomach lining that produces a protective layer of mucus; when mucus is not produced, the lining erodes. If unchecked, this erosion may progress to an ulcer.

Once the drugs are discontinued, this type of ulcer does not tend to recur, although it’s conceivable that a weakened, sensitive area could remain. The problem of intestinal urgency after eating is an automatic reflex that has been referred to as “dumping syndrome.” This certainly could occur after an injury, such as a bleeding ulcer. In addition to dietary changes, relaxation techniques and biofeedback sometimes can “reprogram” the abnormal reflex. While herbs such as ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) can definitely thin the blood, this effect doesn’t lead to ulcers. There is no evidence that any vitamins, herbs, or a combination of them will block COX-1 enzyme to a sufficient degree to cause stomach ulcers. Also, it would be worthwhile to consume cabbage juice and deglycyrrhizinated licorice extract (DGL) on a daily basis. Both can help restore the damaged stomach lining and have a soothing effect on the gut.

Herbs For Epilepsy

Are there herbs that can help treat epilepsy? I would like to discuss the use of herbs with my neurologist. Thanks to both ginkgo and ginseng, I’m alive and on my feet, fighting off severe side effects of anticonvulsants!
G. J.
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Gladstar responds: I don’t know of one specific herb for epilepsy, but I do know that herbs and other natural treatments can play an important role in helping to manage epilepsy. My stepdaughter had seizure disorders since birth and was on a high dosage of Tegretol as a teenager. Following a fairly disciplined program of herbs, diet, bodywork, and relaxation techniques, she was able to manage her epilepsy and cut in half her dose of Tegretol from what it had been for most of her life. This made a tremendous difference in her schoolwork and social life. She graduated from college and has a successful massage practice. Herbs and diet played a major role in this transformation.

The herbs she used are particularly effective in building and strengthening the nervous system and have a positive influence on brain activity. We used skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), oats (Avena sativa), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) for the nervous system, and ginkgo and gotu kola (Centella asiatica) for their positive effect on brain function. I would also suggest including any herbs that have long-term tonic effects such as astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), burdock (Arctium lappa), and nettle (Urtica dioica).

There is not enough information available on herbs and natural treatments for epilepsy/seizure disorders, but I am hopeful that as more people turn to herbs for major disorders, we will begin to compile more information that will be of value to those seeking natural support systems. Of course, it goes without saying that one should never abruptly discontinue anticonvulsant medication. The dosages should be reduced gradually under the caring guidance of a practitioner.

Rountree responds: Because epilepsy refers to a spectrum of seizure disorders, it’s difficult to predict how your case may respond to a specific remedy. However, you may want to try a traditional Chinese formulation of nine common herbs called Saiko-Keishi-To. The ingredients, as outlined in the Textbook of Natural Medicine by Joseph Pizzorno and Michael Murray (Churchill Livingstone, 1999), include bupleurum, Chinese skullcap, pinellia, peony root, cinnamon cortex, jujube fruit, ginseng root, licorice, and ginger. Although you could make this up yourself, I would suggest having the formula prepared by a practitioner skilled in Oriental medicine.

A published study with epileptics showed a significant decrease in seizures after eight weeks of continuous use of Saiko-Keishi-To, and no apparent toxicity. I had the opportunity to try this formula with one of my patients. It didn’t eliminate his seizures but he was able to decrease the dosage of his medication. As you can see, one of the main ingredients is ginseng, so you are on the right track; however, the combination of ingredients appears to work better than any single herb.

Immune and Menopausal Herbs

I need to know what herbs to take for a weakened immune system. Is there a risk of taking herbs such as echinacea and astragalus for HIV and other autoimmune disorders? Also, I’m currently taking dong quai and red clover for perimenopausal symptoms and I wonder if I can take St. John’s wort concomitantly to get through the long, cold winter in Wisconsin.
P. L.
Wausau, Wisconsin

Gladstar responds: There is some disagreement among the herbal community about using herbs such as echinacea (Echinacea spp.) and astragalus, which are herbs generally recommended for immune disorders. However, I’m always quick to point out that these herbs work by increasing immune health through nourishing the blood, tonifying the system, and balancing the overall body systems responsible for immune health. An inactive or overactive immune system responds to these herbs in a similar fashion; the herbs help restore balance to the immune system (which is basically our total body system). I would suggest that you use these two herbs. Astragalus supports deeper immune system health, whereas echinacea is useful for warding off colds, flus, and infections.

Other herbs I highly recommend for immune well-being include nettle, red clover (Trifolium pratense), dandelion root, and burdock root. Although not usually associated with the immune system, each of these herbs builds overall well-being and aids in balancing our immune system. Two excellent books for further research are Herbal Medicine, Healing & Cancer by Donald Yance (Keats, 1999), and for herbal information, The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood (North Atlantic, 1997).

As far as the herbs you’re considering using together, they seem like good choices for your situation. However, everyone responds to herbs differently, so it’s always good to watch closely and respond to your body’s wisdom. Whenever using St. John’s wort over an extended period, it’s wise to protect yourself from direct sunlight.

Rountree responds:  One of the best reference books I’ve found on natural therapies for immune disorders is The Road to Immunity by Kenneth Bock, M.D., and Nellie Sabin (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Be aware that AIDS is actually an immune deficiency syndrome and not an autoimmune disorder. Consequently, you would treat it with immune-boosting herbs such as boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), astragalus, Western larch (Larix occidentalis), or medicinal mushrooms such as maitake (Grifola frondosa). In contrast, diseases like lupus would be treated with anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric (Curcuma longa), boswellia (Boswellia serrata), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and licorice.

As for adding St. John’s wort to dong quai (Angelica sinensis) and red clover, there is no reason you couldn’t take all of these herbs together, and they may very well help you through the winter. Good luck!


Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbal Healing for Women (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and several other books on herbalism, runs Sage Moun-tain Retreat Center and Nat-ive Plant Preserve in East Barre, Vermont. Her experience includes more than twenty years in the herbal community as a healer, teacher, visionary, and organizer of herbal events. 

Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center in Boulder, Colorado, where he practices integrative medicine. He is coauthor of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child (Avery, 1994) and Immunotics (Putnam, 2000), and is an Herb Research Foundation advisory board member. 


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