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How To Use Medicinal Herbs

Teas are the optimal form of medicine for urinary problems.
By Jill Stansbury and Terry Willard
September/October 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, Jill Stansbury and Terry Willard answer your questions on treating vaginitis, adult ADD, and urine reflux in children.

Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battle-ground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997). 

Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal. 

Soothing Treatments For Vaginitis

I need your help for a persistent problem. I have a strong fishy odor coming from my vagina. My gynecologist says it’s vaginitis. He gave me antibiotics and an external cream, but nothing works. I’ve also tried douching with tea tree oil. What else can I try?
D. L.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Stansbury responds: A fishy odor usually means that the vagina’s ecosystem has become altered and supports undesirable bacteria rather than acid-loving lactobacillus, bifidus, and acidophilus.

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil is a strong but usually nonirritating disinfectant and may help if you persist. Don’t use it very often, however, to avoid disturbing the beneficial bacteria. Consider tea tree oil suppositories or douching immediately following the menses, when the vaginal pH is least acidic. Avoid using tampons, if possible, as they may contribute to the infection.

Try acidophilus suppositories—purchase acidophilus capsules and insert one before bed. Continue the suppositories for two or three days in a row and then discontinue for a day or two. Also take acidophilus internally, two or more times daily.

Immune-support nutrients such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zinc can improve resistance and reduce bacterial penetration of mucosal surfaces. Eat cranberries, blueberries, and purple grapes, as they reduce adherence of some bacteria.

Sitz baths of calendula (Calendula officinalis), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium) powder may be beneficial, as may alternating hot and cold sitz baths. Alternating temperatures may enhance circulation and lymphatic flow in the pelvis and stimulate local immune response. All of these therapies, including the sitz baths, should be continued for many months.

Reishi mushroom can help center a person with ADD.
—Terry Willard 

Willard responds: This problem is usually due to an ecological imbalance in the vagina. If you have enough beneficial organisms, then a balance will be created. I usually instruct my patients to insert an acidophilus capsule into the vagina every day for six days, douching on the seventh with warm water mixed with 25 percent apple cider vinegar. This sometimes needs to be repeated two to three times.

It’s helpful for women to do a whole body detox for two weeks at the beginning of this process. This detox consists of eating no dairy, flour, sweets, or processed foods. You should eat a diet emphasizing raw and cooked vegetables, some fruits, and whole grains. Use herbal formulas with cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) to cleanse the colon. Use red clover (Trifolium pratense), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) formulas to cleanse the blood and lymphatic fluid. For the liver, take burdock (Arctium lappa), and cleanse the kidneys with juniper (Juniperus communis), corn silk (Zea mays), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and uva ursi (Arcto-staphylos uva-ursi).

I also suggest essential fatty acids such as black currant or borage oil. Take 1,000 to 2,000 mg twice daily.

If you have tenderness around your vaginal surface areas, the best ointment is plain yogurt, right out of the refrigerator. Buy a high-quality plain yogurt from a health-food store.

Constipation can be associated with vaginal ecological issues. In this case, eat more high-fiber foods or use an herbal tonic.

Help For Adult Attention Deficit Disorder

I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with mild hyperactivity. Is there anything to help adults with ADD?
T. P.
Vancouver, Washington

Stansbury responds: There is presently an explosion in the research on herbal and nutritional substances that affect memory, focus, and cognitive function. The therapeutic possibilities are vast and more numerous than can be addressed here. A few of the more promising therapies include the herbs ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and vinca (Vinca minor). This group of herbs is being studied for all types of cognitive difficulties, from Alzheimer’s to ADD to plain old forgetfulness. All of these herbs require several months’ use to note any real changes.

Many nutritional substances may also benefit ADD. Choline, which prompts the synthesis of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter, may improve cognitive function. Supplementing 2 or 3 g of choline per day may benefit ADD. Amino acids themselves, such as tryptophan and tyrosine, are used by the body to synthesize neurotransmitters. Supplementation with these safe protein building blocks can also positively influence cognition.

Other important nutritional substances include B vitamins and essential fatty acids. There are many products available that combine several of these botanical and nutritional substances in a single formula.

Because this is all a somewhat complex business, I suggest you see someone familiar with cutting-edge research in the field of neurobiology and clinically experienced in the use of such medications.

Willard responds: Yes, there is help for adult ADD. This problem is quite common, in fact. People with this syndrome often have an inability to pay attention, concentrate, think clearly, and frequently experience emotional and learning problems. Most of the patients I’ve seen with ADD are above-average intelligence, but perform poorly on organized tasks.

I’ve seen that there’s usually a direct correlation with this syndrome and sugar or alcohol consumption. Both of these substances should be severely reduced or eliminated. Dairy products and red dye also enhance the problem, as does caffeine. The cause of this disorder is not completely understood, but some of the factors may be heredity, smoking or alcohol consumption during pregnancy, oxygen deprivation or trauma at birth, artificial food additives, sugar, dairy, environmental pollutants, lead poisoning, or food sensitivities.

Besides diet, I’ve found the most important herb is reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum). Reishi can help center a person. The dosage is usually 3 capsules twice daily, depending on the person’s size and age.

ADD can also be caused by food sensitivities. A simple way to tell what food(s) you’re sensitive to is by the thirst test. A person is often thirsty thirty to ninety minutes after they have consumed a food with which they’re having problems.

Herbal Teas For Urine Reflux

My seven-year-old daughter Jenna needs your help. She has urine reflux, which causes frequent urinary tract infections. She’s been on sulfa drugs all her life and still gets infections. Her left kidney is now showing signs of damage and it could mean surgery again if the infections persist.
B. S.
Friendship, Wisconsin

Stansbury responds: Urine reflux is a difficult condition and I sympathize with what you’re going through. To reduce urinary tract infections (UTIs), cranberry capsules are popular amongst adults who frequently suffer with them. Jenna could try unsweetened cranberry juice. If she finds it too tart, blueberries have been found to have the same actions.

Cranberry and other urinary disinfectants such as uva ursi, horsetail (Equisetum arvense), calendula, and echinacea may all help reduce the use of sulfa drugs. Teas are the optimal form of medicine for treating urinary problems, because the direct contact with the urinary tissues is a significant benefit. Several cups per day may reduce the tendency to get infections, and the teas are safe to use with pharmaceuticals.

Reducing dietary sugar, white flour, and other junk foods may also reduce the infections. Try the immune-supportive nutrients zinc, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Monitor Jenna’s bowel habits and treat constipation, as this could worsen or even trigger the problem. Constipation can also foster undesirable bacterial (E. coli) strains that can increase the risk of bladder infections.

As for the reflux itself, kava (Piper methysticum) might be worth a try. Kava is a powerful antispasmodic for the bladder and ureters, and has antimicrobial effects as well. The difficulty here will be the taste. Although a tea would be ideal, you’d have to work at making it palatable for a child. Other options are using the tincture diluted in water, opening up capsules into applesauce, or learning to swallow pills. This would have to be continued for several months to see results.

Willard responds: There is a tea that I’ve been using for this problem for more than twenty years. It’s a mixture of equal parts of dried parsley leaves (Petroselinum crispum), raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus), and corn silk. Take 1 teaspoon of the mixture and pour one cup of boiling water over it. Let it steep for ten to fifteen minutes, then strain and drink. The dosage is one to four cups a day, depending on the current symptoms. You can make up to a three-day ­supply and keep it in the refrigerator.

Cranberry juice can work for this condition, but it often has too much sugar in it to be beneficial. If you take straight cranberry concentrate and mix it with apple juice, it works better and tastes good.

Also, I’ve had a lot success with kava. With children, I usually use it in tincture form. Due to its taste, you might want to mix it with licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) or ginger (Zingiber officinale). Or buy a glycerin extract of kava, which is often most palatable for children. The dosage is between 20 and 30 drops twice daily.

Internalizing emotional stress can often be the core issue here. Often a person tightens up their muscles, including the pelvic and urinary area, when frustrated. Encouraging release of emotions through creativity (without perfectionism) can often help. This can be as simple as encouraging doodling, singing, or any type of creative release that Jenna enjoys.

By Jill Stansbury and Terry Willard

Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battle-ground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997). 

Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal. 

Please send your questions to Herbs for Health “Q & A,” Herb Companion Press, 201 E. Fourth St., Loveland, CO 80537-5655; fax (970) 669-6117; or e-mail us at Provide your name and full address for verification, although both will be kept confidential.

The information offered in “How To Use Medicinal Herbs” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

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