Alternative Medicine: Find an Herbalist

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Sea horses are a TCM remedy.
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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

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

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

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,

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