Herb basics: Natural Remedies from Bad Breath to Tummy Aches

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Parsley is more than a pretty garnish: It also battles bad breath.
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Weighing in on Dose

Ever wondered how the recommended doses of herbs and supplements are determined? Herb manufacturers base dosage on a 150-pound adult, which is considered an average for both men and women, says Beth Davis, education director for ZAND Herbal Formulas.

But you may want to adjust the dose if you weigh 25 percent more or less than 150 pounds–that is, if you weigh less than 112 pounds or more than 187 pounds, says Davis. She offers this simple way to calculate your individualized dosage:

Divide your body weight by 150. Take the result and multiply it by the recommended daily dose. The ­answer is your new, ­adjusted dose.

For example, if you weigh 300 pounds and the recommended dose is three tablets:

300 ÷ 150 = 2 and
2 ¥ 3 = 6, so you could take up to six tablets.

Or, if your child weighs 50 pounds and the recommended dose is three tablets:

50 ÷ 150 = .333 and .333 ¥ 3 = 1, so your child would need only one tablet for a full dose.

As always, it’s best to consult a health-care practitioner before using herbs, especially in the case of children.

An Herb for the Tummy and Toes

It is the time of year when many people start worrying about athlete’s foot. But a little lemongrass may help soothe both minds and itchy feet.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), a prominent ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, is characterized by its strong citrus flavor. The volatile oil’s main compounds are citral and citronellal.

Although the stalks and leaves of lemongrass are primarily used to make digestive teas, the herb can also help fight fungal infections, par­ticularly athlete’s foot. Research shows that citral inhibits some fungal growths at more than four times the rate of tea tree oil.

To treat athlete’s foot, try drinking lemongrass tea several times a day. If you want an extra boost, apply the used leaves or teabags directly to the affected areas.

Sources: Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York: DK Publishing, 1996.

Pengelly, Andrew. The Constituents of Medicinal Plants. Muswellbrook, NSW, Australia: Sunflower Herbals, 1997.

Crazy for Chai

If you’ve visited a coffee shop recently, you know that it isn’t just for coffee any more. Alongside herbal teas, you’ll also find a spicy tea drink called chai, which has soared in ­popularity recently. Some chai companies have ­experienced growth as high as 120 percent in the past year, says Lori Spencer, vice president of marketing at Oregon Chai in Portland.

“Chai” and “cha” are the words for tea in several languages throughout the Middle and Far East. In India and Nepal, chai is a daily beverage and refers to black tea that is brewed with aromatic spices and some sort of milk (soy, rice, or dairy). It is usually sweetened, sometimes generously, and can vary in taste and style among regions.

“Chai is kind of like curry,” says Alle Hall, the sales and ­marketing manager for Choice Organic Teas, which makes a dried chai mix. “You have a general idea of what spices you’ll get, but it’s different with different cooks.”

Chai spices–ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, cloves, licorice, peppercorns–all have medicinal qualities. At the minimum, they share the trait of stimulating digestion.

Chai is available commercially in several forms: premixed with milk, liquid ­concentrate, and dried ready-to-brew formulas.

Gee, Your Breath Smells Terrific!

If you want a sweet-smelling mouth, pass on the sugary after-dinner mints and ask for a sprig of parsley instead.

Since most bad breath is caused by bacteria, which thrive on sugar, you may find that herbal breath fresheners, with their antibacterial chemicals, are a better option than candy.

Historically, herbal breath fresheners included parsley, anise, coriander, spearmint cloves, and, of course, mint. In fact, the ritual of after-­dinner mints evolved from the ancient custom of finishing off a meal with a mint sprig. Mint not only makes the breath fresher, but aids digestion, too.

You can make your own herbal mouthwash using herbs right from your kitchen. Take several ounces of fresh or dried herbs, place them in a wide-mouthed jar with a screw-on lid, and fill the jar with vodka. For a clear liquid, steep for a few days then strain. If you ­prefer, leave the herbs floating in the liquid–they not only taste good, they look good, too.

Source: Duke, J. A. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 1997.

Dr. Duke’s Herbs for Fresh Breath

Jim Duke, Herbs for Health editorial adviser, says the herbs listed here make fine breath fresheners. Use whole or lightly processed parts of these plants–such as pods, seeds, or leaves–in a vodka base and prepare the mouthwash as indicated at left.

• Cardamom
• Eucalyptus
• Spearmint
• Rosemary
• Ginger
• Cinnamon
• Basil
• Turmeric
• Fennel
• Parsley
• Anise
• Coriander
• Dill
• Peppermint
• Sage
• Clove

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