What are the best herbs for every season of your life? Our expert herbalist breaks it down, matching herbs to your age.
At either end of the life cycle, people are more at risk for accidental injuries. Teens and young adults (and anyone else who hasn’t yet acknowledged his or her mortality) are vulnerable to scrapes and scratches. Fortunately, calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a great skin healer. According to Mindy Green, herbalist and author of Calendula (McGraw-Hill, 1999) and other books, “Calendula is safe and powerful, with research on it for everything from diaper rash to cancer. It is a great herb for both internal and external application, cosmetic, culinary or medicinal use.”
Calendula contains several carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. Long used topically for skin inflammation, rashes and healing wounds, scientists have confirmed that the herb is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; antibacterial and anti-parasitic; anti-tumor; accelerates wound healing (including the dermatitis that often follows radiation therapy in cancer treatment); and protects the liver and kidneys. Green believes this herb is indispensible throughout life.
During these years of emerging adulthood, reproductive hormones flood our bodies, making us sleek, strong, fertile and, well, oily. Acne can splotch otherwise radiant skin. Try dabbing essential oil of lavender or tea tree on blemishes and consuming dandelion and burdock (Arctium lappa) root. Dandelion root is anti-inflammatory, stimulates digestion and kidney function, and supports the liver, the organ responsible for clearing the body of excess hormones. Nutrient-rich burdock root also supports elimination. The roots of both plants can be consumed as food, made into tea or taken as a tincture.
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) berry extracts can tame acne outbreaks linked to menstruation, relieve premenstrual syndrome and normalize menstrual cycles. Shelley Torgove, clinical herbalist and owner of Apothecary Tinctura in Denver, names chaste tree as her favorite herb. “It helps regulate irregular cycles during the different phases of a woman’s life cycle,” Torgove says. “I often use it with girls that are beginning to establish regular cycles, with women when they are trying to get pregnant, and then with menopausal women to help with hormonal balance and hot flashes.” Be patient with this herb, as it generally takes three months of continuous use to reap benefits. You can take 60 drops of tincture or 175 to 225 mg of standardized extract each morning.
Torgove also recommends dong quai (Angelica sinensis) for young women. While research hasn’t revealed hormonal activity in root extracts, many women find this herb can restore delayed menses and relieve menstrual cramps. Additionally, black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) all have antispasmodic activity to help relieve cramping.
Under the influence of reproductive hormones, bone mass peaks in the third decade of life. That means teens and young adults need to take care to avoid bone-squandering behaviors (such as smoking, regular consumption of sodas, heavy intake of alcohol, inactivity and extreme dieting) and bank as much bone as they can through exercise; good diet; and adequate intake of calcium, magnesium, zinc, boron, and vitamins D, K and C. Dark-green leafy vegetables (including nettles and dandelion leaves) and edible seaweeds can build bones and replenish iron lost during menstrual periods.
Linda B. White, M.D., teaches classes in herbal medicine at Metropolitan State College in Denver. She also co-authored The Herbal Drugstore (Rodale, 2000).
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