Tips for Herbal Safety

| September/October 2001

  • Holistic minded pharmacists give tips for herbal safety including knowing when not to use them.
  • Find out which herbs to avoid during pregnancy.

There’s no doubt that herbal remedies can make wonderful, natural treatment alternatives to conventional medicines. While an increasing number of health-care practitioners throughout the United States are incorporating herbal remedies into their practices, the primary use of herbs is still largely by self-treatment. Consumers have come to consider that herbal remedies are a safe and gentle way to treat themselves, and for the most part this is true. However, a wise consumer is one who is also aware of when not to self-treat with herbs—some of those situations follow.

Emergency medical crises

A number of acute conditions warrant immediate medical attention by trained professionals and should not be self-treated with herbs:

severe allergic reactions
severe burns
uncontrolled bleeding
uncontrolled vomiting
broken bones
chest pains/heart palpitations
difficulty breathing
high fever
severe infections
severe high blood pressure
severe pain

Conventional medicine excels in emergency situations and can save lives. Once the emergency is under control, herbal remedies can have a complementary role in the overall healing process.

Avoid toxic herbs

Certain herbs are toxic and, therefore, should not be taken at all, or should be taken only under the careful supervision of a well-trained, experienced practitioner. Although some of the most toxic herbs can have dramatic curative properties when used correctly, they should not be used for self-treatment. Before taking anything, read up on the herb. Don’t take anything that you haven’t investigated thoroughly first.

The following is a small sampling of dangerous herbs and their toxicities. For a more complete listing of toxic herbs, check the table of contents of your favorite herbal reference book. There may be a more complete listing of toxic herbs at the back of the book.

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