Favorite Medicinal Herbs for Common Health Problems

Some of the most commonly used remedies from an herbalist’s medicine cabinet.

| January/February 2003

  • Christopher Hobbs

The criteria for getting on this list of favorite herbs is that I have to have known the herb very well, have used it for a long time, and it would have had to be successful the majority of times I used it. If you take any one of these plants, you can do so much with it. You don’t need to use too many herbs—my great-grandmother, who used only a handful of plants on a regular basis, was a very good herbalist. Below I discuss some of the herbs I turn to most often.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black walnut tincture is extremely antifungal and is quite effective for treating candida, athlete’s foot, and ringworm, topically and orally. To make a black walnut tincture, you should choose the young walnuts that are a little smaller than golf balls and peel off the outer coating with a sharp paring knife. Make up about 2 cups of menstruum (liquid) using a combination of 35 to 45 percent alcohol, 10 percent apple cider vinegar, and the remaining 45 to 55 percent water. Put the peels and the menstruum in the blender and blend it up. Let it sit for 7 to 14 days, press it out (through a tincture press or several layers of cheesecloth), and you have a dark tincture that can be very useful. Be aware that black walnut tincture stains.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Calendula is good for any skin problem. If you get any unusual skin ailment that you don’t know what to do about or your doctor doesn’t know what to do about it, and it’s been hanging around longer than it should, put calendula on it. You can use tincture, salve, or oil. Remember that dried calendula should be the same color as the fresh. It changes color in about six months even in optimal storage, so dried calendula products are not as reliable as fresh or freshly dried calendula. To keep it viable for a year or so, store your calendula in the freezer. It is interesting to note that any of the herbs that are easy to grow and abundant in nature tend to have a short shelf life.

Cottonwood buds (Populus balsamifera ssp. balsamifera)

Any herb that is very resinous, such as cottonwood buds, can be a wonderful remedy to put on wounds instead of wearing Band-Aids. You just put the tincture on the wound and let it dry thoroughly. If it’s a fairly deep wound, you’ll want to put on several coats of cottonwood bud tincture—it’s like shellacking wood. It’s so much easier than wearing a Band-Aid. You can also use other resinous herbs such as myrrh (Commiphora spp.).

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is an incredibly useful herb. I have to say that part of the vitality I experience in my own life is because of eating dandelion. It was one of the plants that I harvested with my mom, picking the dandelion greens and cooking them starting in the spring when they first popped up, all the way through until they became very bitter in late May, and the weather changed.

Dandelion has been eaten in all cultures—the flowers, stems, and seeds. There is so much research on this herb that we could fill up a room with papers on it. It also has a long history of use by the common people. You can use the root or the leaf; I like to use them together in making teas and tinctures to get the optimum medicinal value of dandelion. It is a very good, dependable diuretic if taken on a regular basis in sufficient quantity. It’s especially good for pregnancy, when a woman is getting swollen ankles or when their blood pressure begins to rise in late pregnancy. Dandelion is also helpful for women who are tending toward gestational diabetes.



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