HolisticWisdom.org web site

Linda Diane Feldt

NCTMB, Holistic Health Practitioner and Herbalist

The Ann Arbor Center for Holistic Health and Traditional Wisdom



10 popular herbs --

A class to explore:

What are the most popular herbs?

What do they do?

What preparations are good?

Should they be used so much?

We'll talk about Echinacea, St. John's Wort, Black Cohosh, Saw Palmetto, Garlic, Ginger, Ginkgo, Valerian, Goldenseal, Evening Primrose and the herb that is gaining in popularity - Milk Thistle. Here are some of the brief notes on each herb. Please use this information to stimulate further study, as this very brief synopsis would form a poor basis, used by itself, to decide to use these herbs. This is just the most basic information and is primarily based on case studies and anecdotal reporting and observation. In almost all cases, reference is to alcohol based tinctures.

Echinacea: check out the article at this link. This demonstrates the effectiveness of a low dose (10 drops of the tincture in a bit of water per day for normal weight person). Think of echinacea as either stimulating or nourishing. The dose that would stimulate the immune system is usually 20 drops of tincture twice perday. At the beginning or to head off an approaching illness echinacea maybe used as much as 20-30 drops every few hours. But the stimulating dose should be time limited. The situation varies, but I suggest not more than 4-5 days unless you're working with a health practitioner. Echinacea and other immune system stimulants should probably not be used by people who have auto immune disorders. Echinacea Purpurea is easy to grow in Ann Arbor, harvest the roots for tincture the fall of the third year. Echinacea in capsules is the least effective method of use, a tea made from the roots would need to steep overnight to be effective. Tincture is a great choice. The recent studies of Echinacea have limited value, as some used a questionable placebo, some were just for the common cold, and the type of echinacea preparation is also an issue. Each study should be considered carefully and skeptically for what it does and does not say.

There is so much to say about St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Well known now for the use in non-major depression, it has been used as a powerful anti viral and help with nerve regeneration. That makes it perfect for shingles and other herpes viruses. There is an oil made from the flowering tops that can be used for that purpose. Taken internally the primary caution is how St. John's Wort can interfere with the P 450 cytochrome system concerning how the liver metabolizes other drugs. That is why St. John's Wort should be used with caution if you are taking other medications esp. pain killers and birth control pills. I've seen the tincture be most effective as well as having a quicker effect (3 days) than capsules, even when they are standardized extracts. It seems especially effective in Michigan with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Most people use about 20 drops twice a day of the tincture in a bit of water.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is used or added to products for its reputation as a "menopause herb". It is often the first one that women try, which I actually do not advise as there are a number of other herbs that can be effective with less chance of side effects. Because these are herbs that a woman may be on for months or longer, it makes sense to try the herbs with lesser side effects first.

Saw Palmetto (Serenoa serrulata) is used by men to decrease or slow enlargement of the prostate. The action may be saw palmetto's affect on the levels of dehydrotestosterone, but I've heard differing opinions. There are no listed side effects, and the usual dose for a normal sized man would be 20 drops of the tincture in a bit of water once or twice a day. There should be a noteable improvement in both frequency as well as ability to fully empty the bladder within a week of using it. The other two causes for prostate enlargement are less common but should always be considered -- infection and cancer. My clients have had great success with using straight saw palmetto, the combination products should be used with care and consultation.

Garlic (Allium sativum) Fresh crushed garlic seems to be most effective for reducing cholesterol, as it allows the conversion of alliin into allicin which is believed to be effective for a small but significant cholesterol lowering action. Garlic has positive effects on the heart, digestive system, and more.

Ginger (Zingiber) see this article for recipe and anti-inflammatory effects. Also used as a tea for cough and cold, taken internally as well as as a compress applied to the chest or sinus area of the face (be sure not to drip it in your eyes. For best results when used as a compress keep applying the warm cloth for about 20 minutes.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) an ancient tree, the Medicinal preparation is made from the leaves. It has an affinity for helping with vascular insufficiency thus its reputation fro help with memory loss. About half the time or slightly less I've seen it help with some types of tinnitus. Because it is also a blood thinner, it should not be used in combination with other blood thinners or with some drugs or plants that lower high blood pressure, and of course if a person has bleeding problems such as heavy periods, ulcer, hemorrhoids, etc.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)- although these are certainly popular herbs, my feeling is they are overused. Valerian has fairly powerful central nervous system depressant effects. People respond differently to it, I find it difficult to drive a car after just 20 drops of the tincture. It is also contraindicated fro anyone using anti depressants and SSRIs. Which is a large number of people! Goldenseal is an endangered plant, and because of its antibiotic affect it is important to judge the dose properly which can be very difficult to do. There are many other herbs that are safer to use, just as effective, and that will not further endanger the plant. The routine use of goldenseal in toothpaste, lib balm and other products is very questionable.

Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) (Oenothera biennis) is a popular herb for women. Many of the same effects can be gained by using fish oil and flax seed oil or fresh ground seed, and they provide a better Omega 3/Omega 6 ration. The extra cost of using EPO doesn't seem to be justified compared to fish oil or especially flax seed. Borage oil has similar affects as well. I suggest people make the change.

Milk Thistle Seed Extract (Silybum marianum) is growing in popularity. It is protective of the liver, and can be helpful when the liver is stressed, I've seen it help tremendous as a person is receiving chemotherapy treatments. While it is often combined with dandelion, the effects of each plant are very different. Think of dandelion as a liver nourisher, milk thistle as the protector. Milk thistle may be have protective effects on the liver and improve its function. It is typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (esp. Hep C) and some gallbladder problems. There are numerous studies in progress, especially for its use in Hep C. Side effects are minimal, and it doesn't seem to interfere with liver function or drug metabolism. A common dose is 20 drops of the tincture twice a day in a bit of water. I've also known people to put 20-30 drops in a glass of water and sip it while receiving chemotherapy.






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