Herbs have been used as medicinal remedies for centuries! Go into the Bible and you’ll see frankincense and myrrh mentioned, not only as gifts to the Christ child (Matthew 2:11) but in numerous other places along with aloes, bitter herbs, coriander, hyssop, cumin, garlic, mint, wormwood, fennel and rosemary.
The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of people in the world today depend on plant remedies to treat common ailments. So what exactly are herbs? An herb is defined as “a plant that is valued for flavor, scent, or other qualities. Herbs are used in cooking, as medicines, and for spiritual purposes.”
Many healing traditions, such as Ayurveda (traditional Indian), Asian, Native American, Traditional Chinese Medicine and naturopathic traditions rely on medicinal herbs.
You probably use herbs to flavor your meals every day. That, by the way, is a great way to reap the benefits of many herbs and spices – simply include them in your food! I would like to give you an overview of herbal supplements here. First of all, in a very general way, herbal supplements that are used for medicinal purposes fall into two broad categories: tonic and stimulating.
Tonic herbs help cells, tissues and organs to maintain balance. Some tonics invigorate physical processes and others nourish organs and tissues so that they function optimally. Examples of tonic herbs are ginseng, astragalus, turmeric ashwagandha, green tea, rhodiola, ginger. In general tonic herbs are taken regularly for at least 3 months to strengthen and improve overall health or to address specific issues. They are gentle in action.
Stimulating herbs have stronger actions and are used in treating specific conditions. These are generally taken in smaller doses, for shorter periods of time. Examples of stimulating herbs are maca, guarana, gotu kola, damiana.
Herbal remedies are used in several different forms, including these: Essential oils, which are highly concentrated extracts. They can irritate mucous membranes and stomach lining if taken internally, so they are usually used only externally.
Extracts are considered to be the most effective form because their active ingredients are more concentrated and they can be standardized to a guaranteed potency. This form has a long shelf life and retains almost all of the plant’s benefits.
Tinctures are produced when the herb is soaked in a solvent like alcohol or glycerol and pressed to release the tincture. These preserve the active ingredients for up to one year. Powders are dried herbs that have been ground to a fine consistency. These can be added into your food, into a liquid or taken in capsule form.
Teas and infusions can virtually be made from any plant. You can find many herbal teas in your local health food and grocery store. These are excellent for relieving mild to moderate complaints such as sore throat, stuffy nose and upset stomach. The herbs are steeped in hot water so their active ingredients are dissolved into the water and then strained before drinking.
Decoctions are teas which have been made from thicker plant parts like the roots, bark, seeds or berries. Their medicinal ingredients are more difficult to dissolve in water so they must be more vigorously boiled and mashed.