• Julia Davies

How herbs work so awesomely well


All plants, including fruit and veggies, have tens of thousands of naturally occurring chemicals that have beneficial effects on our body. One example are Bioflavonoids found in fruits. As antioxidants, they are good for the cardiovascular system, and cleaning up free radical damage.


Herbal effects


When herbs are used to treat disease, we first look at the actions or effects of the herbs. The actions are often self-explanatory - anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal - but sometimes they come from olden times, when herbs were used as commonplace to treat illness.


A herb with a demulcent action is soothing to mucus membranes, and thus useful for treating gastrointestinal or respiratory diseases. Carminative herbs treat digestive issues such as indigestion, flatulence or burping, or even colic in babies.


Usually, a few actions are required to treat disease effectively. Some herbs have actions that are specific to body systems, like lung herbs or reproductive system herbs. Others have a wide variety of effects, which is how come one herb can be used to treat many diseases.


Although lots of herbs share similar actions - anti-inflammatory and antioxidant are quite common in a few herbs - one will have additional effects that another does not have. This means that there’s usually more than one herb to choose from to treat a disease, but there will always be another that would be more effective for certain diseases. Below are some examples to illustrate these points:


Herb: Actions/Effects of herb: Used for:

St Mary’s Thistle Antioxidant, protective effect on liver cells Liver disease (Milk Thistle) Increases production of bile Improve digestion of fats


Schisandra Protective effect on liver cells Liver disease

Antidepressant, tones and calms nervous Depression, anxiety

system

Helps improve physical performance and Stress (physical,

resistance to stress emotional or mental), endurance

Reduces amount or severity of coughing Chronic coughs, asthma


Rosemary Antioxidant, antimicrobial Infections

Carminative, anti-spasmodic (relieves Flatulence,indigestion

muscular spasm) abdominal cramps

Circulatory stimulant Poor circulation

Protective effect on liver cells Liver disease


Lavender Carminative, anti-spasmodic (relieves Flatulence,indigestion,

muscular spasm) abdominal cramps

Antidepressant, anxiolytic (reduces anxiety) Depression, insomnia, anxiety


Considering the herbs above, Schisandra would be a perfect herb to use for someone with liver damage from alcohol or drugs who was trying to stop these, as they would need support for depression and anxiety when withdrawing.


St Mary’s Thistle and Rosemary would also benefit someone coming off alcohol or drugs in respect of repairing the liver, but it would not have the same effect on lifting their spirits. Lavender and Rosemary can both be used for gastrointestinal issues, but Lavender can also be used for depression and anxiety, whereas Rosemary can be used for the cardiovascular system.

 

As an aside, the Russians gave Schisandra to their WW2 soldiers to keep their stamina and endurance up. If you are struggling with energy or are stressed out, this would be an excellent herb for you, amongst others. 


Herbs vs Pharmaceuticals


Many pharmaceutical drugs are based on herbs - pharmaceutical companies have tested and isolated some of the herb’s many thousands of naturally occurring chemicals to find any ‘actives’. The ‘actives’ are the chemicals that have a therapeutic effect on the body in treating disease.


Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical companies synthetically produce the active molecule in a lab to produce pills, but in doing so, they miss out on the thousands of other chemicals which are also thought to have a beneficial synergistic effect.


The beauty of herbs is that there are no side effects. Some herbs can even enhance the effects of pharmaceutical drugs, like Ginger, which increases the absorption of pharmaceuticals. Some herbs negate the negative side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, an example being gentle laxative herbs taken when taking pharmaceutical drugs containing codeine to counteract the side effect of constipation from these drugs.


If you are taking beta-blockers or other blood pressure lowering medication, taking Hawthorn berry extract might mean you can slowly reduce the pharmaceutical drugs – under supervision of your practitioner, of course! This is because Hawthorn enhances the effect of the pharmaceutical drug’s blood pressure lowering effect. 


Some herbs can interact with certain medications - St John’s Wort is one of the worst offenders of this, and can cause the oral contraceptive pill not to work. Some immune suppressant herbs are not advisable to take for some cancer patients, or it may actually improve outcome of treatment, depending on the type of cancer.


Whether your level is too high or too low, herbs will balance things out, working with your unique biochemical synergy to restore that balance, as required, with no nasty unwanted side effects.


Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, herbs don’t raise or lower levels of things. Rather, herbs restore balance according to what is necessary. Meadowsweet is a herb used as an antacid to balance excess stomach acid, heartburn or reflux. In this case, pharmaceutical drugs would reduce the amount of stomach acid produced, often by too much. One of the knock-on effects in this case is proteins not being properly digested by the stomach acid, and undigested proteins cause further problems.


How to take herbs


This depends on what needs treating. Bladder problems are great to treat with herbal tea, as the liquid is urinated out and in doing so, passes through the bladder. A lot of people think herbal tea is weak – yes, herbal teas are gentle but they are also very effective, and perfect for children. Get your child used to them from an early age so that you can use herbs on them as they grow up. Elder flower is sweet-smelling and sweet-tasting, Chamomile and Licorice are also nice ones to start with, and you can also get nice tasting blends in the supermarket.


Liquid herbal extracts were the traditional way herbs were prepared, and the right part of the herb must be used to get the desired therapeutic effect, eg. leaf, bark, berry, flower. This is because different parts contain different active chemicals.


Alcohol was, and still is, used as the solvent to extract the herbal constituents by steeping the herb in the alcohol for at least 2 weeks. The liquid is drained, being the alcoholic extract, and herb discarded. The potency of the extracts can depend on the quality of the herb, how it was grown, what kind of soil it was grown in, etc. 

It should be noted that with alcoholic extracts, the amount of alcohol consumed is negligible and far outweighed by the amazingly therapeutic effects of the herbs.


Non-alcoholic extracts are available, but may not work as well. This is because alcohol not only extracts the required constituents for the herb to work best, but it bypasses digestion as it goes straight to the liver for processing. 


Herbal tablets are a great way of getting all the herbal goodness into you, however, they need to pass through the digestive tract to be absorbed, so some of it is lost. This means it takes a little longer for the herb to work than liquid extracts, although they still work reasonably quickly and very effectively.


An advantage of herbal tablets is that herbs are powdered and put into capsules or pressed into pills, meaning that all the chemicals are in the tablets, compared to liquid herbal extracts which contain only the chemicals that can be extracted by alcohol.


I hope this was an interesting read and that you will reach for herbs in the first instance, and the pharmaceuticals when really needed, especially antibiotics! They are a huge medical problem, and avoidable when there are so many highly antibiotic herbs, so strong that the pharmaceutical companies are currently testing them out!  If you would like more info, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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© 2020 Julia Davies Medical Herbalist