What is Herbalism?
Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy. The scope of herbal medicine is sometimes extended to include fungal and bee products, as well as minerals, shells and certain animal parts. *
*Acharya, Deepak and Shrivastava Anshu (2008): Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices, Aavishkar Publishers Distributor, Jaipur- India. ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7. pp 440.
Good Herbalism Books
Book: The New Age Herbalist – This is simply be best reference book on modern herbalism I have ever seen. Literally. Full color photos of herbs in both live and processed states, uses, active chemical ingredients. It’s simply a must-have. This is the one book in my library I will never loan out because I know it will never come back home. It’s that good. Find a copy!
Book: A Druid’s Herbal – Great book from a great author. Great information and good history. Has both medicinal and metaphysical uses. Not a complete reference but darn good info.
Book: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers – This is in my opinion a ground breaking and revolutionary book. It spans the gap between medicinal herbalism and brewing. Learn to make beers and meads with healing properties. BEER THAT’S GOOD FOR YOU!
Book: Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs – Great metaphysical reference for all things herbal. Fairly complete. I’ve gone back to it many times since I first read it. Well worth the money.
Book: Herbalism 101 (My free book) My personal handout used for Herbalism 101 classes. All the basic information needed from some of the greatest authors out on the topic. All sources are cited. Educational purposes only.
What are essential oils?
Here’s a good primer on Wikipedia – Essential oils.
Here’s the short and sweet of it. Herbs are mother nature’s cure. I believe there is a natural and/or herbal cure for just about everything that’s ever wrong with us if it’s a natural disorder to begin with. Chemically speaking, it’s not really the plant itself that does all that much (though you can make metaphysical arguments all day). It’s the active chemical compounds in the plants themselves that work the magic. Essential oils are the extracts from the these herbs. They are the active chemicals concentrated down.
Think of it this way. If you take cranberry tea for a UI infection or make a lavender poultice for a burn using an essential oil is like doing that 100 times over. You get quicker and more profound effects using essential oils than you do using raw herbs.
A word on quality and purity:
This is of the utmost importance. Really it is. We’re talking life and death here. Do NOT trust your health to any over-the-counter oils you buy in a health food store. That goes doubly for any oils found in any magic or metaphysical shop. These oils are often cut with thinners to increase profit. These thinners are not always meant for medicinal use and can often cause serious harm when ingested or even used topically.
Other considerations are how the oil was harvested. Were the plants organically grown? Are they certified organic? Were pesticides used? Were the oils tested for purity? What distillation process was used to extract the oil from the plants. These factors make HUGE differences in the quality and effectiveness of the oils and herbs in question. Pesticides cause disease and cancer (and worse) and improperly extracting oils from the plants can destroy the delicate active chemicals in the oil.
Shopping for herbs and oils:
There are a few things to look for and questions to ask when shopping for herbs and oils for medicinal.
- Look for a brand label. Shops very often buy inferior bulk oils and bend them in the shop. These are usually easily recognized by a lack of uniform and legal labeling.
- Do they say certified organic or organic?
- Are the oils stored in clear bottles? No essential oil should ever be stored in a bottle that allows in light. Light can break down the active chemicals in an oil.
- Are the oils steam distilled using the minimum amount of heat necessary? Heat destroys the chemicals in oil. Citrus oils are especially sensitive. Any citrus oil should be extracted using a cold-pressed method.
- Were they distilled in non-reactive containers like glass, ceramic, enamel or stainless steel?
- Are they labeled therapeutic grade? Therapeutic grade oils are generally safe for internal use (been using them for years). I wouldn’t trust ANY oils that are not labeled therapeutic grade.
- Do they taste like the plant? This is the real ringer. Any lab can engineer a chemical to smell like something else, but taste is the real winner here. Orange oil should taste and smell like oranges, etc. If it tastes like a chemical it probably is a chemical. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend going around taste testing tea tree or lavender oil.
Make your own:
The best way to do this stuff is to grow your own herbs and make your own tinctures and or decoctions. (instructions in the free primer link at the top of this page). It’s simple and easy to do and is the time-honored way to preserve the healing properties of herbs.
You should note though that tinctures and decoctions are much less concentrated that essential oils. They work but they’re not nearly as potent. I highly recommend using essential oils over decoctions on things like burns, breaking fevers or any chronic conditions or anything that is time sensitive. Essential oils simply work faster and are more effective.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t grow your own, just keep the good stuff handy when needed.
Where to buy Quality?
Producing essential oils on your own is not really an option. It takes somewhere on the order of ½ a ton of rose pedals to make ONE pound of high quality rose oil. I don’t know about you but I don’t have ½ a ton of rose pedals laying around. Essential oils require volume and they also require special distilling equipment, and you have to know how to use that equipment.
Therefore, I have to admit that having an emergency supply of store-bought essential oils on hand is… well it’s essential. So where do you buy?
OK, I don’t do this often but I’m about to blatantly endorse a product. I don’t do this lightly, but I’ve been using these folks for years and they are just top notch as far as quality.
Check out Mountain Rose Herbs
- Organically grown
- Sustainably harvested
- Therapeutic grade
- Lab Tested
- Reasonably priced
I personally use them both for oils and for raw herbs (medicinal and cooking).
The only close competition I know of is Young Living essential oils, but good luck with their prices. They’re also not sustainably harvested to my knowledge. They do have good quality oils though. Personally, I’d go with Mountain Rose Herbs all the way.
Herbal First Aid Kit:
Here is a great article on putting together a top notch herbal first aid kit. Every home should have one of these. I recommend having the essential oils on hand, obviously.
Here are a few of the herbs recommended in the kit and a few I suggest adding as well.Note: dosages below are for Tinctures / decoctions not for essential oils. Essential oils are MUCH more potent that Tinctures and decoctions. Always consult a doctor before using any course of treatment.
Lavender. Absolutely outstanding for burns. Stops pain almost instantly and seriously promotes healing of burns. This should be in EVERY kitchen on the planet.
Arnica. This external remedy makes a great massage liniment for sore and cramped muscles. It will decrease pain and prevent swelling and bruising associated with torn ligaments, sprains, crushed fingers and toes, and broken bones — provided the skin is not broken. Arnica works best if applied immediately after an injury and continued every couple hours for the first day.
Cayenne. Five to ten drops diluted in two ounces of water can be used internally for frostbite and hypothermia. It moves the blood from the center of the body to the peripheral areas, warming hands and feet. A couple drops under the tongue will help to revive someone in shock or trauma. Used externally for heavily bleeding lacerations, it will coagulate the blood to stanch the flow (though it stings a mite). Warning: Do NOT GET IN THE EYES! Think pepper spray extra strength.
Valerian. As an antispasmodic and painkiller, this herb relieves intestinal and menstrual cramps, headaches and general aches or pains. As a nervine, it will bring sleep to an exhausted person. The dosage range is 30 to 60 drops.
Echinacea. Besides possessing the ability to increase the supply of white blood cells to an infected area, thus boosting the immune system, echinacea is also antibiotic and antibacterial to gram positive bacteria such as strep or staph. It’s helpful with fevers, poisoning, or any type of internal infection and has reportedly been used for poisonous insect and snake bites by many native Plains tribes. Echinacea is a good preventative and supportive herb for the onset of the flu or common cold. The dosage ranges from 30 to 60 drops, the higher ranges used for fevers and acute situations. For toothaches, it can be massaged into the surrounding gums and teeth. For poisonous bites, 60 drops every 15 minutes is appropriate.
Milk thistle combination. This can include milk thistle, burdock and kelp in equal parts. An alternative to chaparral that acts to leach heavy metals and radiation toxicity from the thyroid, blood, and liver as well as protects the liver against further damage. Good to take before and after dental x-rays and after taking Tylenol or Advil.
Note: link actually goes to a dandylion blend, but it does the same thing.
Quassia. As an antimicrobial, this herb is traditionally used for bacterial diarrhea, dysentery, and giardia — a lower gastrointestinal complaint contracted by drinking contaminated water. The standard dose is three to five droppersful every six hours. To treat suspected bad water, add 30 drops to each quart of water.
Note: link goes to a blend that does the same thing.
Slippery elm capsules. Used for food poisoning, this powder combines and buffers poisons in the stomach and bowels to decrease toxic absorption. It can soothe mucous membranes and settle an upset stomach.
Ginger root capsules. Use two caps for motion and morning sickness. It’s also effective for nausea caused by flu or bad food.
Marshmallow-peppermint oil capsules. This is an easy-to-make combination of four parts marshmallow powder to one part peppermint oil. The powder in this formula is basically a vehicle for the peppermint oil to reach the small intestines without dissolving in the stomach. The capsules reduce intestinal cramping that can accompany any gastrointestinal tract infection. For children not able to swallow capsules, you can dissolve the contents in four cups of juice or sweetened water.
Peppermint. A little on the temples can help you stay awake and a few drops in water will settle an upset stomach.
Tea tree oil. Called a “first aid kit in a bottle,” tea tree (Melaleuca leucadendron) oil has strong antifungal and antibiotic properties with antiseptic abilities. It can be used for fungal infections, pus-filled wounds or burns, cold sores, and herpes lesions. For use with earaches and on sensitive skin, dilute with equal parts olive oil. Use sparingly — tea tree oil goes a long way.
*Note: the information presented on this page is in no way intended as medical advice. Always consult a qualified physician before beginning treatment of any condition.