How to Succeed with Healing Herbs
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In our article How Herbs Work, we discussed the wholistic principles of herbal healing. Here we will look at how you can use herbs with success. We will also look at common misuderstandings that keep people from having success with herbal healing. First, the pitfalls of incorrect use:
Why people fail in their use of herbs
- Don't take the herbs
- Lack of proper amount or dose
- Don't take herbs long enough
- Fail to take herbs at right time
- Don't take herbs the right way
- Take the wrong kind of herbs
The Rules of Success for Herbal Healing
- The first rule of success when taking herbs is: Take the herbs!
Believe it or not, the biggest reason that patients or the public have unsuccessful experiences with herbs is that they buy products and don't take them. The bottle of capsules or tincture sits on the shelf or counter and remains unused. Sometimes this happens because part of the population does not like taking pills. Other reasons can include they don't like the taste of a tea or tincture. If they are cleansing, there might be a fear of having diarrhea, or not being able to eat fun foods on a vacation. Some people are not able to accommodate change in their lives even if it means that taking an herb or changing the diet will make them feel better.
Key Points on Taking Herbs
If you don't like the taste of a tea, you can take other kinds of herbs; you can add honey, or add herbs that make the formula taste better. If taking a tincture, we recommend taking 1 dropper in 1 ounce of water (a shot glass). You can also take herbal syrups or glycerites–they can be tasty; even children can take them. If you don't like capsules either because you're swallowing lots of pills everyday or they're hard to swallow, you can open the capsules or grind tablets and add the herbs to foods or smoothies. If you can't do any of the above, we recommend soaking your hands or feet in herbal tea! Soaking is a time-honored folk remedy that works just fine.
- The second rule of success when taking herbs is: Take the recommended dosage.
The second consideration is taking the right amount of the herbs. The "dose" of herbs you take will vary depending on your goal: health restoration, performance, or complimentary (disease) care. The amount of herbs also depends on how long you've had a set of symptoms–acute or chronic problems.
Most herbal products have a recommended dosage of 2 capsules, 3 times a day. At our office we frequently recommend formulas be taken 2 capsules, 2 times a day.
- The suggested amount of tinctures or extracts is usually 20 to 40 drops (one dropper full), 2 to 5 times a day.
- Teas are anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 cup, 3 to 4 times a day.
- Syrups and glycerites are often given in 1 Tablespoon doses, 2 to 3 times a day.
- Soaks are usually 1 time a day.
Most products have a recommended dosage. If you are coming to our office for herbal consultations you will be given a recommended dosage.
Key Points on Dosage of Herbs
Some people do not like following recipes. That's OK in the kitchen if you are a good cook. When taking herbs, unless you have experience, the rule of thumb is to follow the recipe you've been given. Take the herbs as recommended, unless you suspect that you are feeling "off" when you take them, or are transitioning to a maintenance dose. If you are working in consultation with a professional, they may have you taking varying doses. A professional has a good idea about how much to take.
- The third rule of success when taking herbs is: Chronic problems may takes months or years to heal.
The third most important factor in taking herbs is how long they should be taken. If you have an acute health situation, like a cold, a bruise, or a simple rash, then you are going to take herbs for 24 to 48 hours before stopping. If you have a chronic long term problem, you are going to take herbs for many weeks or months. An example: a person has hemorrhoids for two months and decides to use herbs to help them heal. This person can probably take herbs for several weeks or a month or two with good results. Another person with hemorrhoids may have had them 20 years. This person needs to take herbs for many months, and possibly as long as a year to restore health.
This may not sound encouraging to some, but what if regular medicine can't help a condition, and something natural can? Isn't some help or healing over a long period of time better than no healing at all?
Key Points on Taking Herbs Long Enough
Taking herbs for a long period of time for chronic conditions is how herbs work best. Most herbs are mild. They are not drugs. It takes time for the body to do a course correction.
- The fourth rule of success when taking herbs is: Take the herbs at the right time.
A brief word should be said about timing. Herbs are best taken 2 to 4 times a day. In a typical regimen at our office this means, ideally, 1 dose in morning and evening. That's our approach for chronic conditions. Some herbs or products are best taken 3 to 4 times a day. If you are working with an acute cold or sore throat, you should probably take echinacea 1 dropper full every hour or two over a whole day. It sounds like a lot, but that's what herbalists recommend to get the herbs to work.
Key Points on Timing of Herbs
Most herbs should be taken on an empty stomach. This can be before breakfast and near bedtime or between meals if taking 3 to 4 doses a day. If you feel the herbs in your gut, you can take them with food. Whatever it takes, get them in your body. Don't skip a dose because it's inconvenient.
Don't take tonics when you are sick. Take more cleansing herbs when you have acute problems. The overall goal for timing herbs, and taking them multiple times a day, is to keep them active in your system to keep your tissues healing.
- The fifth rule of success when taking herbs is: Take herbs in a way that works best for your situation.
The form you take herbs in is important. We have discussed here some of the ways to take herbs: teas, tinctures, syrups, soaks, and capsules.
In general the rule is that acute problems require faster, stronger absorption of herbs. Acute remedies that are fast acting come in the form of tinctures and teas. Both are extracts, one alcohol and one water, so they absorb into the system faster. You would probably get better results taking echinacea in tincture form than taking capsules if you have an acute cold.
Key Points on Which Form to Take Herbs
Chronic problems allow more leeway and can be worked using all the forms of herbal therapy–capsules are good, as are teas, but extracts and tinctures can be used also. External applications of herbs like soaks, packs, or fomentations, can be used with acute or chronic conditions. If you can not tolerate taking herbs internally, we would recommend herbal soaks.
- The sixth rule of success when taking herbs is: Take the right kind of herbs.
In Folk Healing, people sometimes use medical terms (whether correct or not!), but usually are thinking about relief of symptoms such as "my joints ache when it gets cold." At this level you may need to try a number of different remedies until you meet success. That is a time-honored folk healing style.
If you are doing more refined research, which means looking at books and sites on the Internet that are not geared towards just selling you something, then you are probably tapping into clinical or science-based herbal healing. This is probably going to yield some good ideas. Once again you may have to try a number of remedies, but it will be worth the time.
If you are working with an herbalist or natural healthcare practitioner, then they will make recommendations to you. This will possibly be based on folk healing, scientific herbology, traditional herbal knowledge, and clinical experience. This is a process of relationship with the healer, who ideally has an informed viewpoint and is looking out for your best interests. Most of the time an experienced herbalist is going to choose the right remedy or formula because of past experience or herbal tradition. It still may be necessary to try a number of remedies.
Key Points on Taking the Right Herbs
This brings us back to Cleansing, Regulation, and Tonification. Whether you take a formula or a single herb tea or extract, it will help you if you think of balancing the body rather than a diagnosis. It takes time to learn the "knack" of herbal healing but here are some ideas to help you pick the right remedy or formula.
- Pick herbs that support the health of body system or organ.
- Start off with cleansing, particularly the organs of elimination like the colon, liver, skin, kidneys or work with blood purification.
- If the body is too stressed and weak, use herbal tonics to build strength and energy.
- Some herbs are both cleansers and energy builders; those are good herbs to take if you don't know which way to go.
- Single herbs are best for acute problems, formulas with lots of herbs are best for chronic problems.
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