Herb Lore

I'll start with the standard warning. This page reflects only my own experiments using herbs on myself, family and friends. It is not an official medical study — the sample size isn't large enough and I used no controls. Because the only experimental subjects have been eager participants, you should also count psychological factors into the success of these experiments. My favorite herbal reference books are The Herb Book by John Lust and Menopausal Years by Susan Weed. I also use David L. Hoffman's CD-ROM The Herbalist. Now that you know I am not an authority, here is what I've found:

To Brew Tea from Herbs

Some herbs are stronger than tasting than others, and some batches of the same herb are more powerful than others, so you will have to experiment. As a general guideline, put one tablespoon dried herb (cut and sifted) or four tablespoons fresh herb into a teapot. Add 1 quart boiling or very hot water. Let steep for twenty minutes. This is long enough to extract the medicinal properties of the herbs and long enough to let the tea cool-off enough to drink.

Growing Herbs

Most herbs are weeds. You may already have them in your yard. And once you do plant herbs, most will come back year after year, either by sending up new shoots, or by reseeding themselves. Many will spread uncontrollably — soon you'll be able to give mint, raspberries, comfrey and other spreaders to your neighbors. Most herbs don't require the same high quality soil that vegetables demand. I throw my old steel cans into my raspberry patch because the rust keeps down the bindweed. Most herbs don't require much care. Be sure to cut down dead or diseased canes in the raspberry patch. Cut off the flowers on the basil if you want to prolong the leafing season. My mother has kept a basil plant alive and leafing for over a year by cutting off every flower before it can go to seed. In my experience, herbs require very little care. You can pick up to 10% of the leaves off a plant without harming it. Raspberry leaves continue to taste good after frost, but basil doesn't. Some herbs will simply refuse to grow in your yard. Angelica won't even sprout for me in potting soil, but alpine strawberries do. Growing herbs is much like herb medicine -you have to experiment with what works for you.

The diseases people bring to me fit into four categories:

  • Mucous Membranes
  • Female Reproductive Tract
  • Wounds and Infections
  • Digestion and Nervousness

Mucous Membranes

Mucous membrane diseases include colds, flu, vaginal and uterine infections, thrush, sore throats, and eye infections

Golden Seal Root Powder: This is a very powerful herb. It tastes terrible (unless you have a bad cold). It promotes healing throughout the body, anywhere there is a mucous membrane. If taken in overdose, it can cause blisters in the mouth and on other mucous membranes. I recommend taking one 00 capsule three times a day, with meals, no more frequently than at 4 hour intervals. If you have a beastly cold, you won't taste it anyway, so you could put a ½ teaspoonful into a teacup of hot water and drink it.

Fenugreek Seeds: Brew like cut and sifted herb tea above. This tea helps clear stuffed sinus. It also tastes good. You can also add a tablespoon of these seeds to 1 cup of rice before boiling — I even do that when I'm not sick because I like the flavor.

Garlic: Eating this herb will help clear sinuses. that's why you feel better after eating spicy Asian foods when you have a cold. The cayenne helps, too. You can eat it raw or cooked. You can slice it into pill-sized wedges and swallow them with juice or tea as if they were pills. Garlic is also excellent for clearing up itchy vaginal infections. Depending on how sore you are, you can peel one (be sure not to nick it) and use it directly as a suppository, or you can wrap it in cheese cloth to prevent direct contact with sore tissues. Or if the infection has just gotten started and not done much tissue damage yet, you can put the garlic into a blender with plain yogurt and blend until smooth. Then apply the garlic/yogurt mix with a baser or spoon. A garlic suppository placed against the uterus will help fight uterine infections. (This is the only thing that worked to clear up an IUD caused infection — after prescribed medicines failed.) The garlic suppository works especially well in combination with golden seal capsules taken by mouth.

Yogurt: Yogurts not an herb, but it belongs here as a folk remedy. Yogurt contains the same bacteria as a normal vagina. You can use yogurt to increase the population of the good bacteria and help them compete against the bad bacteria (bad here being defined as the ones that make women sore and itchy). You can use a blender or egg beater to make the yogurt smooth enough to apply to the walls of the vagina with a baser. Be sure to wear a sanitary pad with this — it will leak out and a tampon won't work. (Note: When you take penicillin or other antibiotic, the medicine kills your normal intestinal flora (many of which are also the yogurt bacteria.) If you eat yogurt while you take penicillin, you will have fewer digestive problems.)

Peppermint: This herb can be added to any other tea. It tastes good and it helps fight fever. It also helps many herbs, such as catnip and fenugreek, get to work faster. I particularly recommend mixing it with raspberry leaves to reduce menstrual flow and mitigate cramps. The only caution I have here is for those people who have mint allergies.

Hyssop: This herb makes a pleasant tasting tea that helps clear sinuses.

Slippery Elm Bark: Tea made from this herb feels great on a sore throat and helps it heal.

Red Root or Jersey Tea: Tea from this herb doesn't feel good right away on a sore throat, but it does help it heal faster. You'll notice the results about eight hours after you drink it.

Comfrey (root or leaves): Before using this tea, or any tea, for an eye bath be sure to strain it through a folded handkerchief or several layers of paper towel. If you are using a handkerchief, it is a good idea to boil or even pressure cook it before pouring tea through it. Comfrey is soothing for inflamed eyes and conjunctivitis. The easiest way I've found to apply herbs is to dip a washcloth in the strained herb and lay the cloth over closed eyes, while you lie on your back. Enough of the tea will seep into the eyes to be effective. Put a towel under your head to catch the drips. This herb also promotes skin growth on scrapes, cuts, burns and bruises. Do not let the leaves contact any part of the body for any extended period of time — the leaves promote skin growth, and skin will grow right to the leaf in a matter of hours.

Eyebright: Some people find this herb more effective than comfrey for relief of bloodshot eyes. Also, there are some people who believe that the use of herbs to improve the eyes will also improve clairvoyance.

Female Reproductive Tract

Treatments of the female reproductive tract includes infertility, pregnancy, menstrual distress, excessive uterine bleeding, and unpleasant menopausal symptoms

Red Raspberry Leaves: Tea from this herb helps the uterus reabsorb, rather than slough the monthly lining. Thus it reduces bleeding and cramping. It contains calcium. Whenever muscle contracts or relaxes, it uses calcium. This herb is useful to strengthen the uterus during pregnancy, to relieve the Braxton-Hicks contractions of late pregnancy, and to make early labor more comfortable. Several American Indian tribes claim that the use of this herb starting at the third month of pregnancy will give a short labor. The flavor blends well with peppermint and catnip.

Chamomile Flowers: Tea from this herb will often start a late period if no pregnancy has occurred. It is not an abortifacient. It relieves menstrual cramps, but increases menstrual flow. It also helps many women who have menstrual related insomnia. If you are going to drink this tea during your menstrual period be sure to wear a maxi pad even if you are wearing a tampon. Some women react very powerfully to this herb.

Blue Cohosh Root: This is a multipurpose herb. Fair warning — it is an abortifacient in the first trimester. (It doesn't always cause miscarriage, but enough books warn of this that the warning must be passed on.) This herb is a powerful laxative, and it will work during labor so you won't have to endure an enema. It will start labor if the bag of water has broken. This herb softens the cervix, so most books don't recommend drinking the tea during pregnancy unless you are trying to induce labor. It also shortens labor. The tea tastes a bit like mud. Then again, I used it with my second pregnancy and had a one-hour labor.

False Unicorn Root (Helonius Root): Everybody asks, so I'll answer up front — I've never seen a true unicorn root. I've only had occasion to give this herb to three women. Two of them got pregnant (which was what they wanted). This herb is the one the books recommend most often for infertility. The books also recommend that both partners eat lots of raw wheat germ sprinkled on all their meals. And they recommend that men who want to father children wear boxer shorts to keep their testicles cool. Sperm swim best when they are three degrees below body temperature.

Sheppard’s Purse Leaves: Tea brewed from this herb substantially reduces uterine bleeding, either during the menstrual period or postpartum. It tastes good with a mixture of raspberry leaves and peppermint leaves. It also relieves some of the discomfort of menopause. This tea can also be applied to wounds to speed clotting and reduce external bleeding.

Nettles: Nettles are high in iron. Nettle tea simply makes periods more comfortable. Remember, having a period is work. You can make it less work by eating correctly for your body, and by taking herbs that benefit you. Still, don't expect to feel like you do the rest of the month. Kelp pills are also a good source of iron. Both kelp and nettles help during menopause, too.

Burdock: This herb as a reputation as a male aphrodisiac. Obviously, I can't try it on myself, and none of the men I know are comfortable talking about whether it worked for them. So I'll have to say that use is still speculative and experimental. More documented uses include the secretory and excretory systems. It helps the liver and kidneys, which have extra strain during pregnancy.

Addenda: Comfrey will heal vaginal tearing or cesarean stitches. I used it to heal the stitches in my belly button and pubic region after I got my tubes cut. Catnip will help take the edge off the tension that goes with the hormonal changes that occur with the menstrual period, pregnancy, and post parturition. Catnip tea (with a little cinnamon) is good for babies who won't sleep. So is vacuuming under their cribs or putting them on a running dryer. Vitamin E and olive oil will soothe stretched skin. Do not eat sage or drink sage tea when you are nursing. It will reduce the milk production. But if you are trying to dry up, sage is great. Anise, basil, dill, fennel, hops, and parsley will increase milk production. Nursing will cause cramps, but it reduces uterine bleeding. I recommend drinking raspberry and peppermint leaf tea before or during nursing. Other herbs for menopause are balm, rosemary, hops, chervil and lady's mantle.

Wounds and Infections

Yellow Dock Root: This herb is not normally used internally. It is a drawing herb. It will help draw an infection to the surface and will stimulate blood flow to an infected area. This herb tea is best used as hot as you can stand it, paired with ice water. The technique is to alternate soaking the affected part alternately in the hot yellow dock tea and then in the ice water. This can be done in tea cups or small bowls for small body parts like ear lobes, fingers and toes. For larger parts, apply the hot tea and ice water with wash cloths.

Aloe Vera: I don't recommend internal use of this herb. The useful part is the juice of the cactus-like leaf. You can have a plant, or buy the bottled juice. The juice speeds healing of burns and bruises, and makes them more comfortable. If you have a wound, it will help pull the edges of the skin together. Don't worry — your skin will still fit when you are healed. Apply the juice freely to the affected area. (Note: Fluoride toothpaste is also good to put on burns — it stops the pain instantly and speeds healing.)

Lobelia Herb: This herb is not recommended for internal use — it can cause vomiting. Externally it's great to relieve swelling and itching from bee stings. You can use either the tea, or a warm oil extract. Put a few spoonfuls of salad oil in a small pan. Add a spoonful of dried lobelia herb and heat until warm. The warm oil will feel soothing, and it will stick to the bee sting better than tea. If you strain the oil, it can also be used to relieve ear aches.

Onion: Onion is good to lower blood pressure, and reduce fever. But a little known use is treatment of ear aches. Steam an onion. Cut it in half. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, place the steamy onion against an achy ear. It stimulates blood circulation to the area and brings relief.

Lemon: The active form of this herb is the fresh squeezed juice. You can use bottled juice if necessary. Often an ear aches because the eustachian tube is blocked with mucous. Drinking even a few spoonfuls of lemon juice will often unblock the eustachian tubes and let the ear drain, thus relieving the pressure that caused the pain. Use this herb sparingly because in quantity, it can damage tooth enamel. Lemon juice is also useful to stop itching hemorrhoids and help them shrink. (Warning: It can sting when first applied, but it's worth it.)

Cubeb Berries: This herb is also called Java Pepper and is a member of the black pepper family. It is a diuretic, and as such is very useful in fighting bladder infections. It is even more effective when used in conjunction with peach leaves. I use 1 part cubeb berries to 4 parts peach leaves. If you have a bladder infection, it helps to drink a quart a day of this tea. Also, try to reduce your sugar intake during a bladder infection, because your body will excrete the sugar and the bacteria that are causing the infection will eat the sugar and their population will increase. Some people like to drink cranberry juice cocktail during a bladder infection, too.

Addenda: Comfrey leaf and golden seal root, powdered fine, can be sprinkled into a wound (like kitchen accidents) to stop the bleeding and promote healing. Sheppard’s purse also helps stop bleeding for internal and external wounds. Comfrey will promote healing of all cuts, tears, scrapes, bruises and burns.

Digestion and Nervousness

Catnip: This herb does the opposite to people as it does to cats. Mixed with chamomile it will enable a sufferer of D.T.s to get some sleep. Mixed with peppermint it is a pleasant tasting tea to serve to a guest whom you don't know very well. This tea will also stop diarrhea — even tourista! It is a handy tea to drink when you are going to a job interview or after a hectic day. It calms the digestive tract, relieves colic in babies, and takes the edge off anxiety.

Babies often prefer it mixed with cinnamon.

Cinnamon: This herb promotes digestion. Children often like to chew a stick of cinnamon when they have upset stomachs. Cinnamon cookies are good to end a meal.

Addenda: The following herbs also help digestion: anise, chamomile, caraway, carrot, cayenne, comfrey, coriander, cubeb berries, dandelion, dill, fennel, garlic, hops, hyssop, parsley, peppermint, rosemary (which also makes a good hair rinse and helps promote hair growth after radiation treatment — mix with sage for best results), sage, marjoram, and rhubarb.

More Information

95% of all diseases go away by themselves. In most cases, when you use herbs, you are only speeding that recovery. Most herbs work more slowly than prescribed medicines. So if you are in pain or have an emergency, you don't have time to play with herbs. Herbs are pleasant and inexpensive and fun to play with when you have time. If your disease is not an emergency, or if it is not responding to standard medical treatment, or if you just want to help other medical treatments along, the above is enough to help you get started. Please — don't use the above as a replacement for regular medical care. I don't want you to be sick!

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