WHAT I’VE LEARNED SO FAR ABOUT THE MASSIVE HEALTH BENEFITS OF HERBS – A GUIDE FOR TOTAL BEGINNERS (LIKE ME!)

Your health & wellness is the foundation to a balanced lifestyle. It includes the foods you eat, the medicines you take, and how you take care of yourself via exercise and treatments when necessary.

What you give your body determines what it can give back to you, which is why at ETL, I’m so focused on natural, wholesome and wholistic approaches to self-care.

This journey has led me back to wholistic health care time and time again. Specifically, using a plant-based approach to daily health habits, and then expanding that approach to a treat a range of physiological symptoms

In this post, I’ll discuss how herbal medicine and remedies can introduce so many different health & wellness benefits into your lifestyle, and how you can easily get started. I’m not a certified herbalist or botanist — so don’t expect expert analysis or any kind of diagnosis or prescribed treatment in this post or the ones to follow.

What you can expect is an honest and simple breakdown of the basics I have learned about herbal self-care, the ways it can improve your health and daily life, and simple ways to incorporate it into your diet and routine.

So where did I start learning about herbs?

From THIS BOOKBody into Balance: an Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by clinical herbalist Maria Noel Groves. The book breaks down all the different targeted health benefits from different categories of herbs, provides a thorough list of a variety of plants – plus how to get them and how to use them – and provides a basic template for creating your own herbal remedies. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who wants to really start diving in to herbal healthcare.

But before we keep going….WHY herbal remedies?

Well there are a multitude of reasons to try out herbal medicine, but it comes to down the fact that they are safe, natural and effective.

  1. It’s a safe and natural way to supplement your health, and treat a wide range of every day issues and help you look and feel your very best always. 
  2. You have complete knowledge and control of what you are putting into your body.
  3. Many herbs treat a range of issues, so it’s easy to target a variety of health goals at once. 
  4. Herbs promote self healing within the body, rather than provide external treatment like medicine does.
  5. Many have modulating effects, meaning they can balance you, providing more or less of whatever nutrient or function is needed.
  6. They often work to increase the benefits of whatever traditional medicines you are taking when used responsibly.

The health benefits of herbs are limitless! From general health, to stress relief, sleep issues, to specific health conditions, a plant-based approach can help your body learn how to heal itself and get stronger in a variety of ways.

GENERAL NUTRITION 

Herbs can provide a range of vitamins and minerals to your diet, and many of them we already use frequently when cooking. But there are several super-nutritive herbs out there that can be used in tinctures (concentrated drops), teas, or even soups, stews, pestos, etc. (get creative). Some of the more notable ones include:

  • Seaweed
  • Dandelion
  • Rosehips
  • Nettle
  • Calendula

STRESS

Stress causes your body to release adrenaline, and then cortisol, which zaps your energy. Adaptagens help the body adapt to every day stress so it doesn’t produce the stress response so often (they come in many forms, some make you feel calm, others energize you.)

Cup of herbal tea with various herbs on wooden table
  • Uppers:
    • ginseng
    • rhodiola
    • codonopsis
    • eleuthera 
  • Calmers:
    • Ashwagandha
    • schizandra
    • holy basil
    • gotu kola 

These herbs are best combined with nervines (see below).

SLEEP/MOOD/RELAXATION

Nervines and sedatives are herbs used to help with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and sleep issues. Nervines have calming and balancing tendencies and are good for depression tendencies

  • St. John’s wort
  • lemon balm
  • milky oat seed
  • chamomile 

Relaxing Sedatives can help with acute anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia.

  • Kava
  • Motherwort 
  • Skullcap 
  • Lavender 

These stronger sleep aids should be used in careful doses.  

  • Valerian root
  • California poppy 

GUT HEALTH

Your gut health is the foundation of the rest of your health, and can be a major factor in immunity. Your gut also happens to respond quickly to herbal treatment and many of the herbs used to improve digestive functions also provide numerous other health benefits.

Bitters (sour, pungent herbs) ignite the GI track and help all systems run smoothly (these can also act as gentle laxatives). They include.

  • Artichoke leaf
  • dandelion
  • turmeric
  • ginger
  • tamarind
  • bitter greens
  • vinegar
  • citrus
  • fermented food

The typical American diet (Including fried, processed foods and chemically treated foods) can tend to irritate the system, and lead to acid reflux and inflammation in a lot of people. Demulcents can help with some of those issues. (you can also apply a lot of these topically for skin irritation) They include:

  • Aloe gel/juice
  • licorice
  • marshmallow leaf and root
  • gotu kola
  • St. John’s wort
  • calendula

Caraminitives are another type of herb that help improve overall digestion, and help decrease bloating, cramps and gas pain. Goodbye period pain! They include a ton of spices you might already have in your kitchen, such as:

  • Fennel seeds
  • cardamom
  • anise
  • cumin
  • coriander
  • caraway
  • dill
  • juniper
  • nutmeg
  • black pepper
  • cinnamon
  • ginger
  • turmeric
  • peppermint oil
  • chamomile
  • lemon balm
  • holy basil
  • savory
  • oregano

For more severe issues like diarrhea, gastritis, ulcers, etc. talk to your doctor, and try using astringents herbs like raspberry leaf, strawberry leaves, blackberry root, rose petals

DETOX

Your body’s detox system supports a range of internal and external functions in the body. It centers around liver, with help of kidneys, gallbladder, lymphatic system, colon and skin. Several herbs that help boost this systems function include:

  • Dandelion
  • roasted chicory root
  • burdock
  • chickweed
  • turmeric
  • schizandra
  • nettles
  • alder
  • celery
  • parsley
  • violet
  • yellow dock 

IMMUNITY

Basically, there is a three-pronged approach to herbal immune health.
1.) strengthen overall health
2.) boost immune function in early signs of infection
3.) use herbs that have direct anti microbial action

Immune modulators help balance and strengthen overall system function  (help prevent cold & flu, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disease, cancer prevention). They include:

  • Medicinal mushrooms
  • astragalus
  • adaptagens
  • codonopsis
  • elder 

Lots of foods also help support immune health including orange produce and leafy greens, healthy fats, vitamin C, aromatics, fermented foods and FLUIDS (flush your system)

At the early signs of sickness, you can start to treat common infections with immunostimulants, which spring your system into action and helps it fight off pathogens better. They include:

  • echinacea
  • spilanthes
  • ushea
  • elder
  • boneset
  • elecampane

Finally, antimicrobials, which kill germs, are an important part of helping your digestive system regulate good bacteria and fight off bad bacteria. They include:

  • elderberries
  • fresh echinacea
  • goldenseal
  • bee balm
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • sage
  • holy basil
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • onions
  • calendula
  • lemon balm

HERBAL MEDICINE CAN ALSOBE USED TO TREAT A RANGE OF OTHER HEALTH ISSUES IN THE BODY INVOLVING:

  • The respiratory system and sinuses
  • Blood sugar
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Brain health, memory and cognition
  • Pain management
  • Thyroid health
  • Improving your skin
  • Reproductive health
  • Longevity and aging well 

How can you get started using herbal nutrition?
It’s easy!

The first thing to keep in mind is always safety of course. Here are a few key tips to keep in mind:

  1. Start with the mildest herbs to treat a specific issue and then work up to stronger ones
  2. Integrate your approach with a healthy diet and lifestyle 
  3. Address root causes of your issues, not just the symptoms
  4. Ember that herbs are not a replacement for traditional health care. Know when you need to seek a medical professional. 
  5. Make sure that you identify your herbs carefully (by flower) and that they don’t interact with the meds you’re already taking. A lot of times herbs simply help increase the effects of drugs. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. (*see references below)

FOR NOW: TRY OUT SOME HERBAL REMEDIES USING SOME INGREDIENTS YOU PROBABLY ALREADY HAVE IN YOUR KITCHEN!

RELAXATION TEA:
1/2 tsp chamomile
1/2 tsp lemon balm
1/2 tsp skullcap
1/2 tsp lavender
1-2 tsp honey 

Steep the first 5 ingredients in a mug boiling water for 15-20 minutes (using a tea-ball infuser or homemade tea bag. Then stir in honey.

IMMUNITY BROTH:
10 cloves garlic
2 roughly chopped onions
1 tbsp fresh regano
Handful of fresh thyme
Large knob of ginger, cut into chunks
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp calendula
1 cup medicinal mushrooms
1 tbsp holy basil

Add everything to a large stockpot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 45-60 min. Strain. Use in soups, stews, sauce bases, or just drink it!

But wait, where can you get your hands on these herbs? And where can you learn more? I’ve got you covered

You can buy more herbs than you think at the grocery store, so start there. And don’t forget to check the health and vitamin sections. Local specialty health food stores will likely carry a larger range.

You can also look up specific herbal apothecaries in your local area. They should have almost all of the herbs listed in this post and the ones you’d be looking for health benefits, plus the people working there can usually help answer any questions you may have, or provide suggestions of herb combinations.

Finally, there is always the internet. You can certainly get herbs delivered to your door. As with all vendors, just make sure you’re getting the herbs from a reliable, sustainably grown source, so you can be sure of exactly what you are getting and where it’s coming from. Some sites you could use include:

Finally, here’s a list of some online resources to help you identify herbs, learn more about them and better understand how they could interact with medicines you already take.

I hope you find this little guide useful and stay tuned for the futures posts to come as I dive deeper into herbal health care approaches. Some of the topics you’ll see covered include:

  • Targeted posts about each of the different categories of herbal health care 
  • Targeted posts about specific superstar herbs 
  • How to treat common ailments (like headaches, a cold, a UTI, diarrhea, constipation, a panic attack, and more)
  • RECIPES!! 
  • More resources as I find them 
  • More information on getting your hands on these helpful herbs, and how to store and take care of them 

Let me know what else you’re interested in learning more about!

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