Herbs have acheived high levels of popularity and
visibility. Most people have heard of echinacea, ginseng, gingko
biloba, and st. john's wort. Others, such as dong quai, and kava
kava have also reached the mainstream. Consumers can find these
herbs in their local drug stores, probably not too far from the
What the herb consumer should be aware of:
- The Dangers of Self-Medication,
Further disease could be the result of a
lack of adequate information about over-the-counter herbs' proper
and improper use.
- Greater Than the Sum of
the Parts, The
use of herbs individually instead of as a part of cohesive herbal
formulas is commonplace. But thousands of years of Chinese Medicine
suggest a better way.
|The Dangers of Self-Medication:
Further disease could be the result of a lack of adequate
information about over-the-counter herbs' proper and improper
All herbs are not for everyone and every
disease. Just because it is an herb, and therefore
natural, does not mean that it is always safe for everyone. For
example, just because you have a memory problem, and you know
gingko is supposed to improve memory, does not mean that gingko
is the appropriate herb for you. In oriental medicine, most herbs
have 'contraindications': people for whom or diseases in which
the particular herb would actually be harmful.
There are general rules to follow, such as not
to use a hot herb in a hot condition. For example, dang gui, which
is a warm herb, might not be used in a menopausal pattern where
there are hot flashes. We do not need to warm someone who already
has heat symptoms. However, if cooling herbs are included in the
herbal formula dang gui might be perfectly appropriate; its warmth
is balanced by the other herbs' coolness.
Herbs are not less powerful than drugs.
An herb is defined in Oriental Medicine as any substance that
has a marked effect on human beings. This is why shells, bones,
and minerals, for example, can fit under the 'herbs' rubric. If
an herb can help you, it must be because it changes you in a certain
direction. If so, then it could push you too far in that direction
(if you took too much), or it could be the wrong direction for
Because of this, it is important to have:
- a full understanding of the condition being treated, and
- a full understanding of the effect of herbs and herbal formulas.
Without a full knowledge of your condition,
how can you know what is needed to treat it? Without a full understanding
of herbs and formulas, how can you be sure your they will cure
you? Indeed, how do you know you won't actually be doing further
harm to yourself? This is why medical practitioners go to school
for years and years (...and years). It is actually quite dangerous
for the average person to practice medicine on themself.
When the consumer hears a few general pieces
of information, and then decides to put themself on a specific
herb, this is self-medication. Even licensed practitioners trust
their treatment to a peer; others can see us more clearly than
we see ourselves.
Did you know, for instance,
- that Panax Ginseng should not be taken by people with hypertension
(systolic blood pressure above 180Hg)?
- that Echinacea is effective only at the very beginning of
a cold, and should not be taken regularly for more than 2 weeks
because it is toxic?
- that Dong Quai should not be taken by people with diarrhea,
abdominal bloating, or other digestive complaints?
ALSO, studies show that drugs are more likely to cause
harmful interactions with single herbs than with herbal
formulas. It's safer to see a professional Chinese Medicine
physician than to do it yourself.
This information is not given to help you continue
to self-medicate more safely. This information is given to illustrate
that there is more to know about herbs than you have time to learn,
unless you make it your profession. Diagnosis and treatment should
be left up to a trained medical professional. There are a lot
of friendly practitioners who can help you. Do yourself a favor,
and avoid further problems: Call your doctor, acupuncturist, herbalist,
|Greater than the Sum of the
Parts: The use of herbs
individually instead of as a part of cohesive
herbal formulas is commonplace. But thousands of
years of Chinese Medicine suggest a better way.
Traditionally, chinese herbs like
ginseng and dong quai are hardly ever prescribed alone.
However, many american consumers are taking these herbs
alone. They may have put themselves on other herbs like
gingko, or st. john's wort. But do they know if there
might be harmful interactions between these herbs, or
between their herbs and other medications they might be
Chinese herbal medicine relies on
classic formulas that range from several hundred to
several thousand years old. Diagnosis moves nimbly to
treatment principles and then directly to a classic
herbal formula that the practitioner can modify to fit
the patient's present condition exactly, and without side-effects.
Each time the patient changes, the formula is modified
In diagnosis, every symptom is taken
into account. Forget about western drugs with side-effects
like indigestion, insomnia, or anxiety. If there is a
propensity toward these things in the patient already,
they are addressed in the herbal formula. Usually, random
side-effects do not show up as the result of an herbal
formula. If they do, then the practitioner has made an
inaccurate diagnosis, and as they modify their diagnosis,
they modify the formula to better fit the patient.
The trade-off may be in the taste (which
is part of the therapeutic action of the herbs). Decocted
(boiled down) raw herbal formulas do not always the fit
the American palate. Most people tend to enjoy sweet,
salty and spicy, but not sour or bitter. My experience
has been that the reason I am in opposition to the taste
is that I am stuck in disease. As the formula moves me
closer to balance, I begin to enjoy the taste, because I
am moving away from the disease energetic and closer to
the herbal formula's opposite shore of health. I look
forward to it because a part of me senses that these
strange-tasting herbs are healing me. So what's worse, a
different taste, or unpredictable and uncomfortable side-effects?
Some formulas, however, like those that include cinnamon,
are pleasurable and not at all 'acquired' tastes.
If you really cannot stand the taste, there are alternatives;
patent medicines are pills made of the ground up herbs. There
are more than 200 patent versions of classic chinese herbal formulas.
These are not going to be as beneficial as an individually-tailored
raw formula, but they will be better than nothing. Patents are
also good when you are traveling, and it's impractical to lug
around a gallon of decocted tea. :)