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herbs

Herb Safety

in town square

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me that their neighbor’s sister’s boss’s cousin’s daughter said they should take some such herb for some such reason, I’d be writing this from the deck of my yacht while enjoying a perfectly chilled Cristal instead of at a cramped desk on an aging Mac with a ring on the wood under my teacup.  Nonetheless, as I go about extolling the value of botanical medicines, I feel compelled to occasionally stress their sensible use.

We know that plants can heal. We know that the risk of side effects is typically very low. Still, it’s vital that you understand the properties of what you’re taking and why. Just because an herb was effective for your co-workers distant relative doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you.

Popularity can breed confusion, and when it comes to herbal remedies the best advice I can offer is:  do your own research. Gain a basic understanding of the human body and how it works. Understand the condition you’re seeking to treat and the remedy you decide to use. Invest in a few natural health books, the first of which should be Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Balch), an easy to use comprehensive guide. Of course you’ll find plenty of information on the Internet, but there’s a lot of misinformation too, particularly on sites bent on selling you something.  Personally, I stick with science-based research on sites like Livestrong or PubMed.  Be selective. Accept that your health is your responsibility and never forget that knowledge is power.

So, you’ve learned how the body works, what your treating, what remedy to choose and how best to use it. You’ve already checked to make sure there are no possible interactions with any pharmaceuticals you might be taking. Now, you’re going to look for a quality natural product. I have nothing against big box stores, but I’ll remind you of that old adage: you usually get what you pay for.  Unless you’re ordering directly from the manufacturer, I’d be wary of on-line stores. Call me old fashioned, but I want to hold a product in my hand –and check the expiration date– before I plunk down my hard earned cash.  Visit your local independently owned health food store instead, where you’ll get valuable assistance you simply won’t get from a stock clerk at the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly.

It’s important to resist the urge to go overboard and grab 3 or 4 different remedies to treat the same condition. How are you going to know which one is working?  Start with one, and if you don’t get the desired results move on to the next. 

Ok. You have your remedy… now, you’re going to follow the label instructions. Pay attention here: just because some is good doesn’t mean more is better. The majority of reported adverse events are the result of a lack of research into the product, its action, or a failure to follow the dosing instructions. When you get started on your journey with natural medicine I recommend building a reference for future use in the form of a health journal, where you record what you used, how you used it, and how well it worked. When illness strikes you don’t want to waste time with something you tried before that didn’t get the job done.  I firmly believe in self-sufficiency through health-sufficiency, and this is as good a place to start as any.

Nutritional supplements and herbal remedies are widely available, can be wonderfully effective, and –contrary to popular belief– are heavily regulated. But you gotta use your head.  When your neighbor’s sister’s boss’s cousin’s daughter has a suggestion, accept it graciously but disregard it completely… until you’ve done your own research.

Finally, if you have a serious or chronic health condition, don’t self-treat without the assistance of a trained professional, or if you use a natural remedy and don’t get better after a few days, it would be wise to check in with your doctor.


This information is provided for educational purposes, and is not intended as medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease, nor should it be considered a substitute for the expert care of a qualified medical professional.

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