Herbal and Natural Medicine, Plus Some Regular First Aid
Disclaimer: This is NOT a substitute for a doctor's care and should be used under medical supervision. Do not use anything from this page as a substitute for vaccinations, antibiotics or other conventional treatments. Discuss potential treatments from this page with an M.D. before you try anything. I am not a doctor. Herbal medicine can hurt or kill you. I am not responsible for the consequences of your actions should you choose to try something from this page.
Always do a spot test of an unfamiliar herbal medicine by applying it topically, mixed with water, on the inner wrist and waiting for a response for 1 day before taking it internally. Then, take 1 sip of said medicine and wait half a day to see if there is any adverse reaction. Herbal medicines and herbs are not regulated by the FDA. Do not buy any herb or supplement from a source you are unfamiliar with because there's no telling what's in there. In my experience these brands are okay (I'm not being paid to say this): Solaray, Planetary Herbals, Living Earth Herbs, Doctor's Best, Frontier, Penzey's, Gaia. Herbal tea companies are subject to FDA regulations and therefore the quality is usually better. And the fresher the herb, the better. Home-grown will always be infinitely more effective than storebought, especially if the herbs are used fresh instead of dried. Grow your own herbs if you possibly can. The highest quality herbs are grown in real dirt, not potting soil, so try to find an allotment or plot to grow them on or at the very least ask a friend with land for some dirt to put in your containers. I like Renee's Garden for my herb seeds but herb plants are easier to transplant/grow.
I recommend you start by taking the American Red Cross's First Aid and CPR Certification Course. You can buy this for about $70 (currently these classes seem to be accessible online - 4/4/20) and it looks great on a resume. Honestly, if you don't know how to disinfect a cut or the difference between cleaning and sterilizing, you shouldn't be practicing herbal medicine, let alone any medicine. Learn the basics.
These are recipes from my 14 years of experience experimenting with this stuff on myself, my family, and my friends. I didn't just pull these from the internet randomly. I've seen them work. Things I haven't tried are also listed and labeled as such, and these recommendations are pulled from years of research from herbal medicine books.
- Oral rehydration salts mixed into 1 liter of liquid is a better bet than homemade options. Pedialyte is also great. If you have access to neither, here are a couple recipes.
- Oral rehydration liquid v1: ensuring total cleanliness of everything used as well as your hands, mix 1 liter (or 4 and 1/4 c.) of clean water with 4 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt until dissolved. You may double the amount of salt and sugar if you feel it is necessary, because the WHO and Rehydration Project disagree on the amounts (the WHO recommends 8 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt in 1 L water).
- Oral rehydration liquid v2: same process as above, but use 4 c. water, 1/4 c. orange juice, 1 tsp - 1 tbsp sugar, 1/4-1/2 tsp salt, 1/8-1/4 tsp baking soda. I like using brown sugar for flavor if there isn't anything life-threatening going on. This is a great Gatorade substitute. Personally I use the lower levels of solutes because I prefer it that way; less salty, easier to drink. Up to you.
- Add to chicken soup to make it somewhat more effective: cook more garlic in it, add fresh lemon juice after it's been poured into a bowl, add chopped green onions, add some black pepper
- Fresh air and sunlight are very, very underrated.
- Pu-erh: can lower excess cholesterol levels (LDL)
- Ju hua (Chinese chrysanthemum): can help with headaches due to high blood pressure, also irritability due to eating too many greasy foods or dealing with summer's heat
- Jasmine green tea: If high quality, such as whole leaves from Taiwan, may help with anxiety and depression. So can oolong tea.
- Grated fresh ginger can be simmered with brown sugar and served to people with menstrual cramps. This only helps if the cramps are relieved with heat. This does not work as well as NSAIDS like naproxen sodium or ibuprofen. Note: ginger is a blood thinner.
- Green tea is not healthy to drink in winter or cold weather. Black tea is not healthy to drink in summer or hot weather. Choose accordingly.
- Hibiscus green tea can lower blood sugar and thus improve blood sugar management in prediabetics.
- Sage tea may increase estrogen levels and can help with menopause. Coffee may also help. Other herbal teas that may cause estrogen-like effects and may therefore help with menopause include red clover, nettle, motherwort, and red raspberry leaf. I haven't had a chance to try these for that but they are relatively nontoxic.
- German chamomile tea is helpful for food poisoning, headache, mild insomnia, stomachache, upset stomach, and indigestion. I've even used it for stomach flu before.
- NEW: Herbal morning-after pill. This will not abort a fetus nor should it be used to attempt to do so; that is dangerous and the wrong combination of herbs for such a thing. This is not a good substitute for using a condom; it exists because sometimes accidents and mistakes happen. This is unlikely to harm any living thing and nearly impossible for it to do so if you drink it right after the proverbial big mistake. What it does is cause your period to come on early. Avoid it if you have kidney problems. Peel and grate 5 inches of fresh ginger. Finely mince 1 tbsp fresh parsley or use 1 tbsp dried parsley, and 1 tbsp dried oregano. Simmer the grated ginger in 4.5 cups of water for 15 minutes. Take it off the heat and add the parsley and oregano. Let it cool. You can add brown sugar to sweeten it if you like, but not honey. Sip the pot of tea throughout the day. Also drink a couple of cups of orange juice.
- Flu: Herbs for flu
- Feeling mildly "under the weather" due to a virus causing nausea and weakness: simmer a cinnamon stick, broken up, in 4.5 c. water for 20 minutes, then add 1 tbsp dried or a sprig of fresh oregano, a few lemon slices, and 2 peppermint teabags
- Colds, in people who are Yin and showing Yin symptoms (Traditional Chinese Medicine definition, look it up): Bring 4 c. water to a boil. Add a scant 1 tbsp whole cloves and 1 cinnamon stick. Optionally, add 1 tsp grated fresh ginger. Reduce to a simmer, cover, simmer for 1 hour. Take it off the heat and add 4 black teabags. Let steep 5 minutes. Squeeze the bags with the side of a spoon and take them out. Add 1/4 c. honey (optional), 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1/3 c. fresh orange juice, and the de-seeded juiced halves of a lemon and an orange. Serve hot. This is also good to drink in wintertime if you feel chilly.
- Sore throat accompanying a cold: Take half an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Extract a few teaspoons of juice from each any way you can think of. Mix the juice with an equal amount of honey and take 1 teaspoon every couple of hours until symptoms resolve.
- Asthma related to poor air quality: Try parsley juice, eating raw onion, and/or cilantro juice. Failing that, munch on a lot of parsley, onion, and/or cilantro. Experiment.
- Calcium oxalate-caused kidney stones: Consume 3/4 c. cranberry sauce, 1/2 c. watermelon, and 1 c. goldenrod flower tea daily. Avoid foods high in oxalates such as almonds, spinach, potatoes, and excessive amounts of chocolate.
- Fibromyalgia management: Counting My Spoons
- Menstrual cramps: I have a whole section on that here W and S
- Motion sickness: Chew on crystallized ginger half an hour before you know you'll be on an object in motion. Continue munching on it as needed. If your motion sickness is severe and this helps you but not enough, then you might need to either sip ginger tea or consume capsules of ground ginger.
- Urinary tract infections: Unsweetened cranberry juice, 1/3 c. every few hours, plus plenty of water. Also a tea made of the following: 1 lemongrass teabag, 1 chamomile teabag, 1 peppermint teabag, 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder, 3 tbsp fresh or frozen blueberries. Steep those things in 5 c. just-boiled water, covered, for 20 minutes and drink a pot of that per day.
- Headache: Experiment with the following herbal teas - chamomile, peppermint, ju hua. Take a shower and scrub everything with soap and a washcloth, then either lie down in a dark, quiet room, or put your feet in a hot footbath and hands in 2 bowls of cold water. You can also experiment with essential oils: try adding 3 drops lavender and/or peppermint essential oil to 1 tablespoon of olive or sunflower oil, and then massage your temples and neck with a couple of drops of that. My research says that chronic headaches may respond to daily use of either feverfew or ginger capsules but I haven't had the chance to try it.
- High fever: NOTE, will not work in all circumstances; use your discretion and judgment, and proceed with caution. 1 drop lavender oil added to a cool head compress, lemon water, watermelon eaten, lemongrass tea
- Yeast infections in women: Coconut oil applied topically and internally, plus a pinch of cinnamon and 1 tbsp canned coconut milk added to beverages. Experiment with probiotic supplements from a health food store until you find one that works for you. Do not exceed 1/4 tsp cinnamon per day. If it persists after 1 week discontinue treatment, except the coconut milk and probiotics. Those can be taken indefinitely. Note: coconut oil cannot be used in combination with latex-based condoms as it causes latex breakages.
- High blood pressure, high LDL, and high triglycerides: Go mostly vegan. Reduce saturated fat in the diet as much as possible - no coconut oil, no coconut milk, no avocado. Avoid or minimize dairy. Eat oatmeal every morning, without dairy and cooked as little as possible. Consume 5 cloves of raw garlic, minced, per day along with 1 tbsp nut butter or 3 walnuts per 2.5 cloves of it. This is easier if you finely mince up the garlic first, and then "shotgun" it by putting about a teaspoon on it in your mouth then quickly following it up with a big gulp of water. Do this on a full stomach. You can also incorporate the raw garlic into pestos, hummus, Mediterranean dips, and curry pastes as long as you don't cook any of those after the garlic has been added. Feel free to divide the doses of garlic into morning and evening ones. If possible, also greatly increase your consumption of foods flavored with hot chiles, such as kimchi, Thai salads, and so on. Increase your intake of raw onions. Flavor your food with fresh ginger. Get really into salads. Take 2 tablespoons hawthorn berry powder per day. Consider developing a green tea habit.
- High blood sugar: Speak to your doctor. Also, strong hibiscus tea, green tea or black coffee, cinnamomum zeylanicum added to foods, cayenne pepper. Low carb diet. Lots of exercise. To quickly reduce high blood sugar, it is said that drinking 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper in a cup of cold water can do the trick. Therefore, avoid cayenne if you have hypoglycemia.
- Vomiting and diarrhea in small children: Rice water, Pedialyte, and optional chicken bouillon. To make rice water, cook a handful of rice in a pot of water until mushy, and then give only the liquid. Encourage the child to drink as much Pedialyte as they can, and feed them the rice water. I have also heard that the liquid from stewed blackberries can help with this but I haven't had the chance to try it out. It probably wouldn't hurt.
- Sunburn: Grow a couple of aloe vera plants just for this. It has to be the right kind of aloe. When needed, cut off a leaf, trim the spiky bits, split it lengthwise, and gently squeeze it. Then, rub it on the sunburn.
- Nausea: If mild, steep 1/2 tsp dried or 2 leaves fresh basil in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes and sip. If moderate, try 1/8 tsp each of fennel, cumin, and coriander, crushed in a mortar and pestle if possible, in a cup of hot water along with a peppermint teabag. Also munch on a couple leaves of a boiled artichoke.
- Stomach ulcers: I have not had a chance to try this, but it is said that juice from raw cabbage leaves will help with this. Probably can't hurt.
- Constipation: Prune juice. Also be sure to consume enough fiber and liquids, to avoid excessive amounts of fiber-free foods like white flour and cheese, and to get enough exercise. Persistent constipation can be a sign of something serious, so it's best to get it checked out by a doctor.
- Hyperthyroidism: Get checked out by a doctor. Other than that, tea of fresh lemon balm, tulsi tea, and avoiding green tea may help.
- Chronic pain: Get a marijuana edible, such as flavored mints. Take a piece the size of a mustard seed every day. This is microdosing and will not get you high or even remotely buzzed. It also has the advantage of reducing the likelihood of marijuana's side effects of high blood pressure and hormonal imbalance. This will make you fail drug tests, though. And obviously this isn't for children!!!!
Dangerous Herbal/Natural Medicines
- St. John's Wort: causes sensitivity to sunlight, tyramine-containing foods such as salami and hard cheese, and reacts with just about every prescription medication under the sun
- Kratom: may cause liver damage and extreme nausea in a subset of the population
- Marijuana in excess: If smoked has all the dangers that cigarettes carry (asthma, lung cancer, spontaneous pneumothorax etc.), plus a risk of nausea and vomiting, hormonal imbalance, tolerance, and high blood pressure. The likelihood of these side effects increases with the duration of usage. Ingestion carries these risks except for smoking-related risks. Marijuana is, however, a safer alternative to opiates. CBD is NOT marijuana. It is NOT dangerous and is NOT psychoactive.
- Alfalfa, esp. alfalfa sprouts: may reactivate autoimmune disease such as lupus
- Comfrey: Damages the liver if taken internally and may cause liver cancer. Avoid internal use. Coltsfoot has the same issue.
- Kava kava: Damages the liver if taken internally over an extended period of time. It is probably okay for ceremonial use but not as a medicine.
- Black cohosh: Side effects are fun, including high blood pressure.
- Aristolochia species: carcinogenic
- Valerian: do not use for long periods of time. Causes anxiety and insomnia if abused
- Herbal "uppers" that will burn you out if you use them for too long a period of time: ginseng (if under age 40), ashwagandha
- Rosemary: A little is fine. More than two tablespoons of fresh or dried leaves in tea can cause kidney damage and/or kill.
- Wormwood: In excessive amounts or over extended periods of time causes nervous system damage.
- Tansy, mugwort, rue, pennyroyal: traditionally used in the minimum amount only when absolutely necessary due to toxic effects at higher doses or in weakened individuals
- Actually poisonous: belladonna, henbane, aconite (incl. Chinese aconite if unprepared), hemlock, mandrake, tonka bean
- African marigold: Sometimes confused with calendula, which is also called marigold. African marigold is poisonous.
- All essential oils: Never use an essential oil directly on the skin, undiluted. Never use essential oils on infants or children under the age of 4. Many products claiming to be essential oils are actually fragrance oils and should not be used on the skin at all.
- Ginkgo biloba: may cause liver damage. More research is necessary.
- Licorice, including Chinese licorice (gan cao): Do not use long term or in large amounts. Reduces potassium levels and alters hormonal balance.
- Echinacea: Do not use long term. Alters the function of some parts of the immune system.
- Avoid if you have high estrogen levels or estrogen-positive breast cancer: dong quai, black cohosh, coffee, lavender, clary sage, hops, fennel, high-fat dairy, motherwort, valerian, skullcap, Chinese skullcap, geranium, red raspberry leaf, marijuana, essiac tea, burdock, turmeric, red clover, shatavari, alfalfa, sarsaparilla, japanese knotweed root, kudzu root, anise, celery seed, sage, flax seeds, soy products
- Avoid if you must avoid blood thinners: garlic, dong quai, hawthorn, melilot, ginger, fish oil, ginkgo biloba
- Avoid if hypothyroid: lemon balm
General guidelines for preparing and taking herbal medicine
- How to prepare herbal medicines: Roots and barks must be decocted; simmered, partially covered, for 20 minutes, and then covered and steeped until cool, at a ratio of 2 tablespoons substance to 4.5 cups water. Leaves and flowers must be infused, at a ratio of 2 tsp of herb in 1 c. just-boiled water, covered, and let steep until cool. Seeds must be ground and then infused in a ratio of 1 tsp herb in 1 c. just-boiled water, same idea. Fruits must be sliced thinly, about 3 to 4 slices at a time, de-seeded if necessary, and then proceed as with the leaves and flowers.
- How to make a tincture: first pick a plain liquor that you wouldn't mind drinking straight, such as good vodka or brandy. Wash, shake dry, and finely chop fresh herb, or break up dried herb as best you can. Put the herb in a jar and cover it with 2 inches of liquor. I don't subscribe to the 1 part herb 3 parts liquor rule because I like my medicine to be medicine not hooch thank you. Wait a month, strain the tincture, and keep it in a jar in a cool dark place. Put it in dropper bottles as needed.
- How to experiment with herbal medicine to see what works on you: sip from many cups of different teas until your body says yes to one of them, or until you see a positive physical effect. Herbal medicines should work without any side effects. If you feel worse instead of better, or if you get side effects that increase with the dosage of what you're taking, stop taking it. Once you have decided on a medicine, drink as much of it as you feel you need and listen to your body. When it tells you to stop ingesting the medicine or take more, do so. Sip slowly and observe the effects carefully over a period of time. When in doubt use the minimum amount needed.
- One unusual method of applying herbs is to create a paste of herb and mix it with extra virgin olive oil in a ratio of 1:1. I have found success using garlic paste mixed with olive oil and applied to the soles of my feet in combating Lyme disease. The trick is to leave it on for a maximum of 20 minutes, then rinse it off with soap. The active constituents absorb through the skin and get into the bloodstream. This is a very old treatment for colds and flu. I've heard of roasted onions being used for the same purpose in old pioneer remedy lore but would recommend raw onion instead, as it seems that alliums lose much of their healing properties when cooked.
Categories of herbs
- Herbal antivirals: Ginger, lemongrass, chamomile, lemon slices, cinnamon, star anise, orange slices, eucalyptus, thyme, lavender, oregano, basil, peppermint, elderberry, tulsi, shredded coconut or coconut milk, lemon balm, green onion, cranberry, pine needles, fenugreek, geranium leaf, redcedar berries, juniper berries, garlic, onion
- Herbal antibacterials: Turmeric, neem, garlic, onion, plaintain leaf, horseradish, usnea, oregon grape root and stem, thyme, oregano, rosemary. Actually, most edible culinary herbs seem to be antibacterial to some extent.
All herbs have different properties when dried, fresh, or processed into herbal preparations. Don't give up on using an herb simply because all you've tried were dried preparations of it such as capsules. More often than not an herb that is useless in pill form works wonders if used fresh.
Herbs that are nearly useless medicinally (compared to the fresh stuff) when dried or old and must be grown fresh for the greatest benefit:
- Lemon balm
- Elderberry and elderflower
Herbs that work okay when dried and are good to have on hand at all times:
- German chamomile
- All common and uncommon kitchen spices and herbs
Herbs or substances that double as common foods which are good to have on hand:
- Honey, preferably local wildflower honey from a good beekeeper - it is not necessary for this to be raw
- Fresh garlic
- Fresh ginger
- Green onions, for the vitamins if nothing else
If you wish to learn more about herbal medicine, first know that it works best in tandem with regular (allopathic) medicine and that if you want to get serious with it, you'll have to actually go to medical school. To start dabbling, you can start by searching for the botanical name of an herb and reading research articles on it here: Pubmed Central. Folkloric and anecdotal stuff that can point you to herbs for research can be found in Rosemary Gladstar's as well as Lesley Bremness's work. Steven Harrod Buhner's work usually includes studies and is therefore a little more reliable. More folkloric resources for learning about herbal medicine include work by Maria Treben and John Heinerman, but be sure to temper these with common sense, experience, and the results of the best studies on herbs you can find. Always take folkloric claims for herbs with a grain of salt.
Specific good books for learning herbal medicine: Britain's Wild Flowers by Rosamund Richardson, Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal, Herbs by Lesley Bremness, Herbal Antibiotics by Stephen H. Buhner, Herbal Antivirals by Stephen H. Buhner, Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, Health Through God's Pharmacy by Maria Treben
HERBAL MEDICINE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR ALLOPATHIC MEDICINE.