PART 1: SAFETY AND USING HERBS. HOW DO I KNOW IF IT IS SAFE?

Embarking on your herbalism journey means thinking about safety. When you are new to a practice it can be difficult to find good information easily. I hope that I can shed some light on a few things through this post.

Oh Google

If you are trying to look for the safety of a plant and you just google it, chances are that WebMD will be one of the first sites to pop up with information.

As a nurse, I’m gonna tell you, getting any sort of medical advice via the internet should be taken with a grain of salt. That’s not saying there isn’t some good information out there to get you started but don’t bet your life on the advice of a website, even if it is titled WebMD.

These sites also tend to have phrases such as “this is not regulated,” “not enough studies have been done,” or “consult your pharmacist, physician or health care professional before using.”

Lets talk a little bit about those options.

 

HERBS AND THE FDA

Herbs fall under dietary supplements, not medicine, so they are not as heavily regulated by the FDA. This is not really a bad thing, I’ll try not to go all conspiracy on you, but herbs grow freely and have been used for century’s.

Trying to place herbs under the same scrutiny as medications made in a lab is not profitable.

It’s not beneficial to those seeking to avoid high health care costs and it is not something easily done or done well. Each plant and person are not created equal. (Not to say every medication created in a lab works the same on every person either)

 

The down side is, company’s can place ‘natural’ on the label of a supplement and some consumers assume that means it’s safe no matter what.

 

This is not always true. Herbs and herbal supplements do affect the function of the body, therefore interactions and overdoses do happen.

My fear when it comes to supplements bought in pill form, from large companies, is the amount of herb and the quality of herb in those pills. Not to mention, in some cases, you get more power from a tea or a tincture than you would from taking 5 pills 5 times a day.

 

HERBS AND DRUG TRIALS

When you read “Not enough studies have been done,” that may make you want to turn tail and run in the beginning. And while more and more studies are being done on herbs every day, they attempt to study herbs as they would western medication. That’s pretty close to comparing apples and oranges. The two don’t function the same way, therefore studying them under the same umbrella is not beneficial or accurate.

What you need to think about is how long this herb had been used by herbalists. What do the books you’ve grown to trust say about the herb? What do the people you’ve grown to trust say about the herb?

All herbalists may not agree completely but chances are there will be a general consensus.

If all else fails and you don’t feel safe using it then don’t.

It took me a while to feel safe ingesting most herbs, especially if I hadn’t seen them on a store shelf in tea form. It was a weird way to decide safety initially, but it’s what worked for me until I found books and people I trusted on the subject.

When using an herb topically it’s easy to do a 24 hour skin test.

Put a bit of the herb on your inner arm, opposite the elbow. If in 24 hours you’ve had no reaction you can consider it safe to use. And if you do start to have a reaction to it, during or after the skin test, wash it off and don’t use the herb.

 

TALKING TO A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL

Thinking about consulting your pharmacist, physician or health care professional?

Listen, I’m not going to blanket them all together as for or against herbalism, but they are all pretty busy.

I’ve not had personal experience discussing herbs with pharmacists so I won’t comment on their stance or knowledge.

I have however worked with other health care professionals, being a nurse myself, I can tell you as you go through school to become a nurse,  there is not much focus on herbalism. We discuss a few of the well known herbs on the market and that’s where it ends.

Unless an HCP has done the foot work to find good sources to reference, or they have done their own personal studies, most HCP’s don’t know much about herbalism.

Some are completely closed off to the idea and some would love to learn more but their medical studies take them on a different path.

There are some great providers out there who take the time to sit and listen to their patients, but there are many who don’t take that time. You’re in, you’re out, they want you to talk quickly and move on.

There is little time to mention and get good feedback on herbs. So if you do choose to rely on a health care professional for herbal advice make sure you’ve found a good one. Someone willing to take the time to both do research and work with you on it.

Maybe where you live you are lucky enough to have an herbal practitioner near you. Where I live, I believe it is actually illegal to be an herbal practitioner unless you are also a medical doctor. So finding good advice through this channel can be difficult.

 

IF NOT THERE, THEN WHERE?

Now that I’ve told you why all of these options aren’t helpful let me tell you what is.

Remember plants as medicine have been used for century’s. We did not always have pharmaceuticals to turn to to fix our problems and we still managed to survive.

Western medicine or modern medicine, is a wonderful thing, it saves lives every day! Somewhere along the way though, we started to believe there is or should be a pill for everything. We forgot that we must put in work to stay healthy.

 

“Let thy food be thy medicine.” -Hippocrates, the father of medicine.

 

Herbs in most cases don’t fix things automatically. When turning to herbal remedies, you need to remember they take time to build strength and begin to work.

Many of the foods you eat every day have an effect on your well being. Depending on how you eat, you probably take some form of herb in each day with out even realizing.

 

QUICK TIPS

  • When learning safety of herbs trust yourself and your body.
  • Do skin tests.
  • Start low and go slow when ingesting.
  • To much of anything can be a bad thing.
  • Listen to your body, how does it feel after drinking that tea for a week or so?
  • Read a lot of books (not pinterest posts.)
  • Remember the names Rosemary Gladstar, Susan Weed, 7Song.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for a provider or health care professional that is knowledgeable about herbalism and holistic medicine. Or a kindred spirit who’s been doing this for a while, sharing knowledge between like minds can be so helpful.

As strange as it may sound, the most trusted sources for medicine are not the most helpful sources for herbalism. Some still view it as taboo but others are making the shift and becoming interested. Join the revolution!

I read statistics once on the percentage of the world that uses some form of traditional medicine. For the life of me, I can’t find it again but if I run on to it again I will site it here.

It was from WHO and it stated that a very large percentage of the world used some form of traditional medicine. In many places the percentage of traditional medicine used was higher than modern medicine.

 

In the US however, the use of traditional medicine was very low. Side note, we have one of the highest mortality rates for mother’s during birth of all developing country’s. (That’s a whole different topic)  Not to mention our ever scary health care system situation. (Another topic that is too heavy for me to get into.)

 

Take control of your own care!

 

I believe it is important for us to listen to our body and learn to care for ourselves learning to care for ourselves at home and learning to trust our bodies is important. Relying only on professionals to tell us what is best for us is not wise.

I hope this was helpful and I plan to do a few more post on the other aspects of safety and herbalism.

This one got long fast so until another day!

Leave a comment, tell me what you think! Ask a question!