BY: Holly Boname
When you’re not feeling well, it is easy to turn to your family physician to prescribe something to kick what ails you. Medicine and supplements are a popular way to aid in pain relief or to stop that persistent cold, but have we become overly reliant on these means of healthcare? Are we relying too much on numerous pills and prescriptions?
The answer to these ailments can be as simple as taking a walk to the garden or local herbal store. We forget sometimes, that our ancestors didn’t have access to modern medicine and instead looked to natural remedies to cure the common cold, joint and muscle pain, sleeplessness, headaches and the list goes on and on.
Herbs and botanicals, when used properly, can in fact create a mixture of nutrients, enzymes, vitamins and minerals that create strong and powerful healing tools for our bodies.
For McKenzie L Cantwell, LAc, MSAOM, herbs and botanicals are an everyday part of her practice at Hati Sungai, in Clayton. Ms. Cantwell, a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine, says that herbs can be a great alternative to certain medications because they are, “mild in nature with minimal side effects.”
“I see a lot of patients that come in on 15 to 16 medications,” said Ms. Cantwell, “a handful of which they are only taking to treat the side effects of other medications. Medications should always be discussed and handled by your doctor; however, there are herbal formulas that successfully treat high blood pressure, digestive issues, migraines, common cold, seasonal allergies, anxiety and depression, as well as many other conditions.”
Herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners will treat symptoms through the use of acupuncture, cupping, and through the use of combining specific herbs and botanicals. For Ms. Cantwell, she will use between five to 15 herbs in one prescription that are specific to her individual patients’ constitution and how the symptoms present themselves.
“Herbs work synergistically together to treat both the root cause of the problem as well as some of the branch symptoms,” said Ms. Cantwell. “Particular herbs function differently when combined with other herbs so it’s really important to know what you are doing.”
In Chinese herbal medicine the combinations are usually composed of herbs from the materia medica which contains a lot of common herbs such as food herbs like walnuts, ginger and yams, flowers and plant seeds such as gardenia, safflower and mimosa flower. Ms. Cantwell will also use some not-so-common herbs such as certain shells and minerals, insects, tree barks, etc.
She says one of the most commonly used herbs in her practice is astragalus root, known to Chinese herbalists like herself as Huang Qi.
“It’s anti-inflammatory, great for building energy and supports the immune system. I also use a lot of mushrooms for things like nodules and strains of infection, as well as a lot of herbs such as Chinese jujube seeds and hawthorn berry to support the heart and calm the nervous system,” she continued.
“Some of my favorite formulas are Tian Wan Bu Xin Dan for anxiety and panic, Gui Pi Tang to support certain digestive issues, Si Wu Tang for certain menstrual issues and really so many others as there is no single formula which fits every person with the same condition,” said Ms. Cantwell. “This is why I love that Chinese medicine usually uses a base formula and then adds or subtracts herbs based on the individual’s specific needs. Herbs are very powerful. I’ve seen a lot of success in treating my patients with herbs for conditions such as anxiety and depression, insomnia, fatigue, migraines, menstrual issues, as well as in a preventative manner.”
It is important to learn what each herb or botanical contains within its origin before using or mixing your own tinctures at home, stressed Ms. Cantwell. Learning each medicinal herb is necessary to also understanding how these herbs work together to combat symptoms. Here are 10 most commonly used herbs and their benefits to your health:
- Angelica archangelica
Common Names: Garden angelica, norwegian angelica, holy ghost, wild celery, masterwort
Part Used: Leaves, stems, seeds, roots
Angelica has traditionally been used for menopausal troubles, flatulence, appetite loss, digestive problems, respiratory ailments and arthritis. Like it’s Chinese counterpart Angelica sinensis (dong quai), this herb is used by many women for the reproductive system. It is believed to be a hormonal regulator and uterine tonic. Angelica tea is often used to treat PMS as well.
Common Names: Pot marigold, poet’s mairgold, Cape Weed
Part Used: Flowers
Historically, calendula was used to induce menstruation, break fevers, cure jaundice, treat open sores and for liver and stomach problems. It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used externally for sunburn and eczema. Today this herb is most often used externally to treat slow-healing wounds and to promote tissue repair.
CAUTION: Do not take Calendula internally if pregnant or nursing. Could cause miscarriage.
Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale
Common Names: Lion’s tooth, blowball, fairy clock, wetweed, priests Crown
Part Used: Leaves, flowers, root
The dandelion was in use as far back as ancient China for it’s medicinal properties. It was used as a potent diuretic and detoxifying herb. Other common uses of this plant were to treat breast inflammation, digestive disorders, appendicitis and to stimulate milk flow. European herbalists used dandelion as a remedy for eye problems, diarrhea, diabetes and fever.
Scientific Name: Echinacea purpurea
Common Names: Purple coneflower, coneflower, purple encinacea
Part Used: Roots, leaves and flowers
Echinacea is very popular for treating colds and flu. This herb is a great immune system booster. Many people enjoy it as a healthy tea. Some of its other uses are for treating sore throat and upper respiratory tract infections. It is a good detoxifier and has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.
Scientific Name: Sambucus
Common Names: Arbre de Judas, Baccae, Baises de Sureau, Black-Berried Alder, Black Elder, Black Elderberry, Boor Tree, Bountry, Elder, Common Elder.
Part Used: Bark, leaves, flowers, berries
Elderberry has long been proposed as being immune supportive, and supports the body’s natural defense. Research studies show Black Elderberry to have immune modulating and antioxidant properties. Because elderberry is high in flavonoid rich compounds, it exerts antioxidant protection on cells. By providing antioxidant protection, elderberry aids in protecting cellular health from free radical damage and airborne elements.
Scientific Name: Foeniculum vulgare
Common Names: Common or wild fennel, bronze fennel
Part Used: Roots, leaves and flowers, seeds
Fennel is a well-know vegetable and herb that can be used as a household remedy for a variety of health problems. Fennel is known to help with digestive disorders such as gas, acid stomach, IBS, cramps and even motion sickness. Fennel is also a diuretic, increasing the frequency and amount of urination. This helps remove toxic substances from the body.
- Ginkgo Biloba
Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba
Common Names: Ginkgo, bao gou, Yin-hsing, Maidenhair tree
Part Used: Leaves and seeds
Ginkgo Biloba improves the flow of blood to the brain and increases oxygen to the brain cells. It is often used as an effective cognitive enhancer and memory booster. Ginkgo possesses anti-coagulating properties and prevents the formation of blood clots. This could in turn reduce risk of stroke. This herb contains powerful antioxidants. Its terpenoids and flavonoids protect the body from free radical damage and cell oxidation.
CAUTION: Ginkgo can sometimes cause headaches and dizziness if taken in large doses. You should not take ginkgo if you are taking anti-depressants such as MAOI or SRRI medicines.
Scientific Name: Cymbopogon citratus
Common Names: Silky heads, fever grass, barbed wire grass, tanglad, hierba Luisa, citronella grass or gavati chaha
Part Used: Grass, stem
Lemongrass is used to treat many health conditions, such as cancer, stomach problems, nervous disorders, fevers, arthritis, flu, gas, pain and others. Lemongrass tea is a relaxing beverage that helps reduce anxiety and promotes sound sleep. Used externally, it can treat skin problems and keep the skin moist and clear.
CAUTION: Lemongrass should NOT be taken if pregnant since it has uterine stimulating properties.
- Licorice Root
Scientific Name: Glycyrrhiza Uralensis
Common Names: Guo Lao, sweat herb, sweet wood, beauty grass, elf grass, pink grass
Part Used: Root
Licorice root is very popular in the Chinese medicine system. It is added to many herbal formulas to enhance their effectiveness. Licorice is great to detoxify the body. It is able to remove over 1,200 toxins. Liquorice can help to soothe the stomach in cases such as food poisoning, and IBS. It is also good for clearing the respiratory system, is good for heartburn, helps to ease a sore throat and can be used in dermatology.
- Valerian Root
Scientific Name: Valerian officinalis
Common Names: St. George’s Herb, Set Well, Vandal Root, Fragrant Valerian, English Valerian, Amantilla
Part Used: Root
Valerian is an ancient remedy for insomnia and a great stress buster. Many people find it an effective treatment for anxiety as well. The active components in this herb increase the production of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). The brain needs GABA to get to sleep faster and relax.
CAUTION: Valerian root should not be taken while pregnant. Do not give to children.