Understanding Herbal Medicine
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Green Health
a column by Trilby Sedlacek, AHG, appearing regularly in The Stone Path

Herbal Medicine: Let's Make It Simple

Many individuals who are seeking a more "natural way," to health have found that another goal they are striving for, simplicity, is nowhere in sight! The desire to rush to acquaint oneself with all of the many approaches to herbal healing, not to mention the various brands and formulas which are marketed today, can make the whole thing seems confusing, frustrating and, as some would have us believe, even dangerous. Thankfully, this path of indiscriminate acquisition is no longer the path I follow.

Once I discovered that information on herbs falls into three simple categories, as do the herbs themselves, I was able to use herbs more freely and move more confidently through the prodigious number of products and books available. These categories, together with a few simple guidelines, allow us to move beyond our bewilderment and fear, and to venture from the familiar.

Herbal Medicine and the Tri-fold Path


All herbs are considered food by the FDA, and, in their bulk form, most of us are familiar with many herbs as actual foods. Garlic, Onions, Oats, Flax, and many of the greens we should be eating are actually herbs. "My food is my medicine, my medicine is my food," is such a common old saying but it fits perfectly into this paradigm. Additionally, there are many others like Nettles, Oat straw, Bee Pollen, and Red Clover that are still in the FOOD category but may be taken as teas or capsules. They are powerful herbal medicine as foods. Herbs in this category are considered tonic and nutritive in nature. The more you take the better (always within reason of coarse) because they generally have no known negative effects or toxic levels. There is no set dose; most people take these to improve their overall health and well being.


These are herbs that should only be taken for an actual reasonóan illness, for example, or a chronic condition. One would not in general take these as a daily tonic all the time. These herbs should only be taken for a specific reason, in a specific dose, for a specified amount of time. This category contains many of the currently popular herbs like Ginseng, Saw Palmetto, Chaste Tree Berry, Valerian, and Echinacea. A person should be able to tell if they have chosen the right herb by whether or not it is effecting a positive change in the original condition for which the herb was selected. Many herbs fall in this category and are easy enough, with some simple guidance from an herbalist or a good herbal reference book, for anyone to take on their own. Wisdom, not fear, is the best advice here. I teach in my classes that individuals should cross reference an herb in more than two herbal books if they are completely self-prescribing with herbs.


Herbs in this category should only be used by an individual under the supervision of a professional clinical herbalist or other qualified health care practitioner. Herbs such as Poke Root, Arnica, Ephedra, and Lobelia are powerful medicine, and highly effective when used appropriately. Dosage and preparation are extremely important. Herbs in this category are frequently used for more serious conditions that take more powerful medicines such as Cancer and Hepatitis C. These herbs are not usually found in health stores out on the shelves; one must usually work through an herbalist to gain access. Safety and understanding the energetics of strong herbs is most important. One place to contact a competent herbalist is through The American Herbalist Guild at http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com

Three categories. How simple. However, there are always exceptions to the rules, and the voice of common sense should never be ignored. Some herbs may fit in more than one category; used in different applications, they will create a different effect. Donít let this confuse you. Keep the three rules in mind as a framework, and you will begin to feel comfortable with herbs.

Herbal medicine is the peopleís medicine and should be utilized by anyone and everyone for its protective, tonic, safe, and nutritive value. The incidence of side effects and negative reactions to properly used herbs is minuscule in comparison with those from modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. Herbal medicine is most appropriately seen as a first choice in health care, saving the more potentially dangerous medicines as a last, or at least late, resort. Keep in mind that individual idiosyncratic reactions to any food or herb are always possible. Your own awareness of your health is the best tool you have working for you today. In this day and age of pollution, toxic waste, processed foods, etc., I encourage everyone to seek the natural path for their health. Green blessings!


"Understanding Herbal Medicine: Letís Make It Simple," Trilby Sedlacek, AHG, from The Stone Path and the Green Health Archives


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