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Herbal Medicine: A Guide To Herbs, Herbal Preparations & Herbal Actions

    Herbal Medicine Has A Mild Yet Profound Effect

    Herbs and herbal medicine are some of the most powerful natural remedies known and are available without a prescription. These super medicines are one of nature’s cures.

    As we move towards the millennium, people find themselves taking more responsibility for their own health. Herbs and herbal medicine allow people to maintain and restore themselves to vibrant health, even in the face of serious or long-term illness.

    Uses Of Herbal Medicine

    Herbs have been used to treat everything from arthritis to cancer, heart disease and obesity, asthma and ulcers. There have been an overwhelming number of satisfied users to who support the effectiveness of herbs and herbal remedies.

    Herbs and herbal medicine have played a vital role in the development of humanity. References to herbal remedies have been found in early hieroglyphic texts of the Egyptians and in the Vedas from India. Herbs contain many powerful ingredients that if used correctly can help the body to heal itself. Herbs are a wonderful natural alternative to many health issues.

    What Is A Herbal Medicine Or A Herbal Remedy

    An herb is any plant that can be used to season our food or for medicinal purposes to heal the body. This includes trees, shrubs, flowers, vines and ferns. Regardless of their appearance, all herbal medicine contain one or more active ingredient.  These can include vitamins and minerals, enzymes and essential oils. Non-toxic by nature, herbs are traditionally taken individually, or can be combined with other herbs. The non-toxic nature of herbs makes them safe and effective to use for a multitude of conditions.

    Are Herbal Medicines Safe?

    Herbs are gentle remedies that have a mild, yet profound effect on the body. Unlike prescription medicines, which suppress symptoms, herbal medicine work to restore balance to the body. Herbal medicine works to tone the body’s organs and glands, to supply the body with vitamins and nutrients and help the body to relieve itself of toxic accumulations. This makes the body strong and allows our natural internal healing processes to begin. They help us to ignite our own internal healing fires.

    Common Herbal Medicine Preparation Methods

    Herbs are available in a variety of forms including fresh, dried, in tablets or capsules, or in bottled or liquid forms. You can buy them individually or in mixtures formulated for specific conditions. Whatever type of product you choose, the quality of an herbal preparation – be it in capsule, tablet, tea, tincture, bath, compress, poultice, or ointment, is only as good as the quality of the raw herb from which it was made.  Here’s a look at the different herbal preparation methods that are commonly used and are available.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Creams

    Creams are mixtures of oils or fats with water. Since water and oils do not readily mix, it is necessary to add an emulsifying agent that prohibits their separation. Medicinal herbs, typically in the form of a tincture, infused oil or decoction of herbal, can then be added to creams. An herbal cream blend can be applied directly to the skin where it is absorbed by the body. Creams are permeable, allowing the skin to breathe and sweat.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Decoctions

    Roots, barks and fruits are thicker and less permeable than the aerial parts (leaves and flowers) of medicinal plants.  They do not release their active components by simple infusion. It is necessary to simmer these parts in boiling water in order to extract their medicinal constituents. The roots, bark or fruit should be cut or broken into small pieces.

    When preparing, in order to avoid loosing volatile constituents, a lid should be placed over the simmering pan. Separate the solids from the liquids after the decoction has cooled down. Decoctions can be taken hot or cold.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Essential Oils

    Essential oils are the volatile oily components of aromatic plants, trees and grasses. They are found in tiny glands located in the flowers, leaves, roots, wood and resins.

    Essential oils are extracted by four main methods: steam distillation, expression, solvent extraction and effleurage. In the first method, the oil is extracted by the action of hot steam and then selectively condensed with water from which it is separated. The oil is extracted by pressure or centrifugation, in the second method,. In the third method, the oil is dissolved in a volatile solvent that, when evaporated, leaves a heavy natural wax substance called concrete.

    When separated from the wax, the resulting liquid is called an absolute, the most concentrated form of aroma available. Effleurage is a longer process involving the dissolution of the oils in animal fat and its separation using alcohol. Although an essential oils’ primary usage is in cosmetics and perfumery, many of them have proven therapeutic properties.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Infused Oils

    Pure vegetable oils like sunflower, almond and olive oil are easily found at grocery stores. They have the property of dissolving the active, fat-soluble principles of medicinal plants and herbs. This process is called infusion and can be carried out at room temperature or higher. Infusion is a slower process than alcohol extraction but has the advantage of resulting in an oil based solution of medicinal constituents that can easily be used to make creams and ointments.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Infusions

    Infusions are a simple way of extracting the active principles of herbs through the action of hot water. The preparation of infusions is similar to the way we prepare tea. This method is used to remove the volatile components of the dried or green aerial parts (flowers and leaves) of herbs and plants. Infusions may use single herbs or a blend and can be consumed either hot or cold. Certainly this is the most common and least expensive method of extracting the medicinal compounds from herbs.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Ointments

    Ointments are prepared like hot infused oils, the difference being that herbs are simmered in waxes or fats and contain no water. After separating out the simmered herbs, by squeezing and cooling, the result is a solid mixture of the wax or fat with the medicinal constituents of the plant. Petroleum jelly, soft paraffin wax and beeswax are some common bases used. Ointments form an oily barrier on the surface of injuries and carry the active principles to the affected area.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Syrups

    With some rare exceptions, such as peppermint which is a familiar flavoring agent in toothpaste and chewing gum, infused or decocted herbs are not palatable, especially for children. In order to disguise their taste, infusions and decoctions can be mixed with honey or unrefined cane sugar. This can be especially beneficial when caring for a cough or sore throat.

    Herbal Preparation Methods: Tinctures

    Most of the volatile components of herbal medicine plants are soluble in alcohol. By immersing dried or fresh herbs in alcohol, the active principles are easily extracted at concentrations that exceed those that can be achieved by infusion or decoction. These highly concentrated solutions will last for one to two years and are a convenient way to store and use medicinal.

    Ideally tinctures should be made using pure ethyl alcohol distilled from cereals. However, since this product is not available to the public a spirit such as Vodka, with 35-45% alcohol content can be used. The extraction process is fairly quick to achieve. A 50% mixture of herbs and alcohol kept in a tightly closed jar will hold a tincture ready for use when the need arises. Never use methyl alcohol, methylated spirits, isopropyl alcohol or any other kind of unknown spirit to make tinctures.

    How Do You Know Which Herbs To Select?

    Herbs are selected based upon their action, meaning what do you need the herb to do. The action of an herb is due in part to its active constituents. Active constituents are special chemicals or combination of chemicals and oils that are present in each particular plant and produce a particular result. These combinations may cause a synergistic reaction between various constituents of each plant thus providing a variety of effects.

    Herbs are chosen and combined in preparations according to their action. The action depends on the active ingredients. Most herbs have several actions and the skill in choosing the right herbs for a particular patient’s needs lies in selecting the right degrees of action and the best combination of actions in the individual herbs.  Each of these may be altered when different herbs are combined.

    Close study of the actions of each herb will improve your skill in understanding how and why these medicinal plants work. Below you will find a definition of the wide variety of actions herbs provide and the herbs that best represent that particular action.


    Substances which put the body into a state of non-specific heightened resistance in order to better resist stress and adapt to extraordinary challenges.

    Aswagandha, Siberian Ginseng, Ginkgo, Gotu Kola, Ho-Shou-Wu, Licorice, Reishi, Schizandra, Shiitake, Suma.


    An herb that will help to restore the proper function of the body and increase its health and vitality. Sometimes Alteratives are referred to as blood purifiers.

    Alfalfa, Black Cohosh, Blue Vervain, Boneset, Burdock ,Chaparral Leaf, Chickweed,  Cleavers, Cornsilk, Dong Quai, Echinacea, Garlic, Gentian Root, Golden Seal, Gotu Kola, Ho-Shou-Wu, Irish Moss, Kelp, Licorice, Mandrake,  Nettles, Oregon Grape, Pau d’Arco, Prickly Ash, Red Clover, Red Raspberry, Rhubarb, St. John’s Wort, , Sarsaparilla, White Willow, Yarrow, Yellow Dock, Yerba Santa, Yucca.


    Analgesics or Anodynes are herbs that reduce pain.

    Blue Vervain, Catnip, Chamomile, Dong Quai, Feverfew, Ginger, Jamaican Dogwood, Hops, Kava Kava, Lobelia, Passion Flower, Pau d’arco, Reishi, Safflower, Scullcap, St. John’s Wort, Valerian, White Willow.


    Herbs that work against parasitic worms, which may be present in the digestive system.

    Black Walnut, Chaparral Leaf, Garlic, Mugwort, Sheep Sorrel, Wormwood.


    Herbs with properties that can inhibit bacterial growth.

    Blessed Thistle, Cloves, Echinacea, Garlic,  Kelp, Licorice, Myrrh, Pau d’Arco, Reishi, St. John’s Wort, Scullcap, Yucca.


    Herbs that help the body remove excess bile.

    Barberry, Dandelion, Golden Seal, Mandrake, Vervain, Wild Yam, Wormwood.


    Herbs that help the body reduce excess mucous and phlegm.

    Boneset, Echinacea, Elder, Garcinia, Garlic, Golden Seal, Hyssop, Marshmallow, Oregon Grape, Sage, Saw Palmetto, Uva Ursi, Wild Yam, Yarrow.


    Herbs that reduce the feeling of nausea and can help to relieve or prevent vomiting.

    Barberry, Cloves, Elecampane, Fennel, Ginger, Oregon Grape, Red Raspberry, Wild Yam.


    Herbs that prevent or decrease the secretion of milk.

    Black Walnut, Sage.


    Herbs that help the body combat inflammations.

    Aswagandha, Blue Vervain, Butcher’s Broom, Calendula, Cat’s Claw, Chamomile, Chaparral Leaf, Cleavers, Devil’s Claw, Eyebright, Fennel, Feverfew, Gentian Root, Guggul, Horehound, Hyssop, Licorice, Reishi, St. John’s Wort, White Willow,  Witch Hazel, Wormwood, Yarrow, Yucca.


    Herbs that prevent the formation of, or help to remove stones or gravel from the urinary system.

    Gravel Root, Hydrangea, Stone Root, Uva Ursi.


    Herbs that can help the body destroy or resist pathogenic micro-organisms.

    Calendula, Cat’s Claw, Cloves, Echinacea, Eucalyptus, Feverfew, Juniper, Licorice,  Myrrh, Olive Leaf, Pau d’arco, Red Clover, Rose Hips, St. John’s Wort, Uva Ursi, Wormwood.


    Herbs that have the specific action of inhibiting and combating tumor development.

    Chaparral Leaf, Cleavers, Red Clover, Reishi, St. John’s Wort, Shiitake.


    Herbs that can be applied to the skin to prevent and resist bacterial growth.

    Bilberry, Black Walnut, Chamomile, Chaparral Leaf,  Cloves, Echinacea, Elecampane, Eyebright, Gentian Root, Golden Seal, Horseradish, Myrrh, Oregon Grape, Parsley, Queen of the Meadow, Red Clover, Sage, Sarsaparilla, Schizandra, Thyme, Uva Ursi, White Oak Bark, White Willow, Witch Hazel,  Wormwood, Yarrow.


    Antispasmodics can prevent or ease spasms and cramps in the body.

    Black Cohosh,, Blue Cohosh, Blue Vervain, Boneset, Calamus, Chamomile, Cramp bark, Dill, Dong Quai, Fennel, Garlic, Hope, Hyssop, Lady’s Slipper, Licorice, Lobelia, Motherwort, Mullein, Oat Straw, Passion Flower, Pennyroyal, Pleurisy Root, Red Clover, St. John’s Root, Scullcap, Thyme, Valerian, Wild Yam.


    Herbs used to stimulate sexual potency and passion.

    Angelica, Astragalus, Damiana, False Unicorn, Ginseng, Kava Kava, Muira Puama, Schizandra, Suma, Yohimbe.


    Herbs that have a strong and often pleasant odor and can stimulate the digestive juices.

    Angelica, Anise Seed, Catnip, Celery Seed, Chamomile, Cloves, Fennel, Feverfew, Garlic, Ginger, Ho-Shou-Wu, Juniper, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Sarsaparilla, Thyme, Valerian, Yerba Santa.


    Astringents contract tissue and can reduce secretions and discharges.

    Agrimony, Bayberry, Bilberry, Blessed Thistle, Blue Vervain, Butcher’s Broom, Calendula, Cleavers, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Cordyceps, Cramp bark ,Cyani Flowers,  Eyebright, Garcinia, Hops, Golden Seal, Hops, Male Fern, Muira Puama, Myrrh, Nettle, Periwinkle, Queen of the Meadow, Saw Palmetto, Schizandra, Slippery Elm, Squawvine,  St. John’s Wort, Stone Root, Suma,  Uva Ursi, White Oak Bark, Wild Cherry Bark, Witch Hazel, Wood Betony, Yarrow, Yellow Dock, Yucca.


    Herbs that taste bitter act as stimulating tonics for the digestive system.

    Barberry, Blessed Thistle,  Burdock, Catnip, Chamomile, Chaparral Leaf,  Coltsfoot, Dong Quai, Elecampane, Eyebright, Feverfew, Gentian Root, Golden Seal, Hops, Ho-Shou-Wu, Hydrangea, Schizandra, Wormwood, Yellow Dock.

    Cardiac Tonic

    Cardiac tonics are herbs that act beneficially on the heart.

    Cayenne, Cat’s Claw, Guggul, Hawthorn, Hops, Kelp, Motherwort, Myrrh, Reishi, Siberian Ginseng.


    Carminatives are rich in volatile oils and expel gas from the stomach and bowels.

    Angelica, Catnip, Chamomile, Cloves, Dill, Elecampane, Fennel, Feverfew, Garlic, Ginger, Hops, Hyssop, Juniper, Motherwort, Pennyroyal, Pleurisy Root, Prickly Ash, Queen of the Meadow, Thyme, Valerian, Wild Yam, Wormwood, Yarrow, Yerba Santa.


    In large doses cathartics purge the bowels and stimulate glandular secretions.

    Barberry, Cascara Sagrada, Hydrangea, Mandrake, Rhubarb, Senna, Yellow Dock.


    Herbs that stimulate the release and secretion of bile from the gall bladder. They also have a laxative effect on the digestive system.

    Barberry, Calendula, Dandelion, Gentian Root, Golden Seal, Mandrake, Milk Thistle, Oregon Grape, Wild Yam, Yellow Dock.


    Herbs that are usually rich in mucilage and can soothe and protect damaged or inflamed tissue.

    Chickweed, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Cornsilk, Fenugreek ,Garcinia, Irish Moss, Kelp, Licorice, Marshmallow, Milk Thistle, Mullein, Oat Straw, Psyllium, Pumpkin Seeds, Slippery Elm, Suma.  


    Depuratives are herbs that remove impurities and cleanse the blood.

    Black Walnut, Blessed Thistle, Burdock, Dandelion, Elderberry, Garlic, Gotu Kola, Oregon Grape, Pau d’Arco, Red Clover, Sarsaparilla, Watercress, Yarrow, Yellow Dock.


    These herbs will aid the skin in the elimination of toxins through perspiration.

    Angelica, Blessed Thistle, Black Cohosh, Blue Vervain, Boneset, Butcher’s Broom, Calendula, Catnip, Chamomile, Elecampane, , Fennel, Garlic, Ginger, Passion Flower, Peppermint, Pleurisy Root, Prickly Ash, Sage, Sarsaparilla, White Willow, Yarrow.


    Herbs that increase the flow of urine and help in the removal of toxins from the system.

    Alfalfa, Astragalus, Bilberry, Blue Vervain ,Buchu, Burdock, Butcher’s Broom, Cleavers, Cornsilk, Cyani Flowers, Dandelion, Dill, Dong Quai, Elecampane, False Unicorn, Fennel, Golden Seal, Gotu Kola, Gravel Root, Hawthorn, Juniper, Marshmallow, Nettle, Parsley, Parthenium, Pleurisy Root, Prickly Ash, Red Clover, Safflower, Sarsaparilla, Saw Palmetto, Squawvine, Uva Ursi, White Willow, Yarrow.


    Emetics are herbs that cause vomiting when taken in specific doses (generally high doses).

    Calamus, Elecampane, False Unicorn (in large doses), Lobelia, Mandrake, Poke root.


    Herbs that stimulate and normalize the menstrual flow.

    Black Cohosh, Blessed Thistle, Blue Cohosh, Blue Vervain, Butcher’s Broom, Calendula, Catnip, Chamomile, Cramp Bark, Dong Quai, False Unicorn, Fennel, Fenugreek, Feverfew, Ginger, Golden Seal,  Hope, Lobelia, Motherwort, Myrrh, Pennyroyal, Prickly Ash, Squawvine, St. John’s Wort, Valerian, Vitex, Wormwood, Yarrow.


    Herbs that are applied to the skin to soften, soothe, or protect it.

    Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Fenugreek, Flaxseed, Irish Moss, Kelp, Marshmallow, Mullein, Slippery Elm.


    Herbs that assist the body in expelling excess mucous from the respiratory system.

    Anise Seed, Blue Vervain, Calamus, Chaparral Leaf, Chickweed, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Cordyceps, Elecampane, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic, Golden Seal, Horehound, Hyssop, Licorice, Ma Huang, Marshmallow, Mullein, Myrrh, Nettle, Pleurisy Root, Red Clover,  Reishi,  Schizandra, Slippery Elm, Thyme, Wild Cherry Bark, Yerba Santa.


    The febrifuges help the body to bring down fevers.

    Angelica, Blessed Thistle, Boneset, Calendula, Cayenne, Gotu Kola,  Lobelia, Peppermint, Prickly Ash, Rose Hips, Sage, Scullcap, White Willow,  Wormwood.


    Herbs that help breast-feeding mothers increase the flow of mother’s milk.

    Blessed Thistle, Blue Vervain, Dill, Fennel, Fenugreek, Horsetail, Marshmallow, Milk Thistle, Nettle, Vervain.


    Hepatics strengthen and tone the liver as well as stimulate the flow of bile.

    Barberry, Cascara Sagrada, Celery Seed, Cleavers, Dandelion, Fennel, Golden Seal, Mandrake, Milk Thistle, Motherwort, Oregon Grape, Prickly Ash, Wild Yam, Wormwood, Yarrow, Yellow Dock.


    Hypnotic herbs will help induce sleep (not a hypnotic trance).

    Hops, Passion Flower, Lady’s Slipper, Scullcap, Valerian.


    Remedies that reduce elevated blood pressure.

    Astragalus, Cat’s Claw, Hawthorn, Hops, Reishi, Valerian, Yarrow.


    Herbs that promote the evacuation of the bowels.

    Barberry, Boneset, Burdock, Butcher’s Broom, Cascara Sagrada, Cleavers, Dandelion, Golden Seal, Licorice, Oregon Grape, Senna, Rhubarb, Yellow Dock.


    Mucilaginous herbs contain gelatinous constituents and will often be demulcent.

    Fenugreek, Flax Seed, Irish Moss, Kelp, Marshmallow, Parthenium, Psyllium, Slippery Elm.


    Herbs that strengthen and tone the nervous system, easing anxiety and stress.

    Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, Blue Vervain, Catnip, Chamomile, Cramp bark, Damiana, Feverfew, Ginkgo, Ginseng, Hops, Jamaican Dogwood, Lady’s Slipper, Motherwort, Oat Straw, Passion Flower, Periwinkle, Red Clover, Scullcap, Valerian, Wild Cherry Bark, Wormwood.


    Herbs that stimulate the contraction of the urerus.

    Blue Cohosh, Dong Quai, Golden Seal, Red Raspberry, Squaw Vine.


    Herbs that can kill parasites in the digestive tract and on the skin.

    Black Walnut, Blue Vervain, Chaparral Leaf, Cloves, Elecampane, Feverfew, Gentian Root, Pumpkin Seeds, Wormwood.


    Herbs that have a general strengthening and healing effect on the respiratory system.

    Angelica, Chickweed, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Elecampane, Golden Seal, Licorice, Marshmallow, Mullein, Slippery Elm.


    Can produce very strong laxative effects and watery evacuations.

    Aloe Vera, Cascara Sagrada, Rhubarb, Senna, Yellow Dock.


    Herbs that simulate circulation locally when applied to the skin.

    Capsicum, Cloves, Fennel, Ginger, Horseradish, Nettle, Peppermint, Prickly Ash.


    Strong herbs that can quiet the nervous system.

    Black Cohosh, Bugleweed, Catnip, Celery Seed, Chamomile, Cramp Bark, Hops, Kava Kava, Lady’s Slipper, Lobelia, Motherwort, Passion Flower, Periwinkle, Red Clover, Saw Palmetto, Scullcap, St. John’s Wort, Valerian, Wild Yam.


    Herbs that stimulate the secretion of saliva from the salivary glands.

    Cayenne, Gentian Root, Ginger, Horseradish, Licorice, Prickly Ash, Rhubarb.


    Herbs that quicken and enliven the physiological function of the body.

    Angelica, Bayberry, Calamus, Calendula, Catnip, Cayenne, Cloves, Dandelion, Elecampane, False Unicorn, Fennel, Feverfew, Ginger, Ginkgo, Ma Huang, Muira Puama, Myrrh, Prickly Ash, Sarsaparilla, Schizandra,  Valerian, Wild Yam, Wormwood, Yarrow.


    Herbs that promote digestion and strengthen the stomach.

    Catnip, Chamomile, Chickweed, Cloves, Elecampane, Fennel, Gentian Root, Ginger, Golden Seal, Papaya, Peppermint, Red Raspberry, Rhubarb, Wood Betony, Yerba Santa.


    The tonic herbs strengthen and tone either specific organs or the whole body through nutritional stimulation.

    Alfalfa, Angelica, Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Black Cohosh, Black Walnut, Boneset, Burdock, Calendula, Catnip, Cat’s Claw, Cayenne, Chamomile, Cleavers, Coltsfoot, Cordyceps, Cyani Flowers,  Damiana, Dandelion, Echinacea, Elecampane, Fenugreek,  Garlic, Gentian Root, Ginger, Siberian Ginseng, Golden Seal, Gotu Kola, Hawthorn, Hops, Ho-Shou-Wu, Hydrangea, Licorice,  Male Fern, Milk Thistle, Motherwort, Muira Puama, Myrrh, Nettle, Oregon Grape, Poke root, Prickly Ash, Red Clover, Red Raspberry, Sarsaparilla, Saw Palmetto, Schizandra, Sheep Sorrel, Skullcap, Squawvine, Spirulina, Suma, Uva Ursi, Watercress, Wild Yam, Wormwood, Yarrow, Yellow Dock, Yohimbe.


    Herbs that help promote healing of external wounds and cuts.

    Aloe Vera, Calendula, Chickweed, Comfrey, Elder Flower, Golden Seal, Horsetail, Hyssop, Male Fern, Marshmallow, Mullein, Myrrh, Plantain, Rhubarb, Sage, St. John’s Wort, Slippery Elm, Wood Betony.

    Working With Herbal Medicine

    If you desire to utilize herbs for medicinal purposes, it is best to work with a qualified herbal medicine practitioner. While herbs are in general safe and non-toxic, they are powerful remedies and should be treated as such.

    If you are currently on prescription medication, it is important that you consult with your primary health care physician before reducing or eliminating medications. It is also important that you familiarize yourself with different herbal remedies.   Talk with your herbal practitioner so that a safe and effective herbal medicine program can be identified specifically for you.

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