Guidelines for using herbal medicines safely and effectively

Using herbal medicine safely and effectively requires attention to guidelines. I have provided those that seem important to me here:

  1. Take your time, educate yourself, and please do not do anything rash. I think it is worth taking time to study every herb you want to work with in detail.
  2. Consult an experienced herbal practitioner if you feel like you need help. Do research into who is the best person in your area, traveling further distances may be helpful.
  3. If pregnant or breastfeeding, be ultra cautious. Many herbs are not definitely not safe in these situations. It best to work with an experienced practitioner if you are in this situation.
  4. More herb is not necessarily better. In fact, especially for chronic conditions, it is clear many herbs work very well taken at low doses for long periods of time. I have written about this on the dosing page in more detail here.
  5. Be a good detective. Always look for the underlying cause, like if some one has only one bowel movement per week and is getting headaches, it may be time to change the diet to include more fibre and possibly consider a bowel tonic herb.
  6. Either the single herb approach (what is called specific medicine) or using a more complex formula are both valid approaches. See what you are comfortable with, for example, the Eclectics tended to use between 1-3 herbs. I usually use between 2-6 herbs at a time. To begin with, perhaps it is best to start with just 1 or 2.
  7. Fresh or recently dried tinctures are often preferred as they are usually stronger. Good quality liquid tinctures made from whole leaves, flowers, roots, etc is generally preferred to dried capsules and standardised extracts. Form and quality of the herbs are really important. Find trusted suppliers.
  8. Take time to learn the herbal actions, the anatomy of the body, and basic cell biology.
  9. Learn about traditional energetics. This ancient system used by the ancient Greeks and integral to TCM and Ayurveda takes into account the energetics or qualities of the herb (heating, cooling, drying, moistening) and also of the disease tissue and the individual. E.g. ginger is a warming herb that warms the digestive ‘fire’ or increases its power, but could also potentially aggrevate inflamed or ‘hot’ membranes in the intestines.
  10. Pay attention to your bodies reactions. Discontinue the herb if you are having a bad reaction. Learn to trust your intuition.
  11. If you are already on pharmaceutical drugs, be more cautious. Research interactions carefully and be aware effects are often additive. E.g. sedative herb plus a sedative drug = more sedation. This effect can be dangerous. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential drug-herb interactions.
  12. Do not stop seeing your ordinary doctor and believing in the value of conventional medicine. The site is more geared towards people with minor issues they don’t want to take drugs for, or people who have found inadequate relief with mainstream medicine and are therefore desperate, there are many of these people out there unfortunately.
  13. Herbal medicines may take some time to work so be patient. Herbs can be divided into slow and fast acting, to heal chronic conditions, the slow acting tonics are usually best. 2 months is a good amount of time to wait to evaluate the efficiency of a formula.
  14. Dosage is dependent on the individual. For example young people (under 16) or old people (over 65) will require less of a herb, so be cautious with these people especially.
  15. Herbal medicines should normally be taken at least 30 minutes outside of meal times to not compete with ordinary digestion.