A Brief Guide To 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.
  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 or on-line consultation with someone you trust.
  3. If pregnant or breastfeeding, be ultra cautious. Many herbs are not definitely not safe in these situations.
  4. More herb is not necessarily better. In fact, 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 and consider a bowel formula (Richard Schulz does a good bowel formula, for example).
  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.
  7. Learn about energetics. This system takes into account the energetics or qualities of the herb (heating, cooling, drying, moistening) and also of the individual and their disease tissue. For example, ginger or cayenne are strong heating herbs that may used to stimulate the digestive fire or circulation that may help cold hands and feet, for example.
  8. Don’t go overboard with taking supplements. It can be confusing to consume too many herbs or supplements, people are going overboard these days. Supplements like vitamins, minerals, and so on, can often (but not always), be replaced with a varied and balanced diet. If you feel like your taking too much stuff, it might be time to have a break and reset.
  9. Pay attention to your bodies reactions. Discontinue the herb if you are having a bad reaction. Learn to trust your intuition.
  10. 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 pharmacist or doctor about potential drug-herb interactions.
  11. 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 many of these people out there.
  12. Be aware that herbal medicines may cause side effects and are not 100% safe. This is similar to pharmaceutical drugs, although generally they are a lot safer, do not believe people (herbal practitioners, homeopaths, naturopaths) saying to you they are completely or 100% safe for everyone.
  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 before changing 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. Always practice with a holistic approach. I mean here, herbal medicine is just one part of an overall picture where you may need physiotherapy, yoga, mindfulness, or to visit a chiropractor. Diet is important.
  16. Quality is important. Herbal extracts are very variable in quality and you will get very different results, so research well and find trusted companies you can order from. Different herbs have forms that work better, like St. John’s wort it is the fresh tincture with a deep red colour.
  17. If taking a formula it is usual to the reduce individual dose as the effects are often additive.
  18. Pay attention to recommended dosages. It is best to follow the label that comes with the product or guidelines from a good source. Only increase the dose in relatively small amounts, leaving time to observe the bodies reactions.
  19. Be aware that many adaptogenic/ Asian tonic herbs (e.g. Asian ginseng, cordyceps, rhodiola) are stimulating and can mess up your sleep. Try taking the more stimulating ones in the morning or just find others. Individuals with sensitive nervous systems need to be particularly careful with most adaptogenic herbs. For these people, it may be best to aim for low doses. There is no such thing as free energy. Adaptogens can be used out of context and lead to I believe Paul Bergner calls a ‘sleep debt’.
  20. Try to refrain from drugs or other intoxicants while taking herbal medicines.
  21. Herbal medicines should normally be taken at least 30 minutes outside of meal times to not compete with ordinary digestion, ideally, longer. I think taking tincture in water is preferable to directly into the mouth.
  22. Do your best to make sure you are sleeping well.
  23. Eat a nutritious plant based diet. I give more guidelines on the lifestyle page, but briefly, Paleolithic is good to learn from.