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Posts Tagged ‘insomnia’

Pain happens. Headaches, backaches, wounds, broken bones, bumps and bruises. It is almost second nature for us to grab an aspirin, acetaminophen, an ibuprofen, or, for some, something a bit stronger. Unfortunately, even the safest of these options come with serious negative side effects. Liver and kidney damage, stomach or digestive issues, neurological damage. In extreme cases, even death.

The last few decades have conditioned us to believe that our options are not just limited, but non-existent. We either take the options on the market (or at the pharmacy), or we deal with the pain. Under no circumstances should we consider taking natural alternatives. Not only are they extremely dangerous, but they are quite ineffective. I’m still trying to work out the incompatibility of that last statement.

I gotta wonder, though…if natural alternatives are so ineffective, why did the medical world develop some of their best medicines from them? Aspirin from willow bark. Opium, morphine, codeine and laudanum from poppies. Digitalis from foxglove. The list is long and impressive, and pretty interesting, if you are into that kind of thing.

The point is, there is an abundance of exceptionally effective, natural alternatives for dealing with pain of all types. In truth, some of them work faster, more effectively and, well…better. These are a few of my favorites:

Castor oil packs

Most of us have heard horror stories of grandmothers forcing a spoonful of castor oil on reluctant children when they had belly aches. I simply cannot condone that level of torture, but castor oil is not without powerful medicinal benefits.

Of course, the above scenario is not without it’s benefit, either. Castor oil is a highly effective, exceptionally safe laxative for all ages. The biggest problem with this method is actually choking it down. The good news is, it only takes 4-6 hours in most cases for a dose of castor oil to completely cleanse the bowels. A little more good news, a single dose is only 1-2 tablespoons for adults, and 1 tsp for children. Mix it with a bit of fresh fruit juice and it really isn’t so bad.

Castor oil is a strong fungicidal due to its high content of undecylenic acid. Ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch…castor oil applied topically daily for a week will help tremendously in any of these situations.

Castor oil is exceptionally moisturizing. It attracts and holds in moisture, so it is the perfect addition to any beauty routine. Acne, dry hair, dry scalp, age spots, warts, and skin tags are just a few of the issues that can be improved with regular use of castor oil.

However, one of the very best ways to administer castor oil is through the use of a castor oil pack. I don’t know all the science behind castor oil and how it does what it does. What I do know is that I have seen it work over and over again to help the body heal, to provide relief from pain of every kind, in every part of the body. I have seen it help people who were in liver failure to detox. I have seen it help shrink cysts and tumors. I have seen it perform nearly miraculous things. But, that’s just MY experience with it. Sore muscles? Use a castor oil pack on them. Arthritis? Try a castor oil pack. Painful period? Use a castor oil pack. Seriously. You gotta try this!

Castor oil packs can be a bit messy, but are relatively simple to use.  All you need is:

  • a bottle of castor oil
  • 2 pieces of natural cloth like wool or cotton. One should be large enough to completely cover the area you intend to apply it to. The second piece should be larger by about 4 inches in both directions.
  • a piece of plastic
  • a towel that you don’t mind getting stained
  • a hot pack or heating pad

Here’s what you do with all of that:

  • Thoroughly coat the smaller piece of the cloth with castor oil. You want it wet, but not dripping. The piece of cloth should be large enough to completely cover whatever area of the body you are treating.
  • Cover the castor oil soaked cloth with a piece of plastic.
  • Cover the plastic with the larger piece of dry cloth. This piece is going to help hold in the warmth so it should be something heavy and natural like wool, cotton or flannel.
  • Place a heating pad on top of your cloth. That’s it. Now just kick back and relax for a spell. Leave the pack on for at least 20 minutes, but I like to leave it on overnight. You will want to put an old towel or sheet under you, because castor oil will stain whatever it touches.

You can use an ace bandage or strip of fabric to secure the castor oil pack in place.

Don’t throw out your castor oil pack after one use, either. The same castor oil pack can be used 10-15 times. Just store it in the fridge between uses and add a bit more castor oil if it begins to dry out.

This is one of those great treatments that work immediately. By the time you remove the castor oil pack you will be feeling better. When dealing with long-term and/or chronic conditions,  I have used this treatment daily for two weeks with absolutely no negative effects. For things like menstrual cramps, arthritis flare-ups, and muscle aches/spasms, we use it as often as we need to. In most cases, we are back up and moving comfortably after an hour or so.

Sometimes we need something that works a bit faster, right? And,  maybe more convenient? After all, I doubt the boss is going to approve of you taking a break to apply a castor oil pack that you will need to wear around the office for a while.

It’s cool. I have this one covered. Herbs. The answer is herbs.

Quit rolling your eyes. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Let me try to impress upon you the unbelievable power of herbs to help control pain when used properly.

I live on a farm. I do yoga. I garden. I paint. I write. I bead and sew and crochet and knit. I spend HOURS in the kitchen. I make soap. I build fires. I play with grandsons. I spend unfathomable amounts of time staring at a computer screen.  None of these activities seem especially dangerous, right? Look a little deeper.

Yoga and gardening are the source of many muscle aches, strains and sprains. Crafting, writing and gardening require the use of my hands, which are prone to attacks of arthritis, small cuts, big cuts, cuts from stems and tools (because, you know, why wear gloves like any rational person?). Hours in the kitchen can occasionally produce burns, cuts and other injuries that we need not name, as can building and maintaining fires in the wood stove. Computer screens give me massive headaches. Living on a farm covers everything from shins bashed into trailer hitches to broken limbs. Playing with grandsons…well…the danger potential there is unlimited. So, you see all of the levels of pain that my family may experience at any given moment. Keep that in mind when I make my next statement.

We have not needed a ‘conventional’ pain reliever since we started using herbal pain-relieving options. No aspirin. No acetaminophen. No prescription pain killers.

What is this miracle herbal pain-reliever, you ask? Well, it isn’t one herb. Or even two. It is a combination of herbs. While each of the herbs we are about to discuss work reasonably well for minor pain all by themselves, combining some of them can be far more effective than many of the dangerous synthetic pain pills flooding the market and killing people by the millions. Unlike prescription or OTC pain relievers, there is no risk of organ failure, heart issues, digestive issues, neurological issues…no negative side effects for a normal, healthy person. Did you catch that? These alternatives should not be used if you have some pre-existing conditions. Some of these herbs can interfere with medications, which can cause big problems. Some of these herbs should not be taken long-term. If you are not trained in the use of herbs, don’t just go taking these herbs willy-nilly. Consult a Certified Herbalist. Really. Don’t be stupid.

Okay, you’ve been warned. Now, let’s move on. I have found a beautiful blend of herbs that works fast (it has never taken more than 10 minutes to feel relief) on every kind of pain we have thrown at it. I’m going to tell you the herbs. Not the formula. The formula, Nerve-Ease, took me a long time to perfect, and is easy for an amateur to mess up.

  • Black cohosh – this root is most often used for female complaints related to the menstrual cycle, menopause, and female organs. This is because of the fact that it has many natural estrogens. What many don’t realize is that is also has a mild sedative effect, is anti-inflammatory, and acts as a mild anti-depressant, just to name a few of its benefits.
  • Catnip – yeah, the same herb your cat flips out over. Catnip is a fabulous pain reliever, and one of the safest option available for all ages, including small children. It is a mild relaxant, it settles the stomach, it calms the nerves, it reduces pain, and it promotes relaxation and sleep without any drowsiness.
  • Cayenne – there is a lot of science behind this herb, and how it works is a whole lesson in itself. We will just leave it at this: cayenne is a powerful pain reliever, and it boost the ability of any herb it is working with. One of the many additional benefits of cayenne is its ability to stop bleeding. There are very few of my formulas that don’t contain a bit of cayenne for very good reason. It is safe for all ages and requires only a small amount to be effective.
  • Chamomile – this is a wonderful sedative herb that works powerfully, but mildly, on the body and mind. It, like catnip, promotes relaxation without making  you drowsy, so you can go to sleep easier without waking up feeling foggy or disoriented. It soothes the nerves, so it is good for anxiety and depression. It is anti-inflammatory. It soothes muscles and joints. Chamomile is safe for any age and can help control just about any type of pain or discomfort you may be having. It is pretty tasty, too!
  • Hops – while best known for its use in beer making, hops has a long history of medicinal use. As with many herbs, hops has a variety of uses. Herbalists often use it for its ability to calm the nerves and promote sleep without causing drowsiness or brain fog. It is an anti-inflammatory, so it also helps with nerve pain, or pain caused from internal inflammation.
  • Mistletoe – the same plant that we stand under for a chance at a free smooch is a most excellent nervine. That means that it helps soothe frazzled nerves and helps rebuild damaged nerves. It is an anti-inflammatory, as well as an immune system builder.  Mistletoe has so many healing benefits that we can’t cover even a fraction of them here, but it also has some warnings attached to it. It is a fantastic pain reliever, but must be properly prepared and used only under the supervision of a Certified Herbalist or natural health practitioner.
  • Mullein – one of my all time favorite herbs, I could spend hours extolling it’s many virtues, not the least of which is it’s pain-relieving capabilities. It doesn’t matter what the pain stems from; Mullein will help soothe it. This is an especially useful herb for dealing with pain from broken bones, sprains and strains, as well as pain from inflamed, irritated mucous membranes in the lungs and respiratory system.
  • Skullcap – if you are looking for power and performance, this is the herb to go to. It’s pain-relieving properties are well known among herbalists, and this is one of the first choices for helping promote sleep, calm anxiety, reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being. It is not an easy herb to work with, though, and is best used fresh, as it loses much of it’s ability with drying.
  • Turmeric – If you have been on the internet in the last couple of years, you have heard of turmeric and all of it’s health benefits. It is used for everything from cancer treatment to dental care. More than 6,000 peer-reviewed studies have been done on this herb, and more are being done daily in an effort to understand it’s range of healing. Even among standard medical groups, turmeric is gaining popularity because they are finding that it is more effective than many prescription drugs for treating a variety of health issues. Pain, depression, heart issues, inflammation, stomach issues, cancer, diabetes and cholesterol are just some of the issues that turmeric is having a profound effect on, all without a single negative side effect.
  • Valerian root – this is easily one of the smelliest herbs known to mankind. Fortunately, it is also one of the best pain-relievers ever. It is a mild, but highly effective nervine that helps calm anxiety, promotes relaxation and sleep, soothes pain and promotes a general sense of well-being.
  • Willow – this is where aspirin comes from, in case you didn’t know. A long time ago, some scientist got the bright idea to extract what they believed was the active pain-relieving constituent in willow bark, then called it medicine. If they would have just left the herb alone they would have gotten much farther. Willow bark has all the phenomenal characteristics of aspirin, but it also has built-in protectors that keep it from harming the liver and other organs. It is not without dangers of its own, though, and should only be used under the supervision of a Certified Herbalist or alternative medical practitioner.

The world of herbal medicine contains a vast array of other effective pain-relievers, but these are the ones I prefer. When used together, they have the ability to fight pain stemming from nearly every source imaginable. They can replace anti-depressants, sleeping pills, nerve pills, stomach pills….pills, pills, pills. They can even help you wean off many of those pills without suffering the symptoms often seen from withdrawals.

This is by no means a complete list of the many ways natural health practitioners approach pain management, especially long-term. However, reaching for a more natural option for every day aches and pains seems like a no-lose situation. If it doesn’t work for you, there is always the option of running to the drug store for a bottle of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but why start there if you don’t have to? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Insomnia is the inability to obtain an adequate amount or quality of sleep. The difficulty can be in falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. People with insomnia do not feel refreshed when they wake up. Insomnia is a common symptom affecting millions of people that may be caused by many conditions, diseases, or circumstances.”   ~ medical dictionary ~ thefreedictionary.com

That definition was for those of you who don’t suffer from insomnia.  Those of us who do already know what it means, and we know that the definition, no matter the source, can never actually explain the entire scope of this affliction.  Let me give it a shot, though.

Insomnia is an affliction that, when you lay down and close your eyes because you are so exhausted you can’t possibly do anything else, your mind springs to life and causes your eyelids to fly open and stick that way, despite all of your best attempts at closing them.  It makes your legs twitch and your brain spasm with a million thoughts.  It inspires you to create great and fantastic things-just as soon as your exhausted body can move again.  It precipitates deep and poetic thoughts that should be preserved in leather-covered tomes – if only you weren’t too tired to write them down.  It tickles the imagination into seeing shapes in the dark, like pictures in the clouds, that you know are really only figments of your sleep-deprived brain.  It makes you count sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and every other animal in a vain attempt to bore yourself into a sleep-induced coma.

Then, when you have finally attained that much-longed-for state of unconsciousness you are suddenly jolted from sleep after an hour -or maybe two or three- to find that you are still hours away from the break of day and everyone for miles around is still sleeping soundly.  It is lying there staring at the clock, counting away the minutes and knowing that the exhaustion is still there, just waiting to overtake you as soon as you have reached the point in your day that is the busiest/most important. By lunchtime, you aren’t quite sure if you want to jump in front oncoming traffic or choke the nearest passerby. Not because they have done anything wrong, but simply because you know that they got a good night’s sleep that was denied you.  For that, they deserve a good beating.

And that’s only one night’s worth of missed sleep.  The second night gets a little hairier.  By the third or fourth night you begin to see the logic behind men like Dexter and Dahmer. Rational thinking is only a dim memory ~ an elusive dream (pun intended).

Do I sound like a commercial for the latest sleeping pill?  I should totally get paid for writing this stuff, right?  Still, anyone suffering from insomnia knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as popping a pill and drifting off to Dreamland. Besides the obvious side-effects of sleeping pills  ~ liver damage, heart damage, kidney failure, ulcers ~ there is the small matter of being able to function the day after.  Sleeping pills, if they even work, make you so frackin’ tired the next day that you might as well have just stuck with your original state of sleep-deprived exhaustion.

So, what is the alternative?  Duh! It’s herbs, of course.  You had to have seen that one coming…

Quit snickering.  Have you tried them?  I don’t mean have you tried a single cup of chamomile tea before bed.  While chamomile has its benefits, to the hard-core insomniac it is like drinking a cup of water.  No, what I’m talking about are the other herbs.

You thought I was talking about marijuana, didn’t you?  While I will admit that I would recommend that particular herb if I lived in the appropriate state, that’s not what I meant.  I’m talking about herbs like valerian and skullcap.  St. John’s wort.  Peppermint.  Vervain.  Mullein. These, my friend, are the magic pill for the true Insomniac.

I’ll be honest.  It took me a while to figure this one out. I did try sleeping pills over the years.  Prescription.  Over the counter.  Under the counter.  Beside the counter.  I didn’t care if there was a chance that I might get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Not one of them was worth it.  It was out of sheer desperation that I put my insomnia to use and spent a few nights coming up with a more natural formula that I prayed would work.  Now, I keep a jar in my pantry and refill it regularly.

Bonus…it works as a pain-killer, muscle relaxant, tummy-soother and mood-stabilizer, also.  Let me explain the how’s and why’s.

Valerian

Valerian is the bad-boy of sleep aids.  I still maintain that herbs work best when combined with other herbs, but if I were ever to use one by itself, this would probably be it.  It is in the top 5, anyway.  Valerian is actually classified as a nerve tonic because it has the ability to both sooth and heal the nerves.  By soothing the nerves, you allow your body to fall into sleep naturally, stay asleep longer and wake up feeling great.  Valerian goes a step farther, though.  It will actually help rebuild nerve sheaths that have been damaged, making it a great herb for long-term use in diseases that affect the central nervous system and the nerves.  Don’t think valerian is going to suddenly make you fall asleep, though. It doesn’t work that way.  It works by relaxing the entire body and making it possible to sleep.  That means that after you take it, you need to go lay down and close your eyes.  Let your body do it’s thing!

Skullcap, like valerian, is a potent nervine that has been used for centuries with fantastic results.  It is so soothing to the nerves that it has even been used to successfully alleviate the symptoms of drug withdrawal, as well as epilepsy, hysteria, anxiety, nervous headaches and insomnia. Naturopathic doctors often recommend using skullcap as an alternative to conventional ADD medications, also.  Skullcap should not be taken if you are pregnant, as it is capable of inducing a miscarriage.

Mullein is one of those herbs that should be in every medicine cabinet.  It is good for coughs, for pain, for soothing the nerves…the list is long!  Mullein has been described as being ‘hypnotic’ and ‘highly narcotic without being toxic’. That means that, even if your sleeplessness is due to pain, mullein is capable of handling it.  Cough keeping you awake?  Mullein will take care of that, too.

Mullein flower

St. John’s wort is a well-known anti-depressant.  In the herbal world, that means it is soothing to the brain.  It relaxes you by relieving tension, stress and other factors that contribute to restlessness and fatigue.  It is best to take this one over a period of time, and in conjunction with other herbs.  It is also a highly effective pain-reliever and immune-system stimulator.

Vervain is not just for warding oneself against vampires. It has aspirin-like effects that help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It is a muscle relaxant and mild anti-depressant that helps improve the general action of nerves and enhances the entire system, especially when taken over a period of time.  It is a mild sedative.  Here’s the catch with this herb, though…you don’t want to just grab a bottle of this herb and start eating it.  Vervain works best when it is combined with other herbs that strengthen and relax the nerves, and if you take too much you’ll soon be heaving your guts up instead of sleeping.  Used in the proper manner it is a valuable addition to the insomniac’s medicine chest, but used wrong and it is worse than useless.

So, really….put away the Ambien and the Tylenol PM.  You don’t need them anymore!  You just need a good, trained herbalist (like me) to whip you up a batch that contains these herbs.  Of course, I have a batch already made and waiting called ‘Sweet Dreams’…I’m just sayin’….

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Warning: Please consult a physician before consuming any type of herb or flower, as many of them will interfere with medications. While we at Tamara’s are careful to use only those herbs considered safe, it is always possible that someone will have a negative reaction. None of the statements made are intended to diagnose or treat anyone or anything! If you are pregnant, please avoid all herbs, as many of them can bring about early labor and other problems.

Have you ever browsed the drug store shelves in search of the cure for that nasty headache or relief for your throbbing sinuses? You have a gazillion different pills to choose from! Heartburn? Grab a pill. Cramps? Grab a different pill. Constipated, agitated or still a bit inebriated? There’s a pill for that, too.

The problem with those pills is that they only mask your symptoms so you think you are better. It’s simply a mind (and money) game. If you really want to get rid of those symptoms, there is a better way!

Eat a weed. Or, more precisely, an herb or two.

It took a while, but my friends and family finally realized that if they are coming to visit me, they better bring their own stash of pills ’cause they won’t find one in my house. Not an aspirin, not a Tylenol, not an antacid… If a headache strikes within the walls of my house, they’ll likely find themselves with a cup of hot tea in front of them!

I’m usually met with a strange look, but few people have the nerve to criticize my methods to my face, so they politely sip their tea while trying to come up with an excuse to run to the nearest drug store. By the time they come up with one, though, they find their headache (or belly ache or whatever ache) has disappeared.

Without a doubt, headaches are the most common complaint, which means my Happy Head Tea is constantly at the ready. Granted, it takes a bit longer to sip that cup of tea than it does to pop that pill, but the long-term benefits blow the pill out of the water! Why? Because the herbs work to correct the problem rather than disguise the symptoms, and works just as quickly. Bonus ~ the headache won’t be back in 3 hours!

Second in line for most-used is the Belly Achin’ Tea. This is one of the few herbal teas that even my kids like to drink. Pleasantly minty and fast-acting, this works great when you’ve over-eaten, have excess gas or just over-did it on the junk food.

And, we can’t forget the popular Sweet Dreams Tea. As a chronic insomniac, there have been many nights that this beauty has sent me gently to sleep when I was certain there was no hope. Unlike sleeping pills, you don’t wake groggy and disoriented and it isn’t necessary to have 7-8 hours of sleep before the effects wear off.

Okay, so this sounds like a sales pitch. However, I needed some frame of reference and my teas provided that. The truth is, though, you don’t need to buy these teas from me. The herbs are available at most health food stores and on several internet sites. I would highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for their high quality, affordable herbs. They offer organic and fair-trade herbs at very reasonable prices. Please keep in mind, though, that if you intend to mix up your own blends you need to be careful to research proper dosage and side effects.

Feeling brave? Here are the recipes for a few of my most popular teas and a glimpse of why I chose those particular herbs.

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Happy Head Tea:

Catnip, basil, lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, blessed thistle, spearmint, mullein and yarrow.

Catnip

This is a very mild herb that has been used in many cultures as a sedative, pain reliever and blood cleanser for centuries. It is gentle enough to use on children and potent enough to provide relief to adults. It is also known for its use as a digestive aid. Headaches are often caused by stress, poor diet, improper digestion and accumulated body toxins, so catnip is a perfect choice to include in my Happy Head tea.

Basil

The anti-inflammatory action of basil is known to help shrink blood-vessels and swelling that contribute to headaches and its sedative effect helps dull the pain. It is also known to be a system stimulant that helps your organs to function properly, which allows your body to process and release toxins that contribute to headaches.

Lavender

This herb is known to calm the nervous system, promote relaxation, sooth anxiety and reduce inflammation. It has been used for centuries by the wealthy to ease headaches caused from tension and stress.

Lemon Balm

This herb is unusual because it acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. It invigorates the mind and body, while it soothes the nerves, making it a wonderful addition to headache formulas.

Peppermint

Peppermint stimulates the entire system, helping the body to function as its meant to, and also contains wonderful pain-relieving properties. Its minty scent invigorates the mind and help relieve tension, stress and fatigue.

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Belly Achin’ Tea

Burdock, slippery elm, catnip, basil, peppermint, anise, ginger, sage, green tea, hops

anise

While this herb is most commonly known for its use in cough syrups and lozenges, it also a wonderful herb to use for indigestion and other stomach issues. It helps relieve gas and settle an upset stomach. It is believed to have originally been used in ancient times as a seasoning for meat and vegetables, due in large part because of its value as a digestive aid. It is also an anti-spasmodic, which helps relax the muscles of the stomach.

ginger

Ginger cleanses the body of toxic waste and calms nausea. It is an aromatic bitter, which means that it stimulates the digestive system. It helps tone the intestinal walls which helps ease the transport of substances through the intestines. Ginger is also and anti-parasitic, which means that it aids in the removal of parasites such as intestinal worms and other little critters that often cause stomach troubles.

sage

Widely known for its many healing properties, sage is valuable when treating any type of stomach disorder including constipation, nausea, gas, diarrhea and intestinal disorders. It also stimulates the appetite, thereby stimulating the digestive system.

hops

Heartburn, gas, nausea, colic, ulcers and general stomach upset have all been treated for centuries by hops. Often used to calm anxiety, this herb helps relax the body, which makes it wonderful for those belly upsets brought on by stress and anxiety, too!

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Sweet Dreams Tea

Hops, catnip, peppermint, lavender, chamomile, mullein

You’ll notice that each of these herbs were used in the other formulas. One of the beauty of herbs is that they often have a variety of medicinal constituents. This allows them to treat many different bodily systems in many different ways.

Some herbs, like peppermint, are known for their ability to treat the entire system. Combining peppermint with other herbs enhances a particular aspect of it, for example: combine peppermint, hops and anise to make a powerful remedy for stomach issues. Combine it with lemon balm, basil and catnip and you have a potent headache remedy.

In the case of Sweet Dreams Tea, it is combined with herbs like chamomile, lavender and hops which are all known to relax the mind and body. Easing away tension, stress and over-stimulation will provide your mind and body with the opportunity to drift off to sleep a bit easier. You won’t notice an overwhelming tiredness, as happens with synthetic sleeping aids. This herbal blend works gently, so that all you need to do is add a little darkness and quiet to the mix and you wake refreshed and ready to face the day, rather than groggy and disoriented.

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Note: I don’t recommend mixing these blends yourself unless you have studied each of the herbs carefully and understand proper dosage and the benefits/risks of each herb. While each of the herbs used is considered safe, they can affect other medications you may be taking or medical issues that you have. Always consult your medical adviser before taking any herbs.

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