Posts Tagged ‘medicinal herbs’

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? 








Read Full Post »

Life on the farm is always a learning experience.  It has been especially so for me in my capacity as an Herbalist.  Every foray into the yard has the potential to reveal a new medicinal plant that I didn’t realize was there.  My computer is stuffed full of photos taken with the hope of identifying some new treasure.

Therein lies the frustration also.  There are some plants that I stumble across and think, “I know that is something, but I just can’t quite remember what it is…”.  There are some plants that I stumble across and think, That should be something,” but it turns out to be nothing more than an interesting weed that has no medicinal value, but it has abundant aesthetic appeal.  Either way, I usually end up digging a piece of it up to bring home and plant in my ‘special place’.

So, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the only one having this problem.  Therefore, I am going to make a great effort to share with you, my loyal, devoted readers, my finds.  Hopefully, I can save you a few hours of frustration when you are attempting to identify plants for yourself.

To keep things interesting, I am also going to post pictures of the things that I cannot positively identify.  Be the first one to identify it and you will win a special gift, so make sure you leave me a link to your e-mail.  If I can’t contact you, I can’t send you your gift!


This is narrow leaf plantain, or plantago minor.  It grows like crazy year round, in just about any soil, and under almost all conditions.  If left alone, eventually it will grow to be quite large, the leaves often reaching a length of more than 1′ tall.  I have transplanted this herb successfully, but it seems to self-seed quite readily if allowed.

There are two types of common plantain, and both of them have the same medicinal benefits and grow under the same circumstances.  You can find a great picture of broad-leaf plantain, or plantago major here.

Plantain is an awesome herb and Mother Nature certainly had a plan in mind when she created this one.  It is incredibly handy to have nearby during the summer months when stinging or biting insects are everywhere.  A single chewed leaf placed on the affected area can provide nearly instant relief to the pain, itching and inflammation that accompany those summer insects.  Got a cut?  The same treatment helps.

There is more to it than that, though.  The leaves of this little fella contain tannins, which are astringent.  This means that it is able to draw tissues together, be it internally or externally.  This can help stop bleeding, as well as speed healing.

  • Plantain is a natural source of potassium and calcium.
  • It is a diuretic that can help with the kidneys, liver, spleen and bladder by flushing out impurities that contribute to infections in the urinary tract.
  • It is helpful in any type of female complaints.
  • It may help control cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • It is a very mild laxative.
  • It soothes the mucus membranes and helps loosen and expel phlegm from the lungs and respiratory system.
  • It soothes the stomach and helps ease indigestion and heartburn, as well as any other  inflammation or irritation of the intestinal tract. It is believed to help absorb toxins in the bowels, allowing them to be released from the body.
  • It contains salicylic acid, which is the predecessor of synthetically-made aspirin, which accounts for its effectiveness at relieving all types of pain.

Plantain is a great field first-aid herb.  Ever been strolling through the grass barefoot and stepped on a bee?  A piece of broken glass?  A stick?  Pick a couple of leaves, chew them up really good and cover the sting or wound.  This will help stop pain and bleeding, reduce swelling, slow the spread of poison, and protect the wound until you can obtain proper medical treatment.

Because plantain grows in all but the very coldest of weather here in Missouri there is little need to harvest and dry it, and it is much more effective when gathered fresh.  However, the years that I haven’t dried any, I’ve inevitably found myself in need of it during the cold snow and ice of February.  I have found the best way to dry it is on the lowest setting of my dehydrator, as it is prone to mildew if not dried quickly.  Ideally, it should be dried in a single layer, maintaining a temperature of 85-95 F in a dark place that gets plenty of air circulation.  When it is crisp but not crumbly, it can be stored in a paper sack or a glass jar.

Like most herbs, this one can double as a filler in your salad, too.  A few leaves chopped up and added to your plate of greens will add just a hint of bitterness that will help stir up those digestive juices and give a little kick to your taste buds, too!

Red Clover

Everyone knows what red clover looks like, so you probably didn’t really come looking for a description. Here’s a quick one, anyway…

Soft, spiky balls grow on long stems.  Beautiful leaves of variegated green (like in the picture above), or dark green with a pale green arrow-shaped marking like this:

It grows everywhere around here…along roadsides, in fields and pastures, in lawns and gardens.  Rocky soil, sandy soil, clay soil, perfect soil.  It really isn’t picky.  It puts off two crops a year ~ once in early/mid spring, and again in mid/late fall.

It’s incredibly easy to harvest, also.  When you see a patch, pluck the pretty little flower and dry it in a single layer in a warm (85-95 F) well-ventilated area.  Many of the dried blooms will retain some of their color.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on with the real reason I wanted to post this herb.  Like plantain, it’s a medicinal powerhouse.  So much so, in fact, that even the government and big pharma have had to acknowledge it as medicinally viable, even if they do so only grudgingly.

Numerous studies have shown red clover to be exceptionally helpful in treating many forms of cancer.

Used internally or externally, this is a valuable herb to have on hand for just about any ailment.

  • Purifies the blood
  • Cleanses the liver
  • Improves circulation and cardiovascular health by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, in the bloodstream.
  • Encourages bone growth, slows bone loss and boosts bone density
  • Adds strength and flexibility to arteries
  • One of the premium sources of phytoestrogens which help increase the levels of estrogen in our bodies, thereby reducing menopausal symptoms
  • Contains vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and Vitamin C.

For those of you who have never wandered through the feel and picked a clover blossom to chew on, you are totally missing out.  The blooms are sweet and somewhat moist, making them perfect for adding to spring or fall salads, especially if you are looking for a vitamin and mineral boost that doesn’t come in the form of a pill!

Read Full Post »

Hmm…where to start.  First off, let me just say that I have put off writing this post for a couple of years.  It’s not that I’ve been afraid to write it, really, but it just seems so….common.   Stereo-typical.   Trendy.

A recent experience has convinced me that the time has come, though.  You see, I saw the effects of some of these ‘herbal smoke blends’ that are being to sold to anyone who cares to buy them on a group of teenagers, and it has me so mad that I’m willing to overlook being labeled ‘trendy’.  Let me just say for the record…if you are smoking these ‘herbal incense’ in some misguided attempt to duplicate a marijuana high, you are a first class idiot.  Not just a little bit of an idiot, either.  A really big, monster-sized, moronic idiot. If you have convinced yourself that these ‘smoke blends’ are safe, you are an even bigger idiot.  In fact, you deserve  an ‘idiot of the decade’ award.  What one of the more well-known blends did to a couple of teenagers was sickening.  Projectile vomiting, severely decreased blood pressure, dangerously lowered heart rate and profound disorientation.  It was enough to make me consider doing some serious bodily harm to a group of unbelievably stupid teenagers!

Throughout history, many plants have been smoked.  Some to attain an altered state-of-mind, some for medicinal purposes, and some just to see if they did anything at all.  Some produced miraculous results.  Some resulted in death.  Some produced permanent brain or lung damage.   Whatever the outcome, the point is this…if you haven’t been trained in the use of plants, or at least studied up on them, you have no business smoking them, eating them or otherwise introducing them into your body.

All that being said, here is the truth…some herbs have very valid, useful properties when smoked.

For instance, mullein is an awesome smoking herb ~ but only for clearing the lungs.  Really.  It eases muscle spasms, and loosens congestion and phlegm, which really comes in handy when you have a lung infection, fluid on the lungs or have a persistent cough. Want to quit smoking?  Try a toke off a mullein joint!  Catnip is a mild sedative that helps relax the muscles and the mind, but you aren’t likely to get anywhere a marijuana high from it. Sage, oregano and mint can also be smoked, but without a valid medical issue, why bother?  No mind-blowing highs will ever be achieved from any of them.

Then you have your other category ~ herbs smoked for religious purposes.  While it might sound like a sorry excuse, there are many religions that have smoked herbs in ceremony to achieve an altered state of mind.  They have been doing it for millennium with some astounding effects.  Shamans, dream-walkers, priests….all of them have their means of communicating with the gods, and often they involve smoking or inhaling the smoke of plants.  So, theoretically yes, you can achieve an altered state of mind with many of them.  Profoundly so.  However, in most cases, the dose between ‘altered state of mind’ and ‘permanently brain damaged’ or ‘dead’ is minute.

Which takes us back to this ~ if you don’t know what the herb is, the Latin name for it, how it has been used historically and what its possible side effects are, don’t be taking it.  Not by inhalation, ingestion, injection or topical application.  Don’t know how to find all that info out?  I don’t really suggest the internet be your single source of valid info.  Go to the library.  Go to the book store.  Ask a trained Herbalist.

There is a single exception to this rule.  You knew it was coming, right?  All together, now….marijuana.  Hemp.  Reefer.  Ganja.

Hot topic, right?  Remember that trendy title I wanted to avoid.  Here’s were it comes in.  It is constantly in the news.  There are television shows about it.  It has been used throughout history.  Should we legalize it?  Shouldn’t we?  Should it only be legalized for medicinal use, and how do you control how people will use it? Is it even a viable medicinal source?

I think the most telling argument for that question is this…both the medical establishment and the government, while labeling it of no use medicinally, has gone to great lengths to make a synthetic version of it and many state governments have legalized it for medicinal use in patients with cancer, glaucoma,  MS and several other medical conditions.  They synthetic version is something of a joke.  Useless, really, but the question remains ~ why spend million of dollars creating a synthetic version if the real version is so useless?

As an Herbalist, I am regularly asked if I ever give, sell or use marijuana.  While driving around in my van, people see my business name and ask me if I have any pot for sale.  My answer is usually, “Yeah, sure!  I have a thriving business selling it out the side of my family van!”  I’m seriously considering carrying around several  bags of a primo catnip/oregano blend with a few drops of patchouli oil mixed in to sell to anyone stupid enough to ask me that.

Here is my official answer.  No, I neither give away or sell marijuana.  What do I think about the use of it?  I would rather see someone prescribed a large quantity of marijuana than a single anti-depressant, pain pill, aspirin, acetaminophen or vaccination.  I won’t go into a rant about the dangers of any chemically-created, synthetic medication on the market.  Instead, I’ll explain my opinion.

Marijuana has been used medicinally since, at least, 1200 b c.  Go back further and you will find they were using the plant for many other things, also.  Paper.  Clothing.  Rope.  Something with that kind of history has to have some basis in fact.  Humans adapt.  They learn.  After a few thousand years, they would have thrown this herb by the wayside if it didn’t have a significant medicinal value.

There are a million-and-one studies out there concerning the effects of marijuana, both long-term and short-term.  For every one that finds a negative effect, another is there to contradict it.   So, who do you believe?  I believe the one with the most valid research and non-prejudiced starting point.  Those are increasingly hard to come by, but they do exist.  This is one of the better ones out there.

So, after years of study, I am convinced that marijuana has no negative effects, either long or short term.  It has been shown in several studies to be both safe and effective for relieving pain, increasing appetite, easing tension, calming the system and can help prevent the development of some cancers and other diseases.  It does not produce long or short term lung troubles, cognitive issues or any other issue.  There is not a single drug available through the medical institution that can boast those statistics.

Furthermore, unlike many other drugs, both legal and illegal, there is not a single documented case in which marijuana was solely responsible for any act of violence, public disorder or other crime.  It was found to be ‘a contributing factor’ when paired with alcohol, cocaine, barbituates, and a whole host of other drugs, but never on its own.  It is not a drug that makes you feel ten feet tall and bullet proof.  It doesn’t make you want to run out and pick fights with the biggest guy in the bar.  It truth, you are far more likely to sit on the couch and munch on stale chips than you are to even consider leaving your house.

Do I believe it should be legalized?  Absolutely.  Do I condone the use of it?  Absolutely.  Do I think you should write your congressman and insist they vote in favor of legalization?  Absolutely.  Do I recommend running out and buying some?  Not in the state of Missouri, but if you live in, say…California…absolutely, but only with a valid prescription.

Now, back to where we started.  Safe smoking herbs are out there, but most people, even those creating these ‘safe, legal smoking blends’ don’t know which ones they are or how they should be smoked.  They may be legal, but they are far from safe.  Just say no.  And, should you see or hear of someone who is smoking one of those blends…slap them in the forehead for me.

Read Full Post »