Ten Medicinal Herbs You Should Know
(Debra Nuzzi holds Master Herbalist degrees from Dominion
Herbal College and the School of Natural Healing. She has been a
student of herbal medicine for 22 years and has taught herbology
since 1984. She is the author of the herbal video series, Herbal
Preparations and Natural Therapies-Creating and Using a Home
Herbal Medicine Chest She is president of Nature's Apothecary
Inc, a fresh plant herbal extract company, and Essential Aromath
erapy, which manufactures aromatherapy inhalers. Both are in
Boulder, Colorado - The editors.)
By Debra Nuzzi, MH
ONE hundred years ago, the kitchen garden was also the medicine
garden, and plants which produced medicinal benefit were part of
the working knowledge of the common people. Those plants which
were difficult to cultivate were sought in the surrounding fields
and meadows, then preserved and added to the harvest storehouse
to soothe and heal the illnesses of winter.
With the advent of the chemically synthesized drugs, the
home pharmacy has all but disappeared, and with it the knowledge
of simple herbal remedies for common ailments. This knowledge is
now resurfacing: researched and regenerated by people who want to
take an active and independent role in their own health care.
A very necessary part of this renaissance is self-education.
Starting is easy. Just familiarize yourself with a few key
herbs and begin to use them in your daily life. As you see how
effective they are it will spark your desire to learn more, and
you're on your way!
Following is a list of 10 commonly available herbs and simple
ways to use them in personal health maintenance. These herbs are
easily available and fulfill a wide range of benefits with a
minimum amount of effort.
ALOE LEAF (Aloe Vera) - This plant has hundreds of uses, the
most popular being its ability to alleviate the pain of burns and
to speed their healing. It is very easily cultivated as a house
plant, and should be in every kitchen. It is the best remedy for
sunburn, often preventing later peeling. Immediately immerse the
burn in cold water or apply ice until the heat subsides, then
generously apply the aloe. It is best to trim the prickly sides
off the succulent leaf, then split the leaf in half and gently
rub the exposed gel onto the affected area. Aloe may also be ap
plied to any cut or skin abrasion, and onto skin eruptions, re
markably speeding healing. To relieve the pain and itching of
hemorrhoids, carve out a suppository sized chunk of the inner
leaf gel and insert into the rectum.
BURDOCK ROOT (Arcticum lappa) - Well know as a blood detoxifica
tion agent and eaten as a vegetable known as Gobo in oriental
cuisine, Burdock root is available throughout the U.S. It is used
for skin eruptions and dry scaly skin conditions. Burdock is also
used as a digestive stimulant and to lower blood sugar. Its seed
is used as a diuretic and kidney tonic. The root is now found in
supermarkets and can be cooked as a vegetable or made into a
decoction. Fresh plant fluid extracts of the root and seed are
also available in health food stores.
COMFREY LEAF/ROOT (Symphytum officinalis) - Comfrey should be
grown as a house plant in every home. Like Aloe, it is a natural
herbal bandaid, useful for cuts, scrapes and burns. It is styp
tic, which means that it will stop bleeding. Commonly known as
"knit-bone," it stimulates tissue regeneration. Used externally
as a poultice, it helps heal bone fractures and deep wounds.
Recovery rate is accelerated with use of this fresh plant poul
tice on muscle, tendon and ligamentous injuries. Thoroughly
cleanse the wound with an antiseptic first,because Comfrey is so
quick to regenerate the tissue that it will seal over the wound
with the bacteria still inside.
DANDELION ROOT (Taraxacum officinalis) - Dandelion is naturally
high in potassium, making it a safe diuretic, increasing the
ability to eliminate waste products through the urinary channels.
It helps restore kidney function and relieves liver and spleen
congestion. It is extremely beneficial as a spring tonic which
stimulates sluggish liver function. The root should be made into
a strong decoction, which means that it should be cut into small
pieces and simmered in a glass or enamel vessel for at least 10
minutes before straining and drinking. The fresh plant fluid
extract can also be used. set 20-30 drops into a cup of hot water
and drink as a tea.
ECHINACEA ROOT (Echinacea angustifolia) - A powerful immune
stimulant, Echinacea has become increasingly popular in recent
years. Its antiseptic and anti-viral properties are used for sore
throats, flu, colds, infections and allergies. It also has tumor
inhibiting properties. The most potent form is a fresh plant
fluid extract,however, medicinal benefit can also] be derived by
mixing a decoction, as explained under Dandelion.
GARLIC BULB (Allium sativum) - Best known for its antibiotic
effect, garlic bulbs or the milder garlic greens can be eaten raw
at the onset of a cold or flu. A small piece of bread may be
necessary to make the spicyness more palatable. You can grow
garlic greens by planting the bulbs in a 4-inch-deep pot, and
trimming them to use in salads or stir fry dishes. Garlic oil is
effectively used for ear infections. It is easily made by finely
chopping enough fresh organic garlic bulbs to fill a jelly jar,
and covering them with organic olive oil. Cover the jar with
cheesecloth held on with a rubber band. Let the mixture sit in a
warm room for a week or a sunny window for several hours (if you
need it right away). Strain the oil and store it in an amber
glass jar. The warmed oil is then placed in the ear and plugged
with a cotton ball. Leave in overnight and treat nightly until
the infection is gone. This therapy is not to be used in cases of
eardrum perforation. A wonderful garlic cough syrup can be made
by simmering freshly chopped garlic in apple cider vinegar for 10
minutes. Strain the resulting liquid, add honey and simmer down
until the mixture is thick and syrupy. The vinegar neutralizes
the garlic taste, making it much more tolerable, yet preserving
the antibiotic effect.
GINGER ROOT (Zinziber officiale) - Ginger has a carminative ef
fect, which means that it will help relieve digestive problems
which result in gas formation. It is also a diaphoretic, used
both as a tea and added to a soaking bath to stimulate sweating
and reduce fevers. In cases of abdominal menstrual cramping, a
ginger fomentation can be made. A fomentation is prepared by
slicing 1-3 large roots into a half gallon of water and simmering
in a covered pan for at least 30 minutes. A cotton cloth is then
dipped in the mixture, wrung out (wear rubber gloves, it's hot!)
and applied to the abdomen as hot as can be withstood. Two folded
bath towels are placed on top to help maintain the heat of the
fomentation as the therapy progresses. Internally, 1/4 teaspoon
of ginger or one dropperful of the fluid extract can be added to
1 cup of warm water to alleviate nausea/morning sickness/motion
sickness and to aid digestion.
KELP (Nereocystis leutkeana) The kelp family, which includes
kombu, wakame, arame and hijiki, is known for its ability to
combat the effects of radiation in the body. Radioactive stron
tium-90, one of the more prevalent sources of radiation, is
stored in our bones, and contributes to long term diseases such
as leukemia, bone cancer, Hodgkins disease, anemia, and decreased
production of red and white blood cells. The sodium alginate
found in the kelp family binds with the radioactive isotope in
the gastrointestinal tract and forms an insoluble gel like salt
called strontium alginate, which is safely excreted in the feces.
(For more information on radiation detoxification, see Fighting
Radiation with Foods, Herbs and Vitamins, by Steven Schechter,
ND. Kelp is recommended as a daily addition to the diet)
ST. JOHN'S WORT (Hypericum perforatum) - The extract and oil are
used externally for bruises, strains, sprains, contusions and
wounds. The extract is used internally as an immune system stimu
lant, for retro-viral infections, as an expectorant and antibac
terial. It speeds the healing of wounds and burns and aids the
regeneration of damaged nerve tissue. It is used as an anti-de
pressant and to treat bed wetting and children's nightmares. It
is also known as Klamath weed, a common pasture plant, and is
found throughout the U.S.
VALERIAN ROOT (Valeriana officinalis) - Valerian is classed as a
nervine and sedative with mild pain relieving properties, which
makes it a good candidate for stress, anxiety and restless insom
nia. It has also been used for intestinal colic, menstrual
cramps, migraine headache, and rheumatic pain. Although it smells
like well used socks, the extract and tea are both recommended.
It is vitally important to properly identify the plant you are
harvesting before you use it. Forest Service visitor centers
carry plant identification books for their region, and the
Petersen Field Guide series plus a range of medicinal plant hand
books are also sources of botanical identification. Most of
these books can be found in local bookstores. It is wise to take
classes or go with an experienced guide when you are in the early
learning stages. Herbs are precious natural resources, and should
be ecologically harvested. The following guidelines for harvest
ing help insure herb potency and purity and help preserve the
species for further enjoyment.
Medicinal herbs should be:
1) Gathered in the proper season. General rules are: Barks in
the spring; leaves before the plant flowers; flowers on the first
day of opening; roots are best in the fall (although they are
sometimes harvested in spring, previous to aerial plant develop
2) Gathered in wild habitats where the plants naturally grow or
should be organically grown according to certification standards
established by the state in which they were harvested.
3) Harvested in an area free of chemical/industrial pollution
of air, water and soil.
4) Gathered at least 1/4 mile from any traveled roads, and at
least 10 miles from any waste disposal or toxic dumping areas.
5) Protected from over-harvesting by leaving at least 3/4 of
the stand intact for reproduction and continuance of the species.
If roots are dug, root crowns and seeds must be replanted to
perpetuate the growth and proliferation of the plant.