Five holistic herbs for holistic health care
As I sit here writing this article, I am engulfed in the sweet, pungent, and bitter smell of a dandelion and burdock root syrup simmering on the stove.
A few years ago, you’d never find anything like that brewing in my kitchen.
It’s been an interesting eight-year journey as I’ve learned to manage and, I believe reverse, my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
I started with changing my diet, adopting meditation, slowing down in life, working on gut health, balancing hormones, enhancing detoxification, etc. As I’ve progressed through various stages of healing and setbacks (healing is never linear), I’ve now found myself immersed in the beautiful world of herbal medicine.
Of course, lifestyle factors and nutrition are first lines of defense when one is ill, as is fresh air, sunshine, exercise, prayer/meditation, and laughter, but the wonderful thing about herbs is that they can be used as both food and medicine.
I’m sure you’ve added rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro, dandelion leaves to your meals. Eating herbs (especially in season) is a great way to nourish your system, enhance digestion, improve liver function, help balance hormones, and deeply fuel your body.
Another way to benefit from them is to use them for their medicinal properties in a more focused and potent way.
This can be done in the form of tinctures, tonics, syrups, powders, decoctions, infusions and teas used over a prolonged time.
I’d like to make it clear that I am not an herbalist, but I have enjoyed studying it for the past year. I use herbalism as a guide to holistic self-care, with myself and others.
I will admit that since studying herbal medicine and working with individual herbs, both with myself and with my clients, I have found a new way of supporting people through a very old tradition.
Herbal medicine is reconnecting with a system that has been passed down through generations that uses material from the natural world to support, enhance and ultimately help people feel better.
There is a strong relationship between nature and humans. If you are familiar with our work, you’ll know that we integrate nature into our client’s protocols and programs.
We thrive in nature. We feel better and healthier when we spend time outside, eat real food and use herbs as both food and medicine.
It makes sense that plants would be a key part of someone’s healing journey or part of maintaining good health and wellbeing.
We have co-evolved with plants; they are our partners. They have been with us since the evolution of man.
They know us.
They know how to work in our bodies. Our bodies recognize their herbal constituents.
Plants allow us to reconnect with nature in harmony and support. Something, I believe, everyone can benefit from.
They improve our lives, make us feel our best, improve wellbeing and help us operate and vibrate at an optimal level.
What draws me to herbal medicine is the wholeness that it offers.
It focuses on nourishment.
It focuses on individuality.
It focuses on integration.
It focuses on interconnectedness.
It focuses on our inner wisdom.
In this article, I introduce you to five plants that have significantly improved my health and the health of others.
Plants are powerful allies that not only work on the physical level but on an energetic one too.
They have personalities and preferences.
As you get to know a plant, you’ll be amazed at how much they have to offer.
One of the things I love about herbal medicine is matching the energetics of the herb to the personality of the person (as you’ll see below).
If this article inspires you to try one of the herbs listed below, I recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications. Herbs can be powerful and may interact adversely with prescription medications.
I encourage you to take the time to read the ‘matching energetics’ of each herb. These are powerful ways to find which plant you may benefit from working with, either on your healing journey or to help you reach new heights in energy and vigor.
Everyone has an individual blueprint. The herb that resonates with you may not be the right one for someone else. If you choose to work with one listed below, make sure you see at least three strong indications for working with it.
The focus of herbal medicine is on supporting the body not controlling it. It’s not about changing or balancing different systems of the body but in truly nourishing a person’s physical body, being and soul.
As with any medicine, it’s a good idea to keep a daily journal of your process. Tuning in and listening to your body is really what it’s all about.
Here are some dosage guidelines for chronic health problems by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar from her book Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide:
Tea: 3 to 4 cups of medicinal tea daily
Syrup: 1 to 2 tablespoons of herbal syrup twice daily, or as needed
Tincture: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of tincture two or three times daily, for a total of up to 3 teaspoons daily
Capsules: 2 or 3 capsules two or three times daily, for a total of up to 6 capsules daily
Her book is also filled with wonderful recipes that are easy to prepare.
Ashwagandha – Withania somnifera
Ashwagandha is a highly restorative herb, working to nourish and calm the nervous and immune systems, combat stress, fatigue, and low energy. Used daily, it helps promote restful sleep, grounded focus, strength, and stamina.
Ashwagandha is a harmonizing adaptogenic herb that has been used in Ayurvedic Medicine for hundreds of years.
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar explains the power of adaptogenic herbs:
“These plants all share a particular intelligence in common — they work ‘non-specifically,’ meaning they target multiple functions in the body — physically, mentally and biologically. The inherent intelligence of adaptogens also works by providing your body with what it particularly needs in that moment. For example, if you’re fatigued, adaptogens give you energy; or, if you’re anxious, they can calm you down. This is due to the infamous impact that these special plants have on our endocrine system, the HPA axis (hypothalamus + pituitary and adrenal glands). In a nutshell, they meet your body where it’s at, and match it by chemically remedying what’s needed to restore balance.”
Therapeutic Actions – nervine, neuoregenerative, anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, adaptogen, rejuvenator.
Ashwagandha has been used traditionally for anxiety, insomnia, and nervous disorders. It is nourishing and rejuvenating to the whole system, increasing energy and vitality. It helps facilitate restorative sleep – somnifera means “sleep-inducing” in Latin and helps balance blood sugar.
Matching Energetics, this herb is for someone:
- with high anxiety
- who can’t sleep
- who suffers nervousness
- who startles easily
- has insomnia from tension
- carries the weight of the world
- suffers from exhaustion
- suffers from chronic physical pain
- has fibromyalgia
- feels chronic fatigue
- experiences low libido
- is depleted from life
- is afraid to go to bed for fear of not falling asleep
- has recurrent herpes outbreaks
- has had the shingles virus
As my herbal teacher and mentor, Seraphina Capranos says:
“Think of this herb for nervous, anxious, depleted people who may suffer from chronic pain and insomnia, and are afraid to go to bed for fear of not falling asleep.”
Ashwagandha seems to increase the quality of energy available, and allow for a steadier stream of energy altogether.
It is no wonder that it is used in rituals and ceremonies as the “elixir of life.”
Cautions & Contraindications:
Ashwagandha is part of the Solanaceae family – the nightshade family.
Not to be used during pregnancy or nursing.
It can lower blood pressure.
I prefer to use the powder form – 1 teaspoon of the powder twice daily – consume with a fat for better absorption such as coconut milk, nut butter, or add to a smoothie.
This beautiful plant has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It has made its way across the ocean from India and is offering its deeply nourishing and energizing medicine to us. If you’re looking for sleep support and energy, or are dealing with chronic herpes outbreaks, give Ashwagandha a try.
Dandelion Root – Taraxacum officinale
The common dandelion is known for its pesky and abundant vitality and can grow in any space. It is one of the best-esteemed herbs for healing and dandelion root is a supreme liver ally.
In her book, Healing Wise, herbalist Susan Weed talks about how dandelion root increases the vitality of one’s life by working on the whole body – toning up the liver, spleen, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, skin, nervous system, glandular, digestive, urinary, circulatory, immune, and lymphatic systems.
Therapeutic Actions – diuretic, cholagogue (promoting the flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder into the intestines), anti-rheumatic, laxative, tonic, anit-bilious (helps to remove excess bile), hepatic.
The entire dandelion plant can be used as both medicine and food. It is an excellent digestive biter that stimulates all aspects of the digestive system. It enhances detoxification via the liver by increasing bile production and excretion, stimulating and decongesting the liver and supporting kidney function due to its diuretic effects. The dandelion root has more affinity to the liver, therefore aiding in digestion, relieving constipation and improving fat digestion
Matching Energetics, this herb is for someone:
- who runs hot
- who sweats easily
- is loud, noisy, dramatic
- has hot flushes on cheeks
- experiences rage
- can be very impatient
- has moments of being mean spirited
- suffers from a lot of congestion (stuffy nose, clearing throat, chest congestion, etc)
- has digestive issues
- has chronic skin issues
- is stuck and irritable
- who is critical
- with a lot of anger
- who is judgemental
- who can’t handle eating fat
- has tinnitus
- experiences blood sugar crashes
- has low thyroid function
- deals with a lack of energy
- has chronic constipation
- feels indigestion
Fifteen hundred milliliters of blood circulates through your liver every minute. The liver helps remove chemicals, unneeded hormones, toxins, infectious organisms and more from your blood. It also adds in bile, glucose, lipoproteins, cholesterols and more.
I can attest to the successful use of this plant with myself and others dealing with menstrual issues such as cramps, premenstrual breast swelling and tenderness, and helping to regulate one’s cycle. Due to its stimulating and decongesting actions on the liver and digestive system, it supports the removal of excess hormones that often cause symptoms of PMS.
Cautions & Contraindications:
Due to its diuretic effects, use with caution in therapeutic doses. It can interact with pharmaceuticals.
Dandelion is part of the asteraceae family. People who have allergies to ragweed, daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums should be cautious using this plant.
What a strong, resilient plant dandelion is! It grows anywhere and in any circumstance – I’m sure you’ve seen it grow up through a crack in a city sidewalk. It is no wonder that it works deeply at strengthening and nourishing the liver.
A good working liver is crucial for healing, good health, and longevity.
St. John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum
St. John’s wort eases stress, aids in maintaining emotional and mental balance, supports the musculoskeletal system and uplifts the spirit. It has also been used over thousands of years as a wound-healing agent.
St. John’s wort is one of the most well-studied plants, with many scientific trials attesting to its efficacy as an infection fighter, anti-inflammatory, wound healer and anti-depressant.
It’s no coincidence that the medicine comes from a bright yellow flower that is harvested in the early days of summer. If you crush the yellow flower between your fingers, you’ll notice a beautiful dark red stain. This is the flavonoid hypericin which holds the herbs antiviral and antidepressant properties.
It stores the sun’s energy and offers a calming and uplifting effect.
It is a nervine, meaning it helps to relax and calm the nervous system. It is a tonic both taken internally and externally and has been used very successfully used for reducing nerve damage and pain.
According to Herbalist Maria Noel Groves,
“St. John’s wort most famously alleviates mild to moderate depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with an action akin to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, without the side effects. However, this is a limited view of an amazing herb. St. John’s wort thrives in intense sunlight and brings sun energy to blends. According to folklore, it protects against evil spirits and hexes – in modern terms, dark thoughts, nightmares and oversensitivity to the negative energy of others.”
Therapeutic Actions – Anti-inflammatory, astringent, vulnerary, sedative, analgesic.
St. John’s wort has been traditionally used topically for skin conditions such as inflamed, damaged, torn, dry, painful and cracked skin. It is gaining traction with its successful use in mild to moderate depression, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and anxiety. It a wonderful nerve tonic, both inside and out. It has sedative and pain-reducing effects that bring relief to nerve pain and nerve damage (trigeminal neuralgia, sciatica, shingles, rheumatism). It can enhance mood and decrease stress.
Matching energetics, this herb is for someone:
- who is completely maxed out
- who has no light in their face (energetically drained)
- who carries work, family, school stress
- is on survival mode
- is barely making through the day
- who don’t recognize oneself
- who is sick and tired of feeling sick and tired
- who suffers from SAD (seasonal affective disorder)
- who gets irritable easily
- with a heavy-mood
- who’s immunity is run-down
- who is carrying tension, anxiety and/or depression
Cautions and Contraindications:
St. John’s wort is one of the most studied herbal medicines and is very safe used topically. Used internally, it can interact with many medications and may cause photosensitivity in some people.
Consult an herbalist, doctor or your health care practitioner before using this plant.
Use an infused oil topically on wounds, rashes, nerve issues, burns, herpes, and pain. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, low moods or SAD, consult an herbalist about bringing this bright light into your life.
Whether you decide to work with these plants in a therapeutic way or by adding them into your life as extra nourishment (taken as food and teas), I encourage you to get to know them. Herbal medicine can uplift the spirit, increase energy and vitality and overall well-being.
Working with herbal medicine requires a shift in mindset. It’s not a quick fix but instead a deep, slow transformation. It’s going back to our ancestral ways of living. It takes time and consistency for changes to take place in one’s physical, energetic and emotional body but once you experience the healing effects of the herbs, there’s no going back.
- Weed, Susan. Wise Woman Herbal. Woodstock: Ash Tree Publishing, 1989, 142.
- Hoffman, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Rockport: Element Books Limited, 1996. 151.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2012, 124-128.
Grooves, Maria Noel. Body in Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2016.