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The Informed Herbalist

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Source: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter

Herbal therapies are everywhere – we hear about them on the radio, surf over to check them out on the Internet and see some pretty famous people talking about them on TV. Names like St. John’s Wort, Gingko Biloba and Kava are now common conversation topics. Their ease of purchase and use have revolutionized the world of complimentary medicine. Yet, with this ease comes responsibility – the responsibility of knowing which herb to take and which ones that may need to be avoided. Below are some of the most common herbs and a few precautions that any “informed herbalist” ought to know.

Echinacea – This herb is used to stimulate the immune system but may not be a good choice for those taking prescription corticosteroids or other drugs that work to suppress the immune system.

Gingko Biloba – Gingko may be the most popular herb on the market; fans swear by its ability to improve memory and mental clarity. Those taking Gingko should know that it acts as a blood thinner and may need to be avoided by those taking regular daily doses of aspirin or anti-coagulants.

Kava Kava – The well-being herb, Kava is safe enough to take during the day to ease anxiety and promote balanced mood levels. Those who are using anti-psychotics, sedatives, sleeping pills or alcohol may need to consult with a physician before taking Kava to avoid over-sedation. Kava may conflict with Anti-Parkinson’s disease medications.

St. John’s Wort – This herb has shown the ability the lift mood and ease the symptoms of depression. Those who are currently taking an anti-depressant should check with their doctor before adding St. John’s Wort to the mix.

Valerian – Easing anxiety, insomnia and even sore muscles, Valerian is a safe herbal relaxant. However, just like Kava, one should avoid combining it with alcohol, sedatives and sleeping pills to avoid over-sedation.

Final note: As with any new health and well-being product, a simple conversation with your doctor can determine whether an herbal therapy is right for you.

Source: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, July 1999. This article also published by Health Resource in the CFIDS & FM Health Resource Email Bulletin on September 16, 1999.

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