Playing Doctor with Herbs

s346301672588089353_c6_i2_w196Herbal remedies are a growing passion of mine.  I feel like I flirted with herbs for a long time before truly jumping in and gaining a better understanding of how amazing they truly are.  I have merely scratched the surface and have a lot to learn.  My herbal medicine class was one of my favorites, introducing me to a whole new world that I had never given much thought to previously.  At each class we would talk about the amazing actions of herbs.  There are herbs with anti-bacterial properties: garlic; anti-fungal: olive leaf; hormone regulating: chaste tree berry, black cohosh; laxative: senna;  blood cleansing; cleavers, red clover; stress relieving: valerian, passion flower, ashwaganda; heart protective: hawthorne; herbs that support the liver: yarrow, dandelion; respiratory herbs like muellin.  That is a tiny list of a wide array of herbal actions and a much wider array of herbs.

Herbal remedies are tied into our cultural identities and are a part of the very fiber of what makes us human.  Herbs are powerful and magical.  Visiting a herbal dispensary is a treat for the senses.  These amazing plants are transformed into essential oils, decoctions, tinctures, salves, and ointments, all supporting and treating symptoms of imbalance and disease.  Extracting all of the goodness out of these medicinal plants – the leaves, roots and flowers, takes time, care and understanding.

What made me think of posting about herbs today is a series of interactions that I have had with customers who have also discovered the wonders of herbs.  I work a few days a week in a health food store, and I love chatting with the people who come in the door.  I am thankful to be able to spend the day talking about the things that I am so passionate about, and I see it as a real privilege to help people make choices that will support their health or alleviate unpleasant symptoms.

Happy kid playing doctorRecently a fellow came into the store who had experienced what he called “a magic reaction” when taking an immune tonic by St. Francis.  He claimed that he had come home from work with the flu, taken the tincture, gone to bed, and upon waking the next morning he felt 90% better.  I believe it.  Herbal tinctures can act quickly.  This sweet man was SO impressed that he came into the store, determined to “cure” his mom, dad and another family member, all through herbs.  He started with his mom.  “I’m going to take her off Lipitor.  What herbs lower cholesterol?” He continued with the other members of his family, each of which was on medications that he had decided should be discontinued in favour of herbal remedies.  He wanted to play doctor, and though he had the best intentions he could be jeopardizing his loved ones’ health with his misguided ideas.

We see this kind of thing a lot in the store.  People who discover the efficacy of a herb or supplement, and decide that everyone they know should be on it.  People who decide that they are going to go off of a drug without discussing it with their doctors. Herbs are potent and need to be used with care.  This customer was frustrated by the conversation that ensued.  I further qualified the health status of the individual members of his family, and warned him against playing doctor with their medications.  I clarified (approximately 5 times… it was a message he seemed unwilling to hear) that herbs can interact with drugs like Lipitor, and the blood pressure meds that his dad was on.  I had to refuse to sell him several of the items on his list because they were serious contraindications for his mom in particular.  I have thought of him many times since that visit, wondering if he went elsewhere and bought those herbs, if he “took his Mom off” Lipitor.

I see many people who are feeling quite desperate. “My doctor wants me to go on Crestor (or insert any number of drugs here), what can I do?”  Dietary changes, supplements and herbs can usually turn the situation around, and I usually recommend that an individual ask their doctor for some time to try an alternative before turning to the drugs.  Often times it is only when faced with being on a drug for the forseeable future that people are jarred into the realization that they need to make changes NOW.  Unless the health status is absolutely critical, most doctors will agree to 1-2 months in order to allow their patients time to sort out their health.  A lot can happen in a month or two.  It is often plenty of time to even out blood sugar levels, regulate cholesterol or blood pressure.

If you are thinking that a herbal remedy could be right for you, do some research but be open to alternatives.  Talk to someone who knows about the herbal actions and how they can impact your different body systems.  These remedies can be so amazing, as long as you have the right remedy and use them properly.

Wishing you a peaceful day and good health!