One of the things you learn when becoming a Master Herbalist (Masters in Herbal Medicine) is that there is a time and place for the different components of herbs. Knowing if you should use a tea, tincture, or essential oil can be a complex problem that takes years of education and training to understand. There is a wealth of false or misleading information being passed around about Herbs, teas, tinctures and essential oils. Consulting a trained Master Herbalist is one way to cut to truth about what works, what doesn’t and what is flat out unsafe.
Here are some examples. Headaches are common but can be caused by many different issues. While essential oils can help by quickly alleviating a symptom, they do not last long and require frequent applications. Longer lasting relief could be found by using teas or tinctures. Addressing headaches long term should be done by bringing the body back in balance through the use of herbs and foods in a person’s diet. In another example, I recently read a post on the internet about how to remedy an upset stomach by rubbing lavender essential oil on the abdomen. Lavender essential oil constituents show up in the blood as soon as 15 minutes after application, with the peak occurring around 30 minutes. These chemical constituents have a half-life in the blood of less than 15 minutes, meaning that the liver filters them out of the blood. A much better, longer lasting solution would be to use an herbal tea to address the causes of the upset and protect the stomach from damage. the following paragraphs provide more information on the different types of herbs.
Fresh and Dried Herbs
Fresh and dried herbs can be a wonderful source of nutrition and flavor as well as a medicine. Cultures from around the world add medicinal herbs to their food, apply them to wounds, or chew them for their medicinal value. Using fresh or dried herbs are best used in two ways. The first is application directly to the affected area. A great example would be applying yarrow leaf to a cut to stop the bleeding and prevent infection. The second is using it in food for a long-term preventative. Here an example would be using turmeric as an anti-oxidant in food. Internal ingestion of most herbs is a long-term commitment to health. Herbs act on your body over time and have a profound influence on your long-term health. There are some herbs that are so powerful that even a small amount can cause dramatic and sometimes dangerous effects. When ingesting herbs, the body’s metabolic processes affect the chemical makeup of the herbs. These secondary metabolites are what effects the body.
Depending on what you want to extract the temperature of the water makes a difference. Sometimes cold water is best and others boiling water is better. A decoction is when you cover an herb with water and boil it for longer periods of time, reducing the volume of at least half. This produces a stronger product than simply steeping. A good example of this is an herbal syrup. Teas, infusions and decoctions are absorbed in the stomach and digestive system. This means that the rate of absorption is both slower and lower than in tinctures and inhalation. This is not a bad thing. In many cases the chemicals in the plant are broke down into secondary metabolites which are the actual drugs that the body needs. A great example of this is Uva ursi also known as bearberry. One of the primary chemical constituents of Uva ursi is arbutin. Arbutin is a glycoside that when metabolized becomes hydroquinone, a known astringent and antiseptic compound. Hydroquinone has urinary antiseptic properties and relieves pain associated with bladder stones, cystitis, nepritis and kidney stones.
To take a tincture, it is best to take the drops directly under the tongue. This gets the herb directly into the bloodstream. It is fine to dilute the tincture in a small amount of water or juice. This works well when the tincture does not taste very good.
Never use undiluted essential oils directly on your skin and never ingest essential oils without first consulting a trained professional. There are only a few specific essential oils suitable for oral administration. Ignorance or disregard of basic essential oil safety information can be one of the most dangerous mistakes to make with essential oils. Essential oils can react with prescription drugs and supplements and they can cause adverse reactions when used in excess. They can react differently in children, the elderly, and those with weakened immunity. Essential oils are best used through inhalation or through absorption through the skin. One thing to consider is essential oils act quickly but have a very short half-life, meaning they do not last long. Your body’s systems are very efficient at getting rid of toxins and it considers the components of essential oils a toxin.
Herbal medicine uses plants, or mixtures of plant extracts, to treat illness and promote health by focusing on the whole person rather on specific symptoms or illnesses. In short, the goal is to promote health and restore balance in order to help your own body heal itself. Navigating the world of herbal medicine can be complicated and difficult. It is best to seek help from a school trained Herbalist or Naturopath help guide you on your path to better health.
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