If I were to narrow down my own herbal education to a few important points, they would be these:
- Well-chosen herbs are very effective at treating illnesses and injuries.
- You don’t need to know about every herb under heaven to begin using them.
- Once you have begun to learn about individual herbs and how they work, you can use your imagination to create remedies to serve your needs.
Through many hours spent researching herbal medicine online, and reading materials I picked up at book sales, from the library, and on Amazon.com, I learned enough about herbs to feel comfortable making blends of my own choosing. The great thing is that in contrast to pharmaceutical drugs which can be dangerous when mixing them without medical supervision, herbs are quite safe for almost everyone, as long as you use a little common sense (you can blend herbs as needed, but you obviously don’t want to be over using them or giving them to babies without learning about safety first).
Here’s another little story about how I used herbs to help one of our kids heal.
Earlier this year, two-year-old Chickie developed an ear infection. It was fairly severe, lasting days longer than the typical 2-3, with a low grade fever, sleepless nights, and the works. I treated her with ibuprofen for pain, frankincense and lavender doTerra essential oil drops around her ear, and mullien infused oil drops in her ear. While each seemed temporarily to help, the fever kept coming back and she kept complaining about the boo boo in her ear. I began planning a trip to the doctor’s office.
For some reason I decided to follow my instinct one more time across the web and stumbled upon one mother’s blog post about a combination oil infusion, with mullien and garlic. Garlic is a powerful antibiotic, so in a last ditch effort I warmed up our mullien oil and added a bulb of garlic I had finely chopped and let sit for 15 minutes to release the right properties. I infused the mullien oil with the garlic for another 15 minutes and let it cool before putting a few drops in Chickie’s ear. Although I gave her a couple more doses after that, the first results were seen quickly.
Within 3-4 hours her fever was gone, the redness around her ear was gone, and she stopped complaining about her ear. For good.
For the price of a quarter cup of olive oil, a small amount of mullien, and a bulb of garlic, we boosted her immune system, reduced her pain, and eliminated the infection.
What I have discovered over my trial-and-error method of caring for our bodies, is that there is a natural remedy for everything. The trick is figuring out what the right remedy is. And that’s why reading a good quality herbal dictionary and using the internet are essential tools to anyone interested in treating illnesses naturally.
The more I learn about herbs the more I get excited about the power of natural remedies!
Using my no-nonsense plan, I chose to grow a selection of herbs which I thought would be most useful to our family’s medical needs, and which would grow well in our climate. Some have proved more universal in use (herbs which I can use for many of our needs) while others I hardly use, but I am thankful for each of their roles in our medicine cabinet. Your herbal needs may be slightly or significantly different than our own, depending on any chronic illnesses you may have, and the climate you live in, but chances are you will find at least some of these herbs growing in my garden helpful yourself, so today I’m going to share about them with you.
Here are some other fascinating uses for the herbs I grow:
Aloe is an excellent addition to any remedy for skin ailments. It has soothing and healing properties, and has been used for treatment of burns and other injuries to the skin since at least 1500 B.C. It can also be used for cuts, scrapes, frostbite, and dry, cracked skin. It’s antibacterial properties prevent infections while the skin is healing.
While you can buy bottled aloe vera gel, they can contain preservatives which can irritate sensitive skin, so having your own plant you can remove gel from as needed is a better choice.
Anise Hyssop is used to heal a number of digestive and respiratory ailments. Everything from upset stomach, gas, constipation, heartburn, and colic to coughs, sore throats, wheezing, and bronchitis. Hyssop has even been used with success for AIDs symptoms and herpes. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (written in the 17th century) lists many other uses for Hyssop.
Traditionally, Anise and Hyssop are two different herbs. I grow an herb which is a hybrid of the two, offering benefits of both herbs.
Basil reduces nervousness and anxiety and can prevent depression. Regular ingestion of basil improves alertness, focus, and memory, probably because it helps the brain to assimilate oxygen.
Basil strengthens the immune system, and can be used as a poultice treatment for acne, ringworm, eczema, and insect bites.
Calendula is a gentle herb, soothing to irritated or injured skin. I use it for a variety of rashes, dry skin, and minor injuries to reduce pain, prevent infection, and heal the injury.
This bioflavonoid-rich herb can be used externally to treat skin irritations and rashes, or taken as a tea to relieve indigestion, asthma, hay fever, toothache, and colic. A compress or rinse made of chamomile tea can be used to heal conjunctivitis.
Chamomile is also traditionally taken as a tea to promote stress relief, relieve pain, and aid in getting a restful night’s sleep, but has also been known to reduce inflammation, fevers, and joint and muscle pain, relieve menstrual cramps, prevent stomach ulcers, dissolve kidney stones, heals hemorrhoids, as well aid the immune system in fighting off viruses.
Rapidly heals sprained muscles and broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation. It heals varicose veins, diaper rashes, and hemorrhoids. Relieves breast soreness while nursing, reduces itching of irritated skin, and is helpful in healing circumcised babies.
Traditionally, roots, leaves, and flowers have all been used both externally and internally with great success in treating a wide variety of ailments, but recent research shows that no one, especially those with liver problems should ingest comfrey. Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can damage the liver or cause cancer if ingested in large quantities for long periods of time. The highest concentration has been found in the roots of young plants, while the lowest concentration is found in dried leaves of older plants.
Because no link exists between external use and side effects, we stick to using it for poultices, compresses, antiseptic washes, and salves. It is a very effective, rapid healer, and one of my personal favorite herbs.
This herb has been used since the colonists discovered it in America, and extensively in Germany as well. Studies have demonstrated how it encourages the growth of white blood cells, boosting the immune system. This effect has been utilized in studies to prevent and kill bacterial and viral infections, as well as reduce symptoms of infections, including fevers, and help heal minor wounds and burns.
Teas and candies made of this herb have long been known to relieve coughs and help to expel phlegm when you do. I added it to my asthma tea mix as it has also been prescribed for clearing lungs. Older herbal books recommend it for regulating menstrual cycles, pneumonia, trapped gas, stuffy noses, jaundice, killing worms, and eliminating poisonous toxins including rabies. The common theme is that horehound “opens blockages”, releasing fluids that need to move or be eliminated, although the only proven use is for lung-related illnesses.
Relieves symptoms of infections, eases anxiety, lightens the mood, increases energy, eases indigestion, relieves menstrual cramps, treats cold sores and aching teeth, aids in sleep, repels insects, and has similar expectorant qualities to horehound.
Lemon Balm has held a special place in many homes for some 2,000 years around the world, and aiding in confirming it’s “soothe all” properties, a small-scale German study found it does contain sedative, digestive, and anti-sposmadic compounds which would support it’s proposed uses.
Eases intestinal gas, relieves indigestion and diarrhea, reduces congestion, relieves nausuea, soothes muscles soreness, treats IBS, calms menstrual cramps. Dr. Daniel Mowrey director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory calls it, “our best-known remedy for stomach problems”. It is interesting to note that the active ingredient in mint that gives it its kick is menthol, the same ingredient used in many pharmaceutical drugs including Vicks VapoRub.
Traditional herbalists recommend it for treating PMS symptoms, rashes, drying up breastmilk and poison from snake bites, kidney stones, pain relief, and gum disease, among other things.
Also known as “lamb’s ear” because of it’s furry-soft leaves, mullien is used for digestion and respiratory problems as well as eliminating growths. Everything from colic, coughs, congestion, and stomach ache, to warts, ulcers, stings, and scrapes can be treated with this herb.
I found it particularly useful in healing Chickie’s ear infection along with garlic. I read a story by a botanist who said he and his wife had bronchitis at the same time. She used a pharmaceutical drug to clear hers, and he used mullien tea. Guess whose cleared up first?
Although famous for its culinary uses, oregano has been used medicinally for centuries. Around the world it has been used for relief of digestive complaints and in aiding relief of infections. Fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, itchy skin, coughs, and PMS have all been successfully treated with oregano. Its active ingredient, thymol, is also found in popular cough drops and cold products.
Also known as a culinary herb, rosemary has been used for centuries to sharpen memory, relieve menstrual cramps, treat dandruff, aid digestion, and is now known to reduce the risk of several types of cancers. It can be especially useful to treat the symptoms of colds, including drowsiness and achy muscles, and quickens the senses.
Sage (as seen in photo above)
Dries up phlegmy coughs, excessive menstrual bleeding, reduces hot flashes, and unwanted mother’s milk. When suffering from a wound, it slows bleeding. It also helps fight diabetes due to its insulin-boosting effects. Throughout history it has been used as a muscle relaxant, an antiperspirant, and a treatment for sore throats, diarrhea, venereal disease, and to treat wounds and insect bites. How neat that it’s Latin name, Salvia is derived from salvere, meaning to heal or be healthy!
Not much is said about this herb, which has long been used as an effective pain reliever. Prior to
the use of pharmaceutical drugs this herb was commonly prescribed for use with tension headaches and other aches and pains. We find it effective in treating headaches ourselves in the form of a tincture.
This special fern can be made into a relaxing tea that livens the spirit, but it has also become my absolute favorite for treating poison ivy rashes! After trying numerous herbs for treating the irritating bumps, a salve made from sweet fern quickly dried up the rash and relieved the itching. I will have trouble wanting to try anything else for it now!
Thyme is well known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Its main ingredient thymol is used in many overt-the-counter products like mouth washes and cold products. A chilled tea made of thyme makes a good antiseptic wash for wounds. It is also used to treat coughs resulting from whooping cough, bronchitis, and emphysema, because of its effectiveness in loosening phlegm and relieving coughs.
An old-school sedative that eases mild insomnia, calms nerves, and relieves headaches, menstrual cramps and muscle spasms.
We have found it to be an excellent fever reducer! Chewing the leaves or swishing tincture or tea relieves toothache, sore gums from teething, and canker sores, which we have found true in our family.
Yarrow causes toxins to be released, and is helpful in treating infections, and allergenic mucosal reactions. It lowers blood pressure in this with high blood pressure. It is a mild sedative, eases pain, lessens bleeding, and is otherwise useful as an astringent, similar to sage, drying up excess harmful fluids.
Now, I told you these herbs are growing in my garden, but I must be truthful, in case you haven’t been keeping up-to-date on my Homestead Happenings posts, then you should know many of these herbs are no longer in my garden. For two years in a row, I gave my herbal garden little care. In 2011, I spent a lot of time in the garden, weeding, harvesting, and preserving.
In 2012, the solar dehydrator was destroyed by ants and I had a baby, both contributing to my lack of attention to the garden. In 2013, we had a lot going on, including cleanup from the porch disaster, building the shed, and moving the gardens and camper. I didn’t have time for herbs, and the fact that most of the remedies I wanted were either in my freezer, in the shed, or easy enough to make when needed didn’t make it any more enticing to attack the herbal garden.
This year I salvaged the perennial herbs I could and began revitalizing one of the raised beds for the herbs. What I have left is:
- lemon balm
I also just planted some basil, and I’m hoping some anise hyssop, but I’m waiting until it flowers to be sure I transplanted the right plant!
From 2011‘s bounty I still have first aid and baby bum salves (frozen), and several pint and quart jars filled with individual tinctures, like yarrow, basil, and chamomile.
Herbs have played a very important role in our family’s health. They have come a long way from being just the relaxing teas I once thought they were. Today, we depend heavily on them for recovery, along with using common sense care like hygiene, diet, exercise, and sunshine.
By treating our bodies holistically, we have been able to avoid the doctor’s office, save money, gain respect for our bodies, and most importantly, spend more of our of days in health and wellness than we would have otherwise.
I feel confident that any family could accomplish what we have by learning how to make herbs a part of their lives too.
Next week I’ll wrap up this series with a list of resources you can use to get started or expand your knowledge and skills using herbal medicine, and additional information about the safety of herbs.