Herbal Medicine from Wild Herbs and Plants

The words 'Herbs' and 'Herb Gardens' conjure up in most people's minds a picture of idyllic peace. However, it is often a picture that ignores their herbal medicine properties. We often tend to think of herbs today just to put into our pots and pans when cooking, rather than thinking of ways of using healing herbs for medicinal purposes. Herbs have been used for healing and herbal medicine has been around since inception. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine said, "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food."  In the modern world, that knowledge is pushed aside.

Today, instead of acknowledging the power of herbs and their healing qualities, most modern doctors ignore these often free alternatives. Sadly these days allopathic medicine is a huge money-spinning industry that seldom cures the problem, but rather just treats the symptoms. That way, they keep their industry alive, raking in the fortunes for the super-drug power houses and medical equipment.

Herbs are God's pharmacy that can provide a cure for so many ailments and have done for thousands of years. However, like drugs, there are some medicinal herbs that can cause harm and should be used with caution. Anything that's pharmacologically active can. Having said that, herbs are safer than pharmacutical drugs, and they don't have the side-effects that drugs do.

Critics of herbal medicines say that herbs are not nearly as strong as medicinal drugs. However, perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps it is the drugs are too strong.

Learn about the way that herbs have been used as medicine throughout the ages, as well as today, and grow some of these herbs in your own gardens, so that you can take control of your health and heal yourself. However, there are some herbs that are not for everyone, especially if you are pregnant, so if in doubt always consult a medical practictioner or a professional herbalist.

I am neither. However, I have been interested in alternative medicine for more than 30 years and reach for the herbs first when sickness comes my way, which thankfully, isn't that often.

Herbal Medicine in History

In the days when England was exclusively an farming country many accidents happened using the scythe and sickle. When a wound occurred from the iron scythe it was cured with one of the woundworts.

There are two species of these herbs, the hedge woundwort and the marsh woundwort. They have flowers and look like the dead nettle in appearance. Both grow in Great Britain, and both are still regarded as useful for the healing of open wounds.

It is also interesting to remember that during the Great War of 1914, sphagnum moss was found to be one of the best dressings for wounds on account of its sponge-like quality of holding moisture. Though Germany claims to have discovered its value as a surgical dressing less than a hundred years ago, there are records to show that it was used in the same way by the Irish and the Scots in wars before the Norman Conquest. At the Battle of Flodden it was used by the Highlanders to staunch their wounds.

Agrimony, Bugle, Prunella and the wild Mignonette - all used in herbal medicine, probably first acquired their healing character in ancient wars, and the Delphinium has an old reputation which may have the same association.

The Madonna Lily is the cottager's wound herb and many country people still make a preparation from the leaves or bulbs or even from the flowers. It cures bruises and reduces inflammations.

For most wounds today herbalists use Comfrey, Slippery Elm, and the root of the Marshmallow, either combined or separately.

comfrey as a herbal medicineComfrey helps with fractures and lives up to its old name of 'knit bone'. By removing inflammation surrounding the fracture it induces a union of the affected parts. Analysis has shown that it actually contains allantoin, a crystallizable substance which is used in orthodox medicine to encourage epithelial formation in ulcers and wounds.

Most of the country names for Comfrey, such as Boneset, Knitback, Knitbone, Consolida, testify to its power of healing bones and even the name Comfrey is derived from the Latin word 'confirmare', to strengthen together. If taken internally and used externally after a fracture has been set it will greatly hasten to heal the fracture, even in elderly people. The plant is decorative enough for any garden with its creamy yellow or purplish blue flowers and very much resembles other borages.

Slippery Elm as a herbal medicine holds a very high place in herbalism and many herbalists use it as a general healing agent. It is derived from the inner bark of an Elm tree, the Ulmus fulva, which grows in Canada and the United States of America. The powdered bark is both a food and a medicine. It poultices and nourishes so that in cases of gastric ulcers or for any internal wound it not only heals, but feeds while it heals.

Every part of the Elder tree is a natural salve and so safe that it can be used by anyone, internally or externally; so can the common Marigold, and the lotion made from it which we call Calendula is a great antiseptic. It not only heals the scars that follow an operation, but promotes healthy tissue when it is diseased.

Leopard's Bane (Arnica) makes another useful lotion in injuries, but it is not nearly so safe as Calendula and should only be used in homeopathic form.

We even have in the plant world a substitute for collodion in the curious herb called Siegesbeckia. This is a common weed in China, and the juice applied to wounds produces a protective film.

Even in the middle of winter when other plants are vegetating the Snowdrop will provide an excellent dressing for cuts and injuries.

Herbal Medicine versus Drugs

Interest in herbal medicine has developed greatly over the years, but there is still very little real understanding of the differences in principle between the actions and reactions of herbs and drugs. (I use the word 'drug' to mean any inorganic medicinal substance.) Many drugs are derived from plants, but the processes employed in their manufacture destroy or eliminate the organic properties that are retained when the same medicines are used in their herbal form. 

willow bark for asprinAspirin, derived from willow bark and later the herb Meadowsweet is a classic example of this.

Taken as a herb, willow bark and meadowsweet have all the medicinal properties of aspirin without the negative side-effects that aspirin has. 

However, when aspirin was created, certain properties of willow bark were ignored, resulting in the negative side effects such as stomach ulcers etc. that users experience.

The idea of Paracelsus still persists in modern medicine today that violent diseases must be treated with strong medicines; but so many of the diseases the remedies for which have so far eluded medical science are the chronic ones.

And in such cases potent drugs, which can only be taken safely for a short time, leave the sufferer worse off than he was before, because he needs continuous treatment. 

Willow Bark used in the original Aspirin

Herbal Medicine and How it Works on the Body

In herbal medicine, herbs, like drugs, are classified according to their action on the body.

1. Herbal Medicines that control the action of the muscles and relax spasms are called antispasmodics.

2. Herbal Medicines that subdue pain are called anodynes.

3. Herbal Medicinesthat cause perspiration are called diaphoretics.

4. Herbal Medicines that alter the constituents of the blood are called alternatives.

5. Herbal Medicines that tighten up relaxed membranes and muscles and allay hemorrhage, either active or passive, are the astringent herbs.

So, like drugs, medicinal herbs are grouped as astringents, antispasmodics, anodynes, diuretics, emollients, emetics, expectorants, febrifuges, etc. But one herb can belong to several groups. The same herbs can be both astringent and diaphoretic.

Indeed, most herbs belong to more than one group, and some have as many as five or six different actions on the body.

This is one of the reasons why most herbs can be used in the cure of many different diseases. To the lay mind these varied functions of herbs are confusing and are probably responsible for the idea, prevalent among the uninitiated, that herbs are a sort of faith cure. Actually there are other reasons why the same herbs are used to cure divers complaints.

The similarity between drugs and herbal medicine ends with this physiological action that groups them in classes; for the therapeutic principle of a herb is quite different from the therapeutic principle of a drug. A drug is, or should be, administered to relieve symptoms; the right herb cures by removing the causes of the symptoms, and this herbal healing process generally provokes an aggravation of the symptoms at first. Such reactions are nature's way of restoring health to the body.

In a normally healthy person, rest, warmth, fresh air, sunshine and freedom from worry will cure without the addition of any medicine, but when disease germs have become too well established, or the constitution is naturally weak, herbs are needed to reinforce nature and will always produce a quicker cure than nature unassisted.

But it is important to remember that the methods are the same. For instance, nature's favorite way of killing disease germs is to raise the temperature of the body, because germs cannot remain alive in a high temperature. This raising of the temperature is a very usual reaction produced by herbs when they are administered to those suffering from infections of any kind.

But nature and the herbs have other ways of eliminating toxins. The skin is a great eliminator and eruptions often follow the internal use of herbs, disappearing sooner or later, and then the condition of the skin is greatly improved.

With regard to the treatment of wounds by herbs the first consideration as in orthodox medicine is to render the injured area antiseptic. After this is achieved herbal treatment differs in several respects from the effect of drugs. To start with herbs are administered to the wounded internally as well as externally, and this results in elimination of poison and promotion of healthy tissue.

Under herbal treatment no wound begins to heal until all poison is eradicated, and therefore the healing process is often slower than under orthodox treatment when the main idea is to close the wound whether the poison has been eliminated or not.

Occasionally the cure is interrupted by a rise in temperature. In cases where a considerable amount of blood has been lost before the wounded received medical attention, herbs would render a blood transfusion unnecessary because of their action on the spleen. and other ductless glands.

Nearly every herb, in fact I would say that practically every herb, has, either directly or indirectly, an action on the blood; and this is another reason why the same herb can be used to cure more than one disease; for, in the herbalist's view, most chronic complaints are primarily due to obstructions in the blood or to a toxic condition of the blood, or to a lack of certain constituents that should be in the blood of every healthy person. An alteration in the chemistry of the blood can be effected by the action of plant hormones on the ductless glands of the human body and by the catalysing enzymes which herbs contain.

Enzymes are only found in the vegetable kingdom and when they exist in animal products such as milk and butter it is because cows are herbivorous animals. Enzymes are particularly interesting because they cause fermentation and this is why fermented liquor can be made from any herb, vegetable, flower, fruit, berry or tree, indeed from anything that grows on the earth.

When a herbal medicine is prepared from an infusion of the dried plant, the enzymes are liberated ; and when a herbal extract or tincture is prepared by a cold maceration of a fresh plant, the enzymes are preserved. So herbal medicines contain these valuable enzymes, these living cells of the plants, and other medicines do not contain them, which is one of the reasons why herbs successfully cure so many chronic diseases, particularly the allergic ones.

Enzymes are catalysers which have the power of altering the mineral constituents of the blood, and causing them to adjust themselves into the right ratio to each other. For when these constituents are maladjusted and out of correct proportion, ill health follows. These enzyme catalysts can also bring about chemical changes in the toxins.
The elements of which herbs are composed are oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, lime, potash, iron, ammonia and magnesium.

Plant life with the help of chlorophyll transforms these into starches, sugars, gums, resins, mucilages, oils and acids so herbs are foods as well as medicines.

The vegetable organism combines a physical as well as a therapeutic constitution and this brings us to another important difference between herbs and drugs. Herbs stimulate the phagocytes by improving and building up the general health and so they actually reduce the disease germs. Drugs merely produce a latent effect on the
germs by driving them into a position where they are for the time being inactive.

The processes of nature are so complicated, and one substance is so dependent on the presence of another, that it seems reasonable to believe that the whole plant yields better results in medicine than any isolated substance or substances.

The reason why the alkaloids only are used in orthodox medical practice is because this is the only way of standardizing the medicinal herbal products. Experience, however, proves that the herb in its natural form, with all its tonic substances, immeasurable as they may be, does produce not only quite different results, but that the cures wrought by their agency, though slower, are more permanent.

Furthermore, when the herbal derivatives are prescribed in the form of drugs they are administered in much larger doses and in more concentrated form than they are found in the plants themselves.

So that their action is quite different from the action of the same substance administered in the infinitesimal small quantity as it exists when in the plant itself, as it is then given naturally combined with its appropriate potash salts, and with the nutritious ingredients of the plant in their proper proportions. The active difference is that the large dose tends to suppress, the small dose to eliminate the toxins with which they have affinities.

Tradition is at present a more helpful source of information on which to acquire a knowledge of the healing powers of particular plants than science, because tradition has borne the test of thousands of years of experience; and science can pronounce no verdict in the absence of laboratory tests.

Many of the ingredients in herbal medicines give no reactions in the chemical laboratory and defy analysis. When a compound medicine of drugs and herbs is analysed the herbs in it cannot be detected and are therefore regarded as negligible, although their presence may account for a chemical change in the other constituents, and, undetectable as they are, may have a catalysing influence on the toxins of the body.

Finally, to come to the value of medicinal herbs not only in the healing of wounds, but in the restoring of health and strength, it is difficult to overrate their importance because of their beneficial action on the blood stream and on the ductless glands. So in the cure of diseases that have become chronic I do not believe they have an equivalent in medicine.

They do not as a rule bring quick relief like drugs because they do not take the place of drugs. Their special function is to cure. They accomplish their work through their threefold capacity, which is physical, physiological and therapeutic.

Wild Herbs for Herbal Medicine are All Around You

During spring in Greece the wild flowers are out, flowering among the stony remains of ancient Hellas the herbs that are familiar in other European countries and others; Lady's Bedstraw, Holy Thistle, Wild Thyme, Borage, Blue and Red Pimpernels and Valerian.

Euphorbia grows about the sacred fountain of Castalia, near the site of the Delphic oracle; Yellow Broom is in blossom all round the theatre at the famous healing Temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus; Pimpernel and Hawkweeds flourish at Troy, outside the walls of Priam's city; the stony Sicilian mountains near the Temple of Segesta are covered with Valerian, Yellow Mustard, orange colored Marigolds with huge clumps of Yellow Fennel, a riot of color accentuated by the crops of cherry red Fenugreek cultivated in the valleys.

The very names of the flowers that star the earth like the names of the stars that flower in the heavens are timeless links with the people in whose knowledge and wisdom our western civilization is rooted. It is not only the romantic names of such flowers as Narcissus and Hyacinth that carry our imaginations back to that age of the gods and heroes, the scientific names of medicinal plants come to us in direct descent from Galen and Aesculapius Centaury, Paeony, Valerian, Artemisia, Sempervivum, Dittany, Euphorbia, Myrtle, Salvia, etc.

And the familiar English names of so many of our wayside plants are derived from their medicinal properties and are witnesses to the age-long practice of our forebears. In herbal practice today they are still used for the complaints from which they have derived their names Ague Tree, Feverwort, Bruisewort, Rupturewort, Quinsey Berry, and Madwort are some of them.

Other names apply to the organs of the body for which they are particularly adapted Lungwort, Spleenwort, Liverwort, Kidney Wort, Navel Wort, Blood Wort, Mouth Wort, Throat Wort and Eyebright.

It is a comforting thought that these useful medicinal herbs are the wild plants that grow so lavishly here and in other countries, the Dandelion and Plantain, Daisies and Buttercups, Cowslips, Saxifrages and Potentillas even the despised Darnel and all the idle weeds that grow in our sustaining corn they are all a gift to mankind. They are for the healing of the nations.

A Quick Reference Chart of Herbal Medicine that will Help Everyday Ailments

Acne Aloe vera, Burdock, Calendula, Dandelion, Nettle, Tea Tree oil
Alcoholism Evening Primrose, Kudzu
Alzheimer's Disease * Aids memory, does not prevent tissue die off. Ginkgo, Rosemary
Angina Hawthorn, Garlic, Green Tea, Willow
Anxiety and Stress Chamomile, Hops (Do not take hops if you suffer from depression), Kava, Lavender, Passionflower, Valerian
Arteriosclerosis Garlic, Ramsons, or Wild Wood Garlic, sometimes known as Bear Garlic is even better
Arthritis Birch Leaf Tea, Burdock Leaf (Poultice), Comfrey, Dandelion, Guelder Rose, Meadowsweet, Wild Sweet Cherry, Willow
Asthma Agrimony,Chickweed, Coltsfoot (minor asthma), Honeysuckle, Nettles
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Hawthorn
Bad Breath Parsley
Boils Crushed Blackberry Leaves, Burdock (poultice), Coltsfoot and Honey (poultice), Mallow (poultice)
Bronchitis Chickweed, Coltsfoot Tea, Comfrey, Echinacea, Honeysuckle, Mullein Tea, Plantain, Sweet Wild Cherry
Burns Aloe Vera, Nettles, Oak, Pellitory, Plantain
Cancer * (Preventing) Bilberry, Blackberry, Dandelion, Garlic, Green Tea, Ginseng, Maitake Mushrooms, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Reishi Mushroom
Cellulite Birch Leaf Oil
Circulation Elderberry Flowers, Guelder Rose, Hawthorn, Nettles, Ramsons, Teasel, Wood Betony
Colds Echinacea, Elder, Ginseng, Honeysuckle, Horseradish, Licorice Root, Lemon and Honey, Mint, Raspberry
Constipation Apple, Red Clover, Dandelion, Deadnettle, Mallow, Senna
Cough Chickweed, Coltsfoot, Elder, Horseradish, Mallow, Mint, Mullein, Plantain, Red Clover, Sweet Cherry
Cystitis Agrimony, Birch Leaf Tea, Couch Grass
Depression, mild to moderate Betony, St. John's Wort, Wild Rose
Diabetes, Type 2 Beans (Navy, Pinto, Black etc.), Cinnamon, Flax Seed, Green Tea, Nettles
Diarrhea Bilberry, Blackberry Leaves, Dock, Meadowsweet, Nettles, Oak Bark and Leaves, Raspberry Leaves, Rosebay Willow Herb (fireweed), Self-Heal, St. John's Wort, White Deadnettle
Diverticulitis Meadowsweet, Peppermint
Dizziness Ginger, Ginkgo, Lycium (Goji Berry)
Earache Echinacea, Mint, Mullein, Yarrow
Eczema Chamomile, Birch Tea, Borage Seed Oil, Burdock, Chickweed,  Curled Dock, Dandelion, Nettles, Primrose Oil, Red Clover
Fatigue Ginseng, Teasel, (chronic fatigue/ME), Vervain (chronic fatigue/ME)
Flu Echinacea, Blackberry Leaves, Elderberries, Honeysuckle, Horseradish, Linden, Meadowsweet, Mint, Raspberry Leaves, Self-Heal
Gingivitis Goldenseal, Blackberry Leaves
Hay Fever Elderflower, Nettles, Plantain
Herpes Birch, Echinacea, Garlic, Ginseng, Pellitory, Self-Heal
High Blood Pressure Dandelion, Lycium (Goji Berries), Guelder Rose, Hawthorn, Linden, Nettles, Self-Heal
High Blood Sugar Bilberry Leaves
High Cholesterol Dandelion, Evening Primrose Oil, Hawthorn, Linden, Lycium (Goji Berry)
Hot Flashes/Flushes Black Cohosh, Elderflower Tea, Honeysuckle, Hops, Linden, Red Clover, Self-Heal, Vervain
Impotence Lycium (Goji Berry), Wild Rose
Indigestion Chamomile, Ginger, Mallow, Meadowsweet, Mint, Peppermint, Sweet Cicely
Infection Astragalus, Echinacea, Burdock (Poultice), Dandelion, Nettles, Ramsons
Insect Stings Plantain
Insomnia Hawthorn, Hops, Lemon Balm, Linden, Valerian, Vervain, Wild Rose, Wood Betony
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Guelder Rose, Hops, Mallow Tea, Ramsons, Red Poppies, Rosebay Willowherb Leaves, White Deadnettles
Lower Back Pain Willow
Menstrual Cramps Guelder Rose, Linden, Mullein, Raspberry Leaves,
Migraines Feverfew, Guelder Rose, Honeysuckle, Meadowsweet, Vervain, Willow
Mouth Ulcers Aloe vera, Bilberry Leaf Tea, Meadowsweet, Mint, Oak Bark, Plantain, Raspberry Leaf Tea, Rosebay Willow Herb, Self-Heal
Muscle Pains Teasel, Birch Leaf Oil, Dandelion Flower Oil, Horseradish, Meadowsweet, Willow
Nausea Mint, Raspberry Leaf Tea
Prostate Problems Couch Grass, Horsetail, Nettles, Pellitory, Red Clover, Rosebay Willowherb
Sinus Honeysuckle, Horseradish, Mint, Thyme, Wood Betony
Slimming  and Weight Loss Chickweed
Tonsillitis Cleavers, Honeysuckle, Oak Bark
Toothache Linden, Mallow, Mint, Plantain, Willow Bark, Yarrow
Varicose Veins Bilberries, Comfrey (Poultice), Horse Chestnut, Lycium (Goji Berry), Plantain (Poultice), White Deadnettle, Wood Betony, Yarrow
Worms Agrimony, Mugwort, Wormwood

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