In your first
lesson, you learned how to "listen" to the messages
of plant's tastes. And you discovered that using plants in water bases
(as teas, infusions, vinegars, and soups) -- and as simples -- allows
you to experiment with and explore herbal medicine safely.
In your second
lesson, you learned about herbs for teas and how to preserve and
use their volatile oils. You leaned about vitamin- and mineral-rich
herbal infusions, and how to use them to promote health and longevity.
And you continued to think about using herbs simply.
In this lesson you will explore the differences between nourishing,
and potentially-poisonous plants. You will learn
how to prepare and use them for greatest effect and most safety.
All Herbs Are Not Equal
All herbs are not equal: some contain poisons, some don't; some of
the poisons are not so bad, some can kill you dead. I divide herbs
into four categories for ease in remembering how (and how much) to
use. Some herbs nourish us, some tonify; some bring us up or ease
us down and some are frighteningly strong.
Nourishing herbs are the safest of all herbs. They contain
few or no alkaloids, glycosides, resins, or essential oils (poisons).
Nourishing herbs are eaten as foods, cooked into soups, dried and
infused, or, occasionally, made into vinegars.. They provide high-level
nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, proteins,
phytoestrogens and phytosterols, starches, simple and complex sugars,
bioflavonoids, carotenes, and essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Nourishing herbs in water bases (infusions, soups, vinegars) may generally
be taken in any quantity for any period of time. Side- effects --
even from excessive use -- are quite rare. Nourishing herbs are rarely
used as tinctures (in alcohol), but when they are, their effects may
be quite different.
It is generally considered safe to use nourishing herbs in water bases
with prescription drugs. They may also be taken even if you are using
tonifying, stimulating/sedating, or potentially poisonous herbs.
Some examples of nourishing herbs include:
herb; tincture dissolves cysts
blossoms and berries
leaves and seeds
leaves and seeds
leaves and blossoms.
are generally considered safe when used in moderation. They may contain
alkaloids or glycosides or essential oils, but rarely in quantities
sufficient to harm us.
Tonifying herbs act slowly in the body and have a cumulative, rather
than immediate, effect. They are most beneficial when used for extended
periods of time. Tonifying herbs may be used regularly (but usually
not daily) for decades if desired.
Tonifying herbs are prepared in water and alcohol bases: tinctures
and wines, as well as infusions, vinegars, and soups.
The more bitter the tonic tastes, the less you need to take of it.
The more bland the tonic tastes, the more you can use of it.
Side effects from overuse and misuse of tonics is uncommon but quite
possible. The dividing line between what is tonifying and what is
stimulating differs from person to person. Ginseng is tonifying to
my sweetheart, but stimulating to me. Even herbal authorities disagree
which herbs are tonifying and which stimulating.
Take care to counter any tendency to overuse tonifying herbs or you
may experience unwanted side effects.
It is generally considered safe to use tonifying herbs in water bases
if you are taking prescription drugs. You may also use tonifying herbs
while using nourishing, stimulating/sedating, and even potentially
poisonous herbs. Tonifying herbs in alcohol bases are considered safe
to use with nourishing herbs, but may produce unexpected results if
combined with drugs or strong herbs.
Some examples of tonifying herbs include
seeds, especially in an oil base
herb, especially in vinegar
leaf, root and flowers
berries, leaves, and flowers
leaves and flowers
dock leaves, roots, and seeds
frequently contain essential oils, alkaloids, glycosides, or resins.
Because these substances cause strong physical reactions, stimulating/sedating
herbs are known from their rapid and pronounced effects, some of which
may be unwanted.
Stimulating/sedating herbs are most often prepared as tinctures (and
wines), vinegars, teas, and infusions. Many stimulating/sedating herbs
are used as seasonings in cooking as well. Despite my cookbook's injunction
to use only a little, I long ago learned that more aromatic herbs
in my soups gave a "livelier" result.
Because long-term use of stimulating/sedating herbs can lead to dependency,
dose and duration of use must be carefully watched. A moderate to
large dose, taken infrequently will produce better results than a
small dose taken over a longer period.
Side effects from the use of stimulating/sedating herbs in water bases
are not common but possible. Side effects from use in alcohol bases
are frequent. Whenever stimulating/sedating herbs are used regularly,
health is compromised.
It is not safe to take prescription drugs with stimulating/sedating
herbs, but they may be taken even if you are using nourishing and/or
Some examples of stimulating/sedating herbs include:
of aromatic mints such as catnip, lemon balm, lavender, sage, skullcap
bark and leaves
Potentially poisonous herbs
always contain alkaloids, glycosides, resins, or essential oils. And
they contain large quantities of those poisons, or in very potent
Potentially poisonous plants can cause death directly, through the
actions of their poisons on their targets (such as cardiac glycosides
which stop the heart) or indirectly, by causing the liver and/or the
kidneys to fail (as they attempt to cope with and clear the poison
from the system).
Potentially poisonous herbs are usually extracted into alcohol (tinctures)
and used in minute doses (1-3 drops). For safety sake use potentially
poisonous herbs as infrequently as possible and for the shortest possible
Powdering and encapsulating increases the risk of side effects from
any herb, but when we take stimulating/sedating and potentially poisonous
herbs in capsuled, the side effects can be deadly.
Homeopathic pharmacy uses many potentially poisonous plants, but in
such dilute doses that death is impossible. Side effects can occur,
even with homeopathically tiny doses, however.
Potentially poisonous herbs activate intense effort on the part of
the body and spirit and may cause nausea, visual disturbances, digestive
woes, and allergic reactions even when used correctly.
Always be extremely cautious when using potentially poisonous herbs.
Consult with at least three other knowledgeable herbalists who have
used the plant in question before proceeding.
In general it is not considered safe to take potentially poisonous
herbs which taking prescription drugs, other potentially poisonous
herbs, or stimulating/sedating herbs. It is generally safe to use
potentially poisonous herbs while using nourishing and tonifying herbs.
Some potentially poisonous herbs:
In your next lesson you will begin to create your own herbal medicine
chest. In future installments we will explore the difference between
fixing disease and promoting health, how to apply the three traditions
of healing, and how to take charge of your own health care with the
six steps of healing.
Experiment Number One
Spend some time alone quietly breathing. Tune into your body
piece by piece (toes, feet, calves, knees, thighs, and so on). Use colors
to draw yourself. Don't worry about making art. For the next month include
some nourishing herb in your diet. Example: on Monday include seaweed
as a vegetable for dinner, on Tuesday drink a quart of nettle infusion,
on Wednesday make a soup with burdock and other roots, on Thursday drink
a quart of red clover infusion, on Friday make garlic bread with at
least one clove of freshly chopped garlic per slice, on Saturday drink
a quart of oatstraw infusion, on Sunday drink a quart of comfrey/mint
infusion. And so on. One month later, sit alone and breathe quietly.
Tune into your body piece by piece. Use colors to draw yourself. Has
anything changed? You can continue this experiment for as long as you
Experiment Number Two
Repeat experiment number one, but instead use any one tonic (preferably
one that lives where you do) at least four times a week for one month.
Again, note any changes in how you feel, how much energy and stamina
you have, how much curiosity and delight you experience in life. You
can continue this experiment for as long as you like also.
Experiment Number Three
What stimulants and sedatives do you use regularly? What happens if
you give up one or more of them for a week? for a month? Try -- on
different days -- at least one herbal stimulant and one herbal sedative
and keep notes on your reactions.
Experiment Number Four
Choose one potentially poisonous plant that grows near you and cultivate
a relationship with it. Read about it. Talk about it with others who
have a relationship with it. Keep a special book for writing about
your poisonous ally.
1. Name five more nourishing herbs. Specify part used, preparation,
2. Name five more tonifying herbs. Specify part used, preparation,
3. Name five more stimulating/sedating herbs. Specify part used, preparation,
4. Name five more potentially poisonous herbs. Specify part used,
preparation, and dosage. In what case and how would you use each?
5. What is the difference between a tonic and a stimulant?
* Give the botanical name (genus and species) for each plant listed.
* List five nourishing herbs commonly sold in tincture form and describe
what they are used for in that form.
* Learn more about homeopathy.
Reprint Authorization Information- The following 8 articles are provided by Susan S. Weed © 2002 (Link: http://www.susunweed.com/An_Article_Weed_Self-help1.htm)
These articles are designed as lessons for my students in herbal
medicine and are not intended for any use other than learning and
personal use. To contact Susan S. Weed for reprint authorization contact
her at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.