Herbs for Healing
Herbs are there to be used not just to please the eye. There are many herbs growing all around us, it’s as if they are letting us know they exist. A good example are Dandelion and Dooryard Dock, which both grow all around Iceland. Then we of course also have herbs that aren‘t meant to be consumed, just to be looked at.
THE FATHER OF MODERN MEDICINE USED HERBS
Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC) has been called the father of modern medicine. He was the first to devise a scientific system to diagnose diseases and abandoned all superstitions and witchcraft. His believe was that all diseases have natural causes, with this he was probably trying to banish the superstition that diseases could be „magicked“ into you. Hippocrates used about 400 different kinds of medicine which were almost all from the plant kingdom. Medical science continued like this for a long time, or until doctors started experimenting with all kinds of minerals and toxins that caused severe side effects. You can say that by doing that, the first steps towards dividing herbalism and modern medicine were taken. Up until this century medical doctors mainly used herbs in their practice but as new medications became available their use of herbs diminished. Of course many of those medications revolutionized treatments for certain diseases, but what they overlooked is that the new isn’t always better than the old.
MEDICATIONS DEVELOPED FROM HERBS
Now I want to tell you about some herbs that are used both in modern medicine, as isolated active chemicals, and in herbalism, as a whole herbs. Let’s start with Willow Bark; it’s loaded with salicylic compounds which are used to make salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Aspirin, which is both analgesic and antipyretic. Most people know that Aspirin can cause gastritis if taken regularly, which many people do, especially for headaches. Fewer people know that Willow Bark also contains chemicals that combat gastritis, which tells us that Willow Bark, or Meadow Sweet, which contains the same chemical, is much more effective if it is used whole. Our creator or nature (whichever you choose to believe) certainly knew what they were doing when they created the chemical compounds found in these herbs.
Medicinal hormones were originally made from plants, but nowadays they are created in laboratories, probably because it is cheaper. Lady’s Mantle is probably the only Icelandic herb that contains hormones, though it has never been used for hormonal production here. Many modern medications were initially produced from herbs, but were later on produced solely in laboratories. The reasons can be because it is cheaper or that there simply isn’t enough of the herb available.
Almost 70% of modern medicine used today are produced from herbs so I simply can not understand when people say to me “the herbs don’t work, do they?”. This stems from a certain kind of ignorance when it comes to herbs and medicine. The truth is that herbs are milder than the medications that are made from them; people just lack the patience to wait for them to start working, though some herbs work almost instantly. The one thing people need to understand is that herbs are medications, just not laboratory made ones.
HERBS THAT STRENGTHEN THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Gastritis: Inflammations in the digestive system are rather common and have various causes, for instance stress, too much alcohol, medications or hereditary weakness in these organs which makes them more vulnerable to stimulus. Herbs that strengthen the mucosa are essential the whole time, but to begin with it can be necessary to decrease stomach acid production so the mucosa has a chance to heal. For that purpose Meadow Sweet is excellent, it is astringent due to its tannic acid content, and it also contains salicylic acid which is analgesic. I’m not 100% sure which compounds decrease stomach acid production but it’s most likely the tannic acids which coat the mucosa. Alongside Meadow Sweet it’s vital to use Chamomile/Scentless Mayweed since they are both mucosa healers, as well as being relaxing, carminative and antispasmodic. The compound gamma azulene is a part of the essential oil found in Chamomile, and responsible for these healing properties. Another herb I use a lot for people with gastritis or ulcers is Slippery Elm, which is full of mucilage which form a protective barrier over the mucosa, giving it a chance to heal. This herb is also really good for acid reflux, it’s usually sold in powder form, and is really easy to manage, just add 1 tsp. to a glass of water and drink before meals.
Flatulence: Chamomile/Scentless Mayweed are both really good as well as Fennel. All these herbs are carminative but work in different ways. Chamomile calms the digestive system which in turn decreases gas production and the essential oil in Fennel decreased gas.
Stomach ache: If the stomach ache is due to indigestion then Peppermint is excellent since it quickly reduces the stomach ache. The active compounds in Peppermint are essential oils, mainly menthol, which creates its distinctive smell. Peppermint is also carminative, antibacterial, increases appetite, is anti-inflammatory and stimulates the liver. Chamomile is also effective here though it doesn’t reduce the pain as quickly as Peppermint does.
Decreased appetite: Appetite can be increased using herbs that contain bitters, which stimulate all digestive glands. The main herbs here are Dandelion and Angelica, in both cases the root is used. Boil them for approximately 15 minutes and drink the broth 15 minutes before meals to increase appetite. Both these herbs are good for the liver, they stimulate bile production.
FOOD THAT STRENGHTNS THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Like most people know, the digestive system needs to be in good working order to properly utilize nutrients contained in our food. Since we are what we eat, proper digestion and nutrient absorption is essential to maintain good health. It’s therefore sad that some people abuse their organs by eating the wrong thing.
Food that is good for the digestive system: Apples, all citrus fruits, melons, pineapple, raspberries, artichokes, asparagus, white cabbage, dandelion, potatoes, small radishes, brown rice, sauerkraut, yogurt, raw vegetable juices and extra virgin olive oil. These foodstuffs are all immensely effective, but there are many other good and healthy kinds that won’t be mentioned here.
FOOD THAT DESTROYS THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Processed carbohydrates like white sugar and white wheat, these are most often used in cakes, cookies and chocolate.
Too much fat and oil is also not good, it creates too much strain on the body.
Red meat is difficult to digest so it’s good to lay that aside for a while if you are suffering from some digestive ailments.
Coffee, like most people know, isn’t good since it is nothing more than a narcotic in my belief. Three cups are considered ok for people with healthy digestion but if something is wrong it’s best to avoid coffee altogether.
Citrus fruits are best avoided by people with gastritis or ulcers.
Alcohol and indigestion don’t mix well.
There are also a lot of colorants and flavoring substances that irritate the digestive tract.
Hemorrhoids: Is a little bit like the elephant in the living room, a lot of people suffer from it but are but don’t want to talk about it. For those who don’t know, hemorrhoids are a varicose vein that can be found in the rectum, or an abnormal dilation of a vein in that area. The placement can be right inside the anus or outside it. This usually causes a small amount of blood to be found on toilet paper after each bowel movement.
The causes of hemorrhoids are the same as with other types of varicose veins, as well as hereditary, standing or sitting too much, heavy lifting and too little fiber in your diet. Pressure from other organs can also cause hemorrhoids, like constipation, pregnancy, coughing, sneezing, vomiting and extreme physical activity.
Symptoms include anal itching, stinging, pain, inflammation, irritation, bleeding and protrusions. The most common reason behind anal itching is due to overuse of hard toilet paper, fungal infections, intestinal parasites and allergies. Bleeding is almost always due to internal hemorrhoids and usually occurs before, during or after bowel movements.
Following are some helpful hints:
Diet: First and foremost, increase your fiber intake by eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, legumes and coarse grains to maintain healthy bowel movements. Eating a lot of vegetables is more important than coarse grains since sometimes the latter can simply be too heavy for digestion.
Herbs: For constipation it’s good to use herbs that form a sort of mucous ball inside your digestive system, which lubricates and pushes everything ahead of it out, and in the process restores healthy bowel movements. Herbs that are good for this purpose are Psyllium seeds, Flaxseeds and Guar gum. Herbs that increase bile production, like Dandelion root, Angelica root and Dooryard Dock, are good as well.
Then you of course need to strengthen the vein wall, and that is done with a group of chemicals called flavonoids, which are for instance found in Horse chestnut. I don’t know of any Icelandic herbs that contain flavonoids but the food supplement Rutin, which acts with vitamin C since that is also a flavonoid, can be used to strengthen the vein walls. You can also use astringent herbs that contain tannins but those herbs can increase constipation. It’s very effective to add an astringent herb to creams and apply directly to the hemorrhoids.
Irritable bowel syndrome: This condition isn’t that well known here in Iceland, probably because it can’t be diagnosed with some simple tests and the symptoms mimic other disorders. Here we don’t really have any distinctive physical symptoms and the cause is usually a decreased digestive system activity that has been going on for a while. The most common symptoms are stomach cramps caused by a wide variety of things, flatulence and bloating and alternating diarrhea and constipation. The common nominator here is stress, people who are sensitive to stress, are stressed or suffer from anxiety are more susceptible to this condition. It’s more common among women. It’s also common that people are wrongly diagnosed as having some sort of fungal infection since the symptoms are similar.
The herbs that are best here are herbs that strengthen the nervous system as well as herbs that nourish the colons mucosa, such as Slippery Elm and Marsh Mallow. Chamomile is also good since it such an extensive effect on the digestive system. It’s the nervous system that should be the main focus here though.