How to Choose the Best and Safest Herbal Medicine for You

Herbal medicine can be a great wellness tool, whether you crack out the echinacea when you feel a cold coming on, or deal with the musty taste of valerian to help induce sleep. However, the mistake many people make with herbal medicine is that they accentuate the “herbal” over the “medicine” – that is to say, they forget that that it can have a serious affect on your health if taken improperly. Therefore, you need to follow five sensible principles when considering herbal medicines.


1. Educate yourself: It’s important to do your homework with regards to complementary wellness, as it’s much easier to get it wrong. Not only do you need to know what herb will be the most beneficial to your wellbeing, but you also need to understand the level of effectiveness in each part of the herb, as the root, say, may be more potent than the flower or leaf. Stinging nettles, for example, are used in the treatment of benign prostate problems, and both the roots and flowers contain an anti-inflammatory compound known as scopoletin. However, only the roots have the steroid-like compounds that herbalists recommend if prostate problems affect your wellness, and so this part of the plant is best. Pass on supplements that don’t list the specific or right part of the herb.


2. Read the label: This is vital in all areas of health, not just in alternative therapies. If you put anything into your body, you should definitely know what it is! When it comes to herbal supplements, you’re looking for the scientific name of the herb, the part of the plant it uses (as you now know which part you’re after) and an expiration date. It’s also a good idea to find out the plant’s place of origin and whether it has been grown organically or wild-crafted (picked in the wild), but the labels don’t always specify this information, as it isn’t essential. The first three points, however, are, so don’t touch a supplement that doesn’t list the scientific name, part and expiration date.


3. Go for quality…: More often than not, bargain brands are sold in cheap, discount shops and it’s far better to stick with brands from reputable health-food stores. Due to a lack of regulation, herbal medicines don’t go through the same rigorous checks as pharmaceuticals, as manufacturers can use the “supplement” loophole – it’s only an add-on, not a replacement to a healthy diet, exercise or Western medical practises. This loophole means that herbal medicines can get away with all sorts of claims on the label or in the advertisements that aren’t necessarily true. Therefore, you need to be able to trust the provider as much as possible.


4. Don’t go for quantity: Sticking with single herbs is a good rule to follow when you’re starting out, unless you are recommended a specific formula by a trustworthy herbal practitioner. It’s like experimenting with cooking herbs; the best way is to use one at a time until you know how it tastes, and then you start blending them as you gain the knowledge and experience you need to make it work. With medicinal herbs you can apply the same principle; start off slowly, learn how each herb affects you, and then you can begin to blend them or use pre-made herbal formulas. Again, reading the label is key here as you need to know how much of each herb the formula contains.


5. Don’t do it alone: While these are all handy tips to get you started, you should never start using herbal medicine without the advice of a complementary wellness expert. Look online to find a healer who is qualified to practice herbal medicine, and consult him or her – and your GP – before taking anything new.

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