Updated: Apr 6
Making your own herbal remedies is fun and super empowering. There are so many benefits to learning some basic medicine-making skills – but the main benefit is being able to use the natural remedies that you produce!
Having herbal remedies on hand helps you when an issue strikes, and can often mean that the issue doesn’t escalate to the point where you need to see a doctor or use pharmaceutical medications.
And I have absolutely no issue with seeing a GP or using meds when they are indicated – but there are so many things which could be safely supported at home.
I like to call this concept “Shit your Grandmother Knew (now with research!)”.
The issues that I’m talking about are the kinds of things that, just a generation or two ago, we would have treated at home, with common kitchen or garden ingredients.
So let’s look at a few common health issues that can be supported by super common and easy-to-access plants.
*But first* a big disclaimer:
I love herbs and I think that you should too. BUT I want you all to be very safe and smart when using them!
If you have a serious health condition, or are on serious medication, please speak to a knowledgeable practitioner before adding herbs to your life.
And by “speak to” I mean book a full appointment with – this is not the realm of chatting to someone who works in a health shop – it is not fair to expect someone in that situation to be your on-the-spot healthcare provider.
I also encourage you to use the amazing people who run free healthlines for acute issues. Stay safe and don’t delay medical treatment if you gut is telling you to get to the hospital. *
OK now all that aside, I really do love having herbs on hand to deal with these common, mild issues - for myself and my family.
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1. Coughs and colds
This feels like a minefield to talk about in the era of Covid, however there really are lots of herbs that you can use at home to support your respiratory tract when you are coming down with something.
(Another quick disclaimer – please go get a Covid test or at least call your local healthline to find out if that’s the best course of action for you.)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is what we call a mucolytic herb – meaning that it helps break down sticky mucus. Great for those unproductive coughs or when you coughing up big sticky bits of mucus (yuck).
Mucus is an easy place for bacteria to breed so breaking it down and getting it out of your body can help to reduce the risk of a cold becoming bacterial (most colds are caused by viruses).
How to use it – Get fresh Ginger from the supermarket and slice or grate it into hot water with honey and lemon (optional). Tasty, warming, and therapeutic!
2. Bloating/Gas/Upset Tummy
There are many reasons why you might be experiencing bloating, gas and other digestive issues, so if this is a chronic issue for you it is definitely worth getting some professional support to find out WHY.
However, if this is simply an occasional “I ate too much rich food” type of situation, then read on. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) contains chemicals called volatile oils which help to calm spasms in the smooth muscle of the gut – those same muscles which can cause gas and griping pain. How to use it – Loose dried peppermint leaves or peppermint tea drunk after a meal is the way to go! Peppermint is also relatively easy to grow in a pot so is a great plant to start with if you are thinking of adding some herbs to your garden or balcony.
Is it even 2021 if we don’t talk about how much collective stress and trauma we have all experienced recently?
I mean, on top of whatever personal stuff you got going on, the world is A LOT right now. I personally believe that we could all benefit from some herbs for stress support. The nice thing about using herbs for stress is that they are generally safe and non-habit forming (aka not addictive). Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is another herb that most of us are familiar with – and that I think gets underestimated in terms of its effectiveness!
Chamomile has TONS of research to support its use in stress and anxiety. It is safe and gentle enough to be used with children, but is powerful enough to be effective for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (as seen in several clinical trials). And yes – I am going to say (again!) that if you are experiencing chronic anxiety or if you are or have taken medications for stress, anxiety, depression, or any mental health issue, then please work with a practitioner. How to use it – Another good old cup of tea! For something like stress you may not feel the effects immediately -it is better to continuously drip feed your circuitry with Chamomile all day long. Make a big pot and drink it throughout the day. Have it instead of your afternoon cup of coffee, too – you’ll thank me later.
A note on herb quality
Not all herbal remedies are created equally! The best quality herbs are going to be the ones that you grow in your back yard. But barring that, here are a few tips for getting herbs that are actually therapeutic.
· Smell them. All of these herbs have distinct smells, and should smell quite strong of their characteristic scent. Those chemicals (the volatile oils that we spoke about) are a sign of the quality of the plant.
· Look at them. Is your Ginger dry, sad and wrinkly? Does your Chamomile look really pale? Is your Peppermint a vibrant green colour? The benefit of buying loose herbs is being able to actually SEE the plants you are buying. You will start to be able to discern good from *meh* herbs the more you use them.
· Go Organic (if you can). Ideally you don’t want pesticides piggybacking on your medicine. BUT if organic is not in your budget, don’t sweat it. Get what you can. Something is always better than nothing!
That’s it! A great start to getting comfortable with a few common herbs that you should be able to easily access.
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PS - If you are a herb nerd like me and would like to see any of the research that I mentioned, please contact me! I'm happy to send references to anyone who wants to spend the time reading them :)