Using-Herbs-SafelyUsing Herbs Safely
Excerpt from Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
by Susun Weed
Plants feed us, clothe us, house us, heal us, and can help us keep our
breasts healthy, yet they can harm or kill us. Here's how to use them
When you buy herbs, check that they are labeled with the botanical
name (e.g., Trifolium pratense). Common names for plants often refer to
several plants; botanical names are specific to one plant. "Marigold"
refers to two plants with different uses.Calendula officinalis, or pot
marigold, is a medicinal herb; Tagetes is the marigold usually sold for
Learn about the weeds of your doorstep. Become more aware of the
vitality and abundance of Nature. Eat or use as a remedy one wild plant
that grows near you this year. When you make your own medicines and
healing foods, you control one of the major ways you can come to harm
from using herbs: mistaken identity (or right label, wrong herb). Not
that you can't make mistakes, but you're more likely to catch your own
mistake than someone else's. When you make your own medicines and
healing foods, they are fresh, full of energy, and in tune with you and
your environment. Making your own herbal remedies is simple and fun;
directions begin on page 293.
The results and safety of any remedy are dependent on the way it is
prepared and used. Notice that I prefer infused herbal oils (not
essential oils) and powerful herbal infusions (not herbal teas).
Different people can have different reactions to the same
substance, whether drug, food, or herb. If you take lots of herbs mixed
together and have distressing side effects, how can you know which one
is the cause? For safety, I use one herb (sometimes two, and only
rarely three) at a time. Limiting the number of herbs I use in one day
helps me discern my response to the plant allies I've chosen. If I have
an adverse reaction, I can tell which herb caused it, avoid that herb,
and try other herbs with similiar properties.
Side effects from herbs are less common than side effects from
drugs and usually less severe. If an herb disturbs your digestion, it
may be that your body is learning to process it. Give it a few more
tries before deciding it's not for you. An herb that really doesn't
agree with you may cause nausea, dizziness, sharp stomach pains,
diarrhea, headache, or blurred vision, and these effects will generally
occur quite quickly. Stop taking the herb or reduce the dose
dramatically. Slippery elm is an excellent antidote to poisons; see
When a dosage range is given, start with the smallest recommended dose and increase as needed. Note: 25 drops is 1 ml.
Respect the power of plants to change the body and spirit in dramatic ways, even when taken in minute doses.
Increase your trust in the healing effectiveness of plants by
trying remedies for minor or external problems (side effects of
orthodox cancer treatments, for instance) before, or while, working
with your major and internal problems.
Gather-in person or in books-with others interested in herbal,
homeopathic, and home remedies. Call on them as well as professionals
when you feel uncertain. Develop ongoing relationships with
knowledgeable healers who are as interested in helping you maintain
health as in helping you cure problems.
Respect the uniqueness of every plant, every person, every situation.
Remember that you become whole and healed in your own unique way,
at your own speed. People, plants, and animals can help in this
process. But your body/spirit does the healing/wholing. Don't expect
plants to be cure-alls.
If you are allergic to any foods or medicines, it is especially
important to check out the side effects of any herb you are considering
Herbs comprise a group of several thousand plants with widely
varying actions. Some are nourishers, some tonifiers, some stimulants
and sedatives, and some are potential poisons. To use them wisely and
well, we need to understand each category, its uses, best manner of
preparation, and usual dosage range.
Nourishers are the safest of all herbs; side effects are rare.
Nourishing herbs are taken in any quantity for any length of time. They
are used as foods, just like spinach and kale. Nourishers provide high
levels of anti-cancer vitamins, minerals (especially selenium),
antioxidants, carotenes, and essential fatty acids.
Nourishing herbs in Breast Cancer? Breast Health! include: alfalfa
herb, amaranth, astragalus root, calendula flowers, chickweed, comfrey
leaves, dandelion herb, fenugreek, flax seeds, honeysuckle flowers,
lamb's quarter, marshmallow root, nettle herb, oatstraw, plantain
leaves and seeds, purslane herb, raspberry leaves, red clover blossoms,
seaweeds (kelp), Siberian ginseng, slippery elm bark, violet leaves,
and wild and exotic mushrooms.
Tonifiers act slowly in the body and have a cumulative, rather than
immediate, effect. They build the functional ability of an organ (like
the liver) or a system (like the immune system). Tonifying herbs are
most beneficial when they are used in small quantities for extended
periods of time. The more bitter the tonic tastes, the less you need to
take. Bland tonics may be used in quantity, like nourishing herbs. Side
effects occassionally occur with tonics, but are usually quite
short-term. Many older herbals mistakenly equated stimulating herbs
with tonifying herbs, leading to widespread misuse of many herbs, and
severe side effects.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, potentially poisonous herbs are
used as tonics by women at high risk of developing breast cancer. (The
herbs are taken daily, for one week only out of every six months.)
Tonifying herbs in Breast Cancer? Breast Health! include: barberry
bark, burdock root, chaga, chaste tree berries, cronewort (mugwort),
dandelion root, echinacea root, elecampane root, fennel seeds, garlic,
ginkgo leaves, ginseng root, ground ivy, hawthorn berries, horsetail
herb, lady's mantle herb, lemon balm herb, milk thistle seeds,
motherwort herb, mullein leaves, parsley herb, pau d'arco, peony root,
raspberry herb, red-root, schisandra berries, self-heal herb, sundew
herb, St. Joan's wort, turmeric root, usnea herb, wild yam root, and
yellow dock root.
Sedatives and stimulants cause a variety of rapid reactions, some
of which may be unwanted. Some parts of the person may be stressed in
order to help other parts. Strong sedatives and stimulants, whether
herbs or drugs, push us outside our normal ranges of activity and may
cause strong side effects. If we rely on them and then try to function
without them, we wind up more agitated (or depressed) than before we
began. Habitual use of strong sedatives and stimulants-whether opium,
rhubarb root, cayenne, or coffee-leads to loss of tone, impairment of
functioning, and even physical dependency. The stronger the herb, the
more moderate the dose needs to be, and the shorter the duration of its
Herbs that tonify and nourish while sedating/stimulating-especially
oatstraw, motherwort, and peppermint-are among my favorite herbs. I use
them freely as they do not cause dependency.
Sedating/stimulating herbs that also tonify or nourish are used
frequently in Breast Cancer? Breast Health! including: boneset flowers,
catnip, citrus peel, cleavers, ginger, hops, lavender, marjoram,
motherwort, passion flower herb, many mints (e.g., lavender, rosemary,
sage, and skullcap herbs), and sheep sorrel.
Strong sedating/stimulating herbs used in this book include:
angelica, bayberry, blessed thistle root, cancerweed, cinnamom, cloves,
licorice root, marijuana, oak, osha root, passion flower herb,
shepherd's purse, sweet woodruff, turkey rhubarb root, uva ursu leaves,
valerian root, Venus's flytrap, wild lettuce sap, willow bark, and wintergreen leaves.
Potentially poisonous herbs are potent medicines. They activate intense
effort on the part of the body and spirit. Potentially poisonous herbs
are taken in tiny amounts and only for as long as needed. Unexpected
side effects are common when potentially poisonous herbs are used
without regard for their power. To increase your sense of security when contemplating the use of a potentially poisonous herb, consult other herbal references and several experienced herbalists.
Potentially poisonous herbs in Breast Cancer? Breast Health! include:
arbor vitae, arnica, autumn crocus root, belladonna, blood-root,
celandine, chaparral, comfrey root (not leaf), foxglove, goldenseal
root, henbane, iris root, Jimson weed, lobelia, May apple (American mandrake) root, mistletoe, poke, poison hemlock, stillingia root, turkey corn root, wild cucumber root.
Excerpt from Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
by Susun Weed