One of the big lessons I learned from studying medicinal plants is that, when a health concern isn’t an immediate emergency, it is better to focus on supporting the living human than trying to control one piece or another of the physiology.
So, for example, we use gentle infusions made with herbs like catnip and elderflower for children’s seasonal challenges instead of drugs that might reduce fever or suppress the secretion of mucus. It is often the case that over-the-counter and prescription medications, useful as they are, come at our bodies using a drug-like mentality: find the most obvious problem, and hit back at it hard. I can’t argue that this approach has been incredibly successful in a range of situations, notably acute infection, life-threatening autoimmune inflammation, shock, and acute cardiovascular events – but that doesn’t, by extension, mean that this drug-like mentality is the only approach, or that it should be the first approach in any given situation. In many cases, the herbalist’s approach of support over control makes a lot of sense.
Nowhere is this perhaps more clear than in the way we address occasional heartburn. There are a few options to choose from: regular antacids like Tums or bicarbonate, digestive bitters, H2 receptor blockers like Zantac, and proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, to name just a few. The proton pump inhibitors are by far the most prescribed type of heartburn and acid reflux medication: in fact, these are the fourth top-selling prescription in the United States, with over 15 million monthly prescriptions. By some estimates, over 20% of the population is taking a […]
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita, also known as Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita) is one of the best-known medicinal herbs in the world. Ivan Salamon, from the University of Presov in Slovakia, also calls it “one of the most well-documented,” and points to its use in the official dispensaries of over 26 countries. Dr. Salamon has spent much of his research career on this beautiful and delicate plant, documenting changes in its volatile oil profile in different growing environments, analyzing chamomile crops grown in the open in Slovakia for contamination (and found them to contain very low levels of heavy metals, pesticide and radioactivity residue), even helping to develop a specialized industrial-scale harvester for the flowers. In his review of the medicinal properties of chamomile, he notes its consistent popularity and effectiveness.
We think of chamomile flowers (the most active medicinal part) as […]
Most herbalists know of the nutritive value of nettles (Urtica species). We harvest them in spring and early summer, cook them in soup, or dry them to make dark, rich overnight infusions that replenish and revitalize. I was first introduced to nettles when I was young, at my grandmother’s house where they grew wild. Since then I’ve found them growing almost everywhere: on the rocky slopesides of Vermont’s Smuggler’s Notch, in the lowlands by the lakeside, all across Europe and North America. But nowhere have I seen nettles like Urtica massaica, the species that grows near water in the highlands of Tanzania
We are working at a local hospital, on the edge of the Serengeti just west of the Rift Valley. This is the land of the Maasai, who herd cattle all day, generally eat meat and some grains (no vegetables), and live in far-flung bomas far from modern healthcare. This is generally fine – but in some cases, such as after protracted childbirth or long-standing illness, members of the community arrive at the hospital with profound anemia. We have routinely seen hemoglobin levels of 4, 5, and 6 – normal being 12 or 13 – and while some are lucky enough to receive blood transfusions, this is the exception, rather than the rule. Their tongues are quite pale but we also see characteristic dark purple splotching in the more severe cases – often along the edges. In these situations, we really see that stinging nettles aren’t just a nutritive tonic: they deserve to be considered alongside all the “superfoods” […]
Founder Jovial King in her garden (photo from DIY Bitters)
We have all heard that our moods (and even our thoughts) don’t live in our heads. For example, we’ve known for a while that serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is found in abundance in the GI tract. Its role there includes managing mucus production and acid production, as well as – possibly – helping to regulate mood. Serotonin-producing cells in the GI tract, furthermore, seem to need the right signals from our gut flora (the beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines) to function properly, which lends additional credence to the notion that our moods are intimately connected to our internal ecologies.
But what of our external ecologies? Is there any evidence that being outside might positively impact our moods? We are, in fact, exploring this connection more and more: from “forest-bathing”, which consistently seems to reduce stress and anxiety, to Dr. Andrea Taylor’s work on relieving symptoms of attention deficit by walking in nature