Using 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 flower borders.
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 Materia Medica.
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
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
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 using.
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
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 use.
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
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