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Introduction to Herbs

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What is an Herb?

Any plant that has culinary, medical, cosmetic, veterinary or other use of some kind. The useful part is different with every plant, it can be the leaves, flowers, roots, barks or seeds. The plant can be a tree or shrub, a weed or an exotic flower, or one of the common group of plants known as “herbs.”

They come from all over the world, but many effective herbal remedies grow right in most people’s neighborhood. There are many experts that believe the herbs best for you are the ones that grow in your general neighborhood and bioregion.

Do Herbs work for medicines?

They have been human medicine for all of our history and are still the main medicine for much of the world. Some are well researched and proven effective, others have been around for hundreds of years and stand on empirical evidence. Yes, herbs work. However, you must have the right herb for the right situation, for the right body, at the right time. Okay?

Are Herbs safe?

Most common herbs are as safe as food. However, many contain potent chemical constituents that can harm if used carelessly, and some of the most virulent of poisons come from plants. There is also the fact that for every substance in the world, there is someone who is allergic to it. So all herbs should be used with caution and respect.

What about Dosages?

This should be checked out for each herb in a reliable herb book. As a rule of thumb, however, for acute illness, less herbs are used, and they are taken frequently, as much as every couple of hours for a limited amount of days. For chronic problems, often more complicated formulas are used, and they are taken once or twice a day for a fairly long period of time.

Dosage for children and pets: divide their weight by 150 lbs and that will equal the fraction of the adult dosage.

weight of child or pet
———————- = fraction of adult dose.
150 (adult weight)

Herbs for Health and Healing

Humankind has been blessed with plants to eat, plants for shade, plants to keep the landscape pretty, to keep the wind away from dwellings, and plants that have been used as medicines since the time before written history. The Druids, the Celts, the ancient Egyptians, and many of our ancestral cultures have used the plants around them for their medical properties.

It has been noted that the ancient Sumerians, Assyrians, and Greeks knew of the medicinal properties of herbs. It has been written that Alexander the Great made many expeditions into far-off lands for the purpose of gathering herbs from those places and bringing them back to used in local potions and medicinal remedies.

My personal interest and studies in nature and its healing components have revealed to me the importance of medicinal herbs. I am fully committed to the fact that man and nature walk hand in hand upon this planet and that our relationship with our environment is the key to personal satisfaction and health.

The works of natural healing pioneers can be found in any library. I am a proponent of their works and have tried their experiments on myself and my family. When I use herbs in medicine, I find positive results each time. I do not have to encounter any of the side effects of chemical medications.

I believe that there is an innate intuition that speaks to man of the healing properties of plants, as opposed to the ingestion of chemicals. We are, indeed, a part of the Nature of this planet, and it is my firm belief that Nature takes care of her own. We are contained in Nature, sustained by Nature, and healed by Nature. We are alive, and that spirit of life is in tune with the constant rhythms of the world in which we find ourselves.

A Brief History of Herbs

Herbs have been used for time uncounted for healing the sick and infirm. The earliest recorded herbs have been found to date back as far as 2500BC. It is certain that they were used widely even prior to that time. Even in prehistoric days, plants were sought and used for shelter, food and medicine. Some of the ancient cave etchings have shown glyphs of plant leaves and roots being used by the caveman.

There are records of the Sumerians using thyme and laurel 5,000 years ago. As far back as 2700 BC the Chinese people were known to use over 30 plants for medicinal purposes. Among these was found the herb *ma-huang*, from which ephedrine is still produced. Records of Egyptian culture, as far back as 1000 BC, tell of the common uses of many herbs and plants for food, medicine, and dyes.

These Egyptians have written of using garlic, indigo, mint, and opium. Even the Old Testament speaks of the people using wheat , rye, and barley. The ancient Greeks and Romans used herbs and other plants for cosmetics, in magical and religious ceremonies, both symbolically and realistically, and as medicine and seasonings for cooking.

It was Hippocrates who spoke of maintaining our natural *life force* through the use of herbals, fresh air, adequate rest, proper nutrition and balanced diet. A Greek physician by the name of Dioscorides wrote an extensive compendium of herbals in the first century AD. This book, called De Materia Medica, contains over 500 plants, which were listed, defined, and explained for their medicinal qualities.

In the Middle Ages, there was very little change in the concepts and treatments of medicine. At this time, the herbal information and gathered writings of the old Greek and Roman works were diligently hand-copied by monks in monasteries to preserve the information. The monks and religious leaders took on the knowledge and grew vast herb gardens for the healing arts

. In the early cultures, as healing was a common practice of the religious leader of that day, growing and use of herbs was mainly kept in the hands of the monks and ministers. In those times, it was a common awareness that all plants were beneficial to man and the earth.

Man has apparently always made use of plants, animals, and minerals in his diet and health. The plant kingdom provides the human body with the best basis for healing and for maintaining that health. Modern herbalism has developed from many and varied sources, most commonly passed down through family folklore and local tradition.

Herbalism is a very real part of our life here on earth. The cultivation and use of herbs (for many purposes) is as much a reality today as it has been since the dawn of history

It has been noted in many writings and by personal observation that the children of all cultures and walks of life seem to have a natural instinct to seek high carbohydrate foods, which provide energy and building of bodily tissues. Unspoiled Native people of all regions of the earth are known to watch for the first young sprouts of Spring.

They spend a great deal of time watching for, gathering, preparing, and eating wild tender shoots and young leaves of plants and herbs that are common to their area.

In North America, young country children can be found snacking in the wild throughout the day. They are very adept at finding the wild vegetables, like wild cabbage, sorrel, onion, and garlic. They will seek out the foods that are the healthiest for them, by some kind of innate instinct. They will chew on raw tree leaves and roots.

They know intuitively that elm leaves will relieve hunger. They will hunt for apples, grapes, and berries. These little ones, when they come home in the evening, will eat cornstalks and raw vegetable from the garden, including carrots, peas, and beans.

Young people and adults can be found chewing on certain wild flowers and ferns, such as cicily. Common weed, like dandelions and water cress are eaten by all. The people will look for and gather the wild wintergreen, peppermint, and spearmint plants. All these herbs and plants, that are growing in the wild, are beneficial to the human body.

With the advent of modern methods of food processing and chemically engineered nutrients and medicines, many natural herbal remedies have been lost and people have fallen away from their uses in food, shelter, and medicinals.

This is unfortunate, as herbs and other plants still contain the vitamins, essential oils, mucilage, alkaloids and other natural ingredients that are beneficial to the body, mind, and spirit of man.

Herbs of Today

Herbs are generally defined as any plants of a non-woody nature, which die after blooming. This definition has been expanded to encompass any of the plants of which part or whole can be used in medicinal treatments, culinary preparations (as seasonings), nutritional supplementation, or in use as a coloring or cosmetic agent.

Fresh herbals and medicinal plants can be acquired by gathering them in the wild, growing them in your own personal garden, or buying them from other herb gardeners and health food stores.

Gathering herbs is probably the most inexpensive and natural way to get them. If you are going to gather herbs, it is best to do so in the mid-afternoon, as the plants are at their peak of activity during the warmest part of the day.

However, it might be safer to grow them yourself, for then you know exactly what you are getting and what has been used on them during the growing process.

If you make the choice to purchase herbs, then it is always a good idea to do a bit of research on the people from whom you are buying.

Fresh herbs can be used as they are, as an integral part of daily diet or can be administered after they have been dried. There are several way to prepare herbs for consumption and use in medicinal remedies. When herbs are prepared by steeping then in boiling water to be drunk as a tea, they are known as an infusion. If dried herbs are simmered in hot water, they are called a decoction.

If incorporated in with other ingredients and made into a cream, they are viewed as an herbal ointment. Sometimes, a piece of gauze or cloth is soaked in an infusion or decoction and is wrapped and applied externally. This is known as an herbal compress.

If herbs are used to water to cleanse and heal externally, they are called an herbal wash. Herbal infusions and decoctions can also be used as an herbal bath for relaxation and healing.

There are a few simple rules to follow when working with herbs for food, nutritional supplements, or medicinals:

1. Always *know* that you can personally identify the herbs you are using. This is the only sure way to know they are safe for the intended preparation.
2. If you are preparing an infusion or decoction, always use either glass of porcelain cookware and mixing bowls; never use metal containers.
3. When preparing herbs for short or long-term storage, place the dried herbs in airtight glass containers and store in a cool place. Do not keep dried herbs refrigerated.
4. Always follow the recommended dosages on your preparations and recipes. Over-use of herbals can defeat the purpose for which you are using them. Some of the most beneficial herbs can be toxic if they are over used.

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