THE PRINCIPLES OF BOTANICAL MEDICINE
Medical herbalism (or Botanical Medicine) is an ancient, relevant, and effective healing technique that is inherently in tune with Nature.
Understanding how herbs work means understanding the wide range of actions they can have in the body. It’s important to keep in mind that a single herb can have numerous actions, and their uses may be numerous. Often their actions are synchronized and work together in a way that will benefit the body as a whole system and on multiple levels. Understanding the methods of action is the easiest way for anyone to begin using herbs effectively. Each herb has biochemical action/s and specific effects on the body. Knowing these actions and the specific pathology will help you decide which actions are required and then which herbs will deliver these actions. A few examples of herbal actions are:
Analgesic - These are herbs that will relieve and soothe pain. They work primarily by lessening sensitivity of the brain or the nervous system and causing analgesia. (Kratom , Wild Lettuce)
Adaptogen - Improve the body’s adaptability, enabling the body to avoid reaching a point of collapse or over-stress. Adaptogens can have an overall tonifying effect or provide benefit within specific organ such as the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, reproductive and nervous systems. (Siberian Ginseng, Ashwagandha)
Anti-inflammatory - these herbs help the body to control inflammation. However, the symptomatic alleviation of inflammation employed by pharmaceuticals is rarely the same mechanism by which these remedies act. Inflammation is a normal and healthy body response to infections or systemic issues of many varieties. The cardinal signs of inflammation (swelling, heat, redness, loss of function & pain) all serve eliminative purposes and meaningful immune system responses. Over time the inflammatory reaction will bring about necessary changes to heal and restore health to the area affected. Modern medicine is conditioned to react to inflammation as something that should be quickly and completely smothered. Herbal remedies offer us the possibility of achieving a balance between the complex chemical mediators involved and working with the body rather than against it. Herbs can reduce inflammation in a number of different ways. It’s important to note that these herbs will rarely inhibit the natural inflammation process, instead they support and encourage the chemical mediators involved. This aids the body with the cleansing work it’s already doing, thereby speeding the healing process. (Boswellia, Willow Bark, Turmeric)
Click for a complete listing of ACTIONS.
CREATING HERBAL HARMONY
The key to unlocking to the true power of herbal medicine is in their proper combination. Many herbs work in synergy with others to provide even greater potency that a "single-herb" approach.
You may have tried peppermint tea for indigestion or ginger for a cold. These single-herb remedies, known to herbalists as “simples,” can be effective medicine. But plants, like people, thrive in a community. In nature, they seldom grow alone, but rather flourish in close proximity to one another. In medicinal blends, they work synergistically, meaning that each herb enhances the effects of the others. The blend becomes more than the sum of its parts. Knowing which herbs to choose, and in what amounts, is both a science and an art. Teas should follow this reliable three-part method for creating effective blends or formulations.
The main ingredients in medicinal blends are herbs that directly address a specific health concern. Primary herbs make up 70 to 80 percent of a blend. There may be one or several primary herbs in a particular tea or formulation.
The secondary ingredients in medicinal blends are there to nourish and support the system, often soothing and buffering the effects of the stronger primary herbs. Supportive herbs make up 20 to 30 percent of a blend. Many are high in minerals and a soothing substance called mucilage. Again, one or multiple herbs can occupy this category. In these blends, you’ll often see licorice in the supportive category.
Included in small amounts, 5 to 10 percent of a blend, catalyst herbs have a warming or stimulating effect on the body and serve to “activate” the tea. Ginger, peppermint, black pepper and cinnamon are frequently used as catalysts. Most herbs can play more than one role. Peppermint, for instance, is a primary herb in some remedies but a catalyst in others.
Unlike drugs, which generally contain one or two active ingredients with a specific agenda, herbs are made up of thousands of ingredients. Because of their complex chemical nature, most herbs work a number of ways in the body and can be used for different purposes.
FORMULATING AN EFFECTIVE HERBAL MEDICINE
In creating the most efficient formulation, we will normally use more than one herb, as the synergy of the herbs will be stronger acting for the condition, at the same time don’t use too many herbs in a formula as it is more effective to give more quantity of a few herbs than very small amounts of many herbs.
In general, you will find that between 4 or 6 herbs will accomplish the objective, and will give you the herbal actions required for most cases.
The first step would be to find the herbal actions required for the condition, remember don’t treat the symptoms, try to find the causes of the problem. If you want to treat the symptoms they can be treated parallel to the cause ( with a second formula), especially if you need to take care of some relief, while the main formula works.
Once you have identified the actions required, make a list of the herbs that you know have these actions, if you see herbs that appear in more than one category those will be ones to use. There will be other herbs that are more specific to the condition or body area required, these specific herbs are also good candidates to be used in the formula.
Traditionally a herbal formulation should contain:
PRIMARY herbs particular to the condition
SUPPORTING herbs which are relaxing/soothing for the affected area or to the nerves in general
SUPPORTING herbs which are tonic & strengthening to the affected area or system.
CATALYST herbs which will aid the eliminative/alterative/depurative areas concerned.
Proportions in the formulation can be adjusted to provide more potency to some herbs, you can also enhance actions by the herbal synergy’s of the formulation, usually the herbs have several actions that will help clear the condition and to give more versatility while making a formulation.