Most of us understand the value of eating and buying local products, but what about our medicine? In Heal Local (New Society Publishers, 2015), author Dawn Combs argues that local healthcare is just as valuable to our well-being as local food. The following excerpt provides three tried-and-true, multipurpose herbs to keep stocked in your natural medicine chest.
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Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia)
Harvest notes: All parts of the plant are useful, however it is the root that has primarily been used in folkloric applications. To that end, the leaf may be harvested just as the flower is developing. The flower may be harvested just as it is unfurling, and the root may be dug either in the spring or fall. Echinacea is a perennial that is in danger of overharvesting and loss of habitat, so source it responsibly or grow it yourself.
Echinacea is very useful for conditions that involve advanced infection or degeneration of tissues. It can be used where the system in general has been overtaxed with stress and overwork. It is not, contrary to popular belief, useful to take day in and day out as a preventative. The compounds within this plant marshal our white blood cells to move efficiently toward a place where our body is losing a battle with infection.
It has been used most effectively as an internal application against toothache, fatigue, exhaustion, infection, sore throat, tonsillitis, bronchitis, flu, diphtheria, scarlet fever, strep throat, meningitis, the common cold, canker sores, gastric and duodenal ulcers, swollen lymphatics, septic conditions and gangrene. It can be used externally for boils, eczema, bee stings and snake bites.
Contraindications: It is speculated that echinacea may be detrimental to those with autoimmune diseases.
Echinacea is an “at risk” medicinal as designated by United Plant Savers.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Antiseptic, antiviral, diaphoretic, cholagogue, hypotensive, Antispasmodic
Harvest notes: The bulb is the most medicinal portion of this plant though you may use the scape (flower stalk) to similar but lesser effect. The bulb is dug when the leafy tops begin to wither. When the number of leaves that are still green get down to five, it’s time to harvest.
Garlic is highly nutritious. It contains high levels of protein, beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B3 and C as well as the minerals calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron, tin, germanium and selenium. Garlic’s biological activity comes from the sulfur-containing amino acids allicin, allyl sulfide and allyl propyl disulfide. These are what make these plants stinky, but you can’t smell them until you crush or cut and expose them to air. These compounds are also sensitive to heat, so to preserve the most benefit it is best to use garlic raw.
Garlic has so much for us, starting with the circulatory system. It is useful for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, anemia, blood poisoning, increased circulation to the extremities and clot inhibition. In the respiratory system garlic also excels, addressing sore throat, cold, flu, cough, allergies, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, whooping cough, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, sneezing, shortness of breath and catarrh.
In the digestive system garlic is helpful for food poisoning, parasites, loose teeth, controlling blood sugar levels, tartar control, poor assimilation, poor appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, candida, gas, diverticulitis, constipation, bowel inflammation and fever.
Externally garlic is good for general infection, wounds, and infection and ringing in the ears. It can be applied to the skin for congestion in the chest, athlete’s foot, impetigo, psoriasis, boils, blisters, bedsores, bites, stings and dandruff. For the urinary and reproductive systems there are benefits for breaking up kidney stones, hot flashes and general male and female hormonal balance.
In the nervous system garlic can help with headache, dizziness, blurred vision, numbness and tingling in joints and extremities, fatigue and paralysis. In the musculo-skeletal system garlic is helpful with lumbago and arthritis.
Garlic also has shown activity against cancer cells. All of the alliums have the ability to remove toxic metals like lead, copper, cadmium and mercury from the body as well as the soil they grow in. All in all garlic is an easy preventative for degenerative disease.
Contraindications: Not recommended in high amounts just before surgery. May increase the effects of insulin and blood thinners.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Anti-inflammatory, astringent, vulnerary, sedative
Harvest notes: Traditionally St. John’s wort was picked on The Feast of St. John at the end of June. Here in Ohio, that is indeed when its blooms are at their peak, and all parts above ground can be harvested. If you are wishing to make St. John’s wort oil, it is the buds just as they are about to open that you need.
The use of St. John’s wort rose in popularity when I was in college, and then shortly thereafter it almost disappeared from common conversation. At that time it developed a bad reputation due to a misrepresentation that the plant acted as an MAO inhibitor and posed a threat to blood pressure. Subsequent research supports the fact that this is not true. The only study that we have representing a possible threat is one in which cattle dining on large amounts of St. John’s wort showed an increase in photosensitivity.
So, in honor of the ridiculous, it may be worth avoiding large salads of St. John’s wort during a beach vacation when you might not want a higher risk of sunburn. In all seriousness, St. John’s wort may not be the best therapy if you are perhaps undergoing UV treatment of any kind.
This plant is most active in the nervous system. It is indicated for headache, shingles, anxiety, depression, general pain, pain due to damage to the nervous system, insomnia, seasonal affective disorder, chronic fatigue, mental burnout, concussion, meningitis, fibromyalgia, neuralgia, sciatica and paralysis. Due to its anti-inflammatory and astringent nature, St. John’s wort is able to address more than just those issues that affect other organ systems due to stress on the nervous system. In the digestive tract it is helpful for gum disease, bad breath, weak and disturbed digestion, gastroenteritis, anemia, lack of appetite, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, jaundice and compromised immunity. The herb is effective at balancing stomach acidity and supporting the liver in its work to process toxicity (especially that of prescription and over-the-counter drugs). In the urinary system St. John’s wort may be used for bladder ailments that stem from stress, bedwetting, retained urine and urinary tract infections and ulcers. For reproductive health, the herb can help with dysmenorrhia, menorrhagia and after birth pain.
Topically it is often made into a blood red oil and is very effective for sunburn, bruising, wounds, blood poisoning, hard swollen tumors in the breasts, tetanus, burns, ulcers, skin tags, corns, boils, carbuncles and radiation burns.
One of my favorite uses for this plant is mentioned by Matthew Wood — and that is to strengthen the gut instinct. For that application, you might try St. John’s wort flower essence in particular. That might just be a part of the prescription of this book. Enjoy a little bit of St. John’s wort while you read these pages to strengthen your resolve to get back into touch with your inner knowing and learn to trust your gut instinct.
Contraindications: St. John’s wort should be avoided while pregnant or undergoing UV light and solarium therapy.
Reprinted with permission from Heal Local by Dawn Combs and published by New Society Publishers, 2015. Purchase this book from our store: Heal Local.