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Sat, Oct. 19

‘Fab Five’ medicinal herbs that deserve your respect

Feeling a little shy about using medicinal herbs? Not to worry. Before there was modern medicine with its plethora of synthetic drugs, plants were used by our fore-fathers, who were wise in their use and knew how to utilize the healing benefits of plants to heal both common ailments and some more serious health conditions. It’s interesting to note that 80 percent of the world’s population still depend on traditional remedies that include utilizing plants as one of their primary health tools. In addition, 70 percent of all new drugs introduced into the United States have been derived primarily from plants.

Let’s take a peek into my herbal garden and begin to learn how to tap the powers of medicinal herbs. My mother had a keen interest in herbs and their uses. I was fortunate to be able -- at a young age – to learn some of her plant wisdom. While this short list is just a snap-shot of the thousands of medicinal plants growing in the world, I encourage you to experiment and become familiar with their uses. That’s what I did.

– Dandelion is one of my favorite herbs. I like to grow it in my garden and harvest it for adding to salads and also in my juice recipes. It’s best to gather fresh young dandelion greens before the plant has bloomed. If you decide to juice with dandelion, it’s best to place the leaves in boiling water for about 20 seconds, in order to reduce some of the natural bitterness. The reasons that I like dandelion so much is for its liver detoxing properties that both improve liver function by helping to neutralize toxic materials, and acts as a liver tonic. I enjoy adding dandelion greens and beet greens as components in my liver health fresh juice recipe.

– Chamomile was a favorite of my mother, who used to brew up a strong batch of chamomile tea for me to drink when I had my monthly menses, in order to eliminate the pain from cramping. Chamomile contains oils and other components that have a relaxing effect on muscles. Some of these components can affect parts of the central nervous system that control muscle relaxation and sleep. However, some people who are allergic to ragweed may also be allergic to chamomile.

– Ginger is an herb that I like to keep on hand in my kitchen, especially for juicing recipes. Ginger is used to improve digestion, and to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness. Ginger’s inflammatory controlling actions have made it a valuable aid in helping to reduce pain, in particular knee pain in people with osteoarthritis. It is also effective in helping to relieve pain from menstrual cramps in women. What’s more ginger can help reduce the severity of migraine headaches as well as can some commonly used medications, but with fewer side effects.

– Garlic offers enjoyment as a wonderful flavoring for food, and it’s often added to the diet to promote heart and circulatory health. Garlic helps to regulate cholesterol levels, and also aids in maintaining normal blood pressure levels. Garlic contains a variety of sulfur-containing compounds, especially allicin, that are considered to be responsible for its health benefits. In the past, my younger sister so loved the taste of garlic at dinnertime that the next morning I could smell her “garlic breath” down the hallway.

– Peppermint is another medicinal herb that I like to use. I find that whenever I massage therapeutic strength peppermint oil into my husband’s temples and forehead when he gets a headache, the active ingredients found in peppermint oil are able to relieve tension and headache pain. I make sure that he also inhales the aroma of peppermint. Furthermore, peppermint oil is one of the first go-to aids for relieving pain and colonic spasms in people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It’s also helpful with controlling gas. In my herb garden, peppermint grows like a weed and also helps control insect pests. I recommend using fresh peppermint leaves whenever possible for tea, such soups as gazpacho, fruit salads and natural lemonade.

5 Guidelines to Using Herbs Safely

The following guidelines are the suggestions of noted herbalist – David Winston, AHG:

– When using an herb or formula for the first time, it is wise to take only a few drops to make sure you will not have an adverse reaction to it. If such a reaction occurs, immediately discontinue using the herb or herbal product.

– Always pay careful attention to recommended dosage. “If a little is good more must be better” does not apply here. Many herbs, particularly tonics that are used by herbalists to help balance chronic health problems, are best used in small doses and taken over an extended period of time.

– There are few herbs that are truly safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you have a history of miscarriage or problem pregnancy, consult a midwife or your primary care physician before trying herbs.

– Know yourself! Always use common sense and careful discretion when choosing appropriate remedies for yourself. If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, perhaps you have misinterpreted your symptoms and should consult a health care practitioner. Be patient: The actions of many herbs are subtle and only manifest when used over time.

– If you’re taking prescription drugs, negative interactions between some herbs and pharmaceuticals are possible. Discussing these possibilities either with a clinical herbalist who is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, a knowledgeable pharmacist or a physician is strongly advised.

Learn more about Registered Dietitian Nutritionist/author Deralee Scanlon on her website:, and come say hello to Deralee at Natural Grocers – she’s their new “Nutrition Health Coach.”

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