What Herbs Can (And CAN’T) Do

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A lot of contradicting information exists around herbal remedies. Mainstream medicine benefits from this whirlwind of data. In the last 100-200 years or so, people have been indoctrinated and at times bullied into accepting doctors as the source of relief from whatever ails them.

The funniest part is this: None of us would be here without herbs. None of the pills, injections, inhalants, sprays or topicals would exist without herbs. Don’t believe me? Look up a few of your favorite medications. Do some research into their origin.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Can’t think of anything? Let me help.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):

Even at the dawn of 21st century, 11% of the 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by the WHO [World Health Organization] were exclusively of flowering plant origin.

And…

According to Newman and Cragg 2012, the utility of natural products as sources of novel structures is still alive and well. Up to 50% the approved drugs during the last 30 years are from either directly or indirectly from natural products and in the area of cancer, over the time frame from around the 1940s to date, of the 175 small molecules 85 actually being either natural products or directly derived there from.

The use of plants as medicines has a long history in the treatment of various diseases. The plant-derived compounds have a long history of clinical use, better patient tolerance and acceptance. To date, 35,000-70,000 plant species have been screened for their medicinal use.

Plants especially those with ethnopharmacological uses have been the primary sources of medicine for early drug discovery. Fabricant and Farnsworth, (2001) reported that, 80% of 122 plant derived drugs were related to their original ethnopharmacological purposes.

(Veeresham C. Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2012;3(4):200–201. doi:10.4103/2231-4040.104709)

In a nutshell: A dizzying number of current drugs came from plants. Moving on…

What Are Herbs Anyway?

The word has been used to cover a broad spectrum, but Meriam-Webster defines it as:

You would be surprised at what can be considered “herbal” these days. The Spruce Eats says:

Way back when we were chasing mammoths for food, the only way we got any roughage or vegetables was from foraging. Included in this foraging were herbs, beneficial plants, roots, and such that became part of our diet.

Today many vegetables and grains have been significantly modified to barely resemble their ancestors. Most herbs remain more closely tied to their primitive selves than grains, potatoes, and many other crops.

A lot of herbalists grow their own vegetables & herbs to avoid hybrid, adulterated, GMO, inorganic produce. Even farmer’s market fare is not completely trustworthy unless the grower can show they are organic farmers using non-hybrid, non-GMO seed.

We want to grow and harvest plants as close to their native, wild forms as possible. For this reason, we will often search for seed handlers who offer organic, non-hybrid seeds. You cannot grow organic produce from GMO or hybridized seed.

You are probably already aware of most of these. Many of them are in your local grocery spice aisle or produce section.

  • Ginger
  • Horseradish
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Citrus fruits
  • Honey
  • Peppers
  • Basil
  • Rosemary

It is a lengthy list. Pretty much anything you can eat or drink that is naturally sourced can be considered “herbal” in nature. As mentioned, a lot of store-bought items are not of “medicinal” strength and quality that herbalists prefer for their preparations.

If like me, you are herbing on a budget, check your spice aisle and go for the organic, non-GMO gluten-free options. They are a little pricier but if you want them for herbal remedies, it is best to go with quality vs cost.

Another resource for quality herbs is an apothecary or herb shop. Your herb shop owner or worker should be able to tell you the sources of their products. They should also be a fountain of information when it comes to other natural remedy locations in the area. And the pricing should be within budget for most of us.

I do not suggest paying a higher price for organic produce. I prefer non-GMO locally sourced produce. I have even lurked around farmer’s markets. Non-GMO items may be smaller and not as pretty, but at least you have produce grown from the earth, not chemicals.

Once you collect your herbs, spices, organic fruits and veggies, what can you do with them?

What Herbs CAN Do

Even if you only use herbs for culinary purposes, you are doing yourself an enormous favor. With herbs, you can support and maintain homeostasis (a state of physiological balance in the body) by replenishing depleted reserves. Herbs can also support immune reactions and help ease pain and muscle tension.

Herbs can be used to treat and improve skin issues and strengthen hair and nails. They can improve the balance of healthy gut flora and help detoxify your system. You can employ herbs for sleep problems, relaxation, low energy, poor circulation, improved memory, and reduced libido.

Generally speaking, if you have an issue physically, emotionally, or mentally, there’s probably an herb or two (or more) for that. *

*These statements are based on my own experience and study and have not been validated by the FDA.

What Herbs CANNOT DO

Most herbs are not an instant fix. Like drugs, you may have a “wash-in” period. Herbs are absorbed and deployed in the body faster than many drugs -because of their natural state- and need to be ingested, applied, or inhaled more often than the 4-8 hours you have with pharmaceuticals or OTC medications.

Herbalists cannot claim to diagnose, treat, or cure a specific condition. There are herbs that have been shown, through the thousands of years of human usage, to be effective in some cases. What works for some may not work for everyone.

You cannot immediately replace a prescription with herbs. Although many pharmaceuticals are plant-derived, it is by far not the same thing. The active ingredient has been synthesized until it hardly resembles the natural source.

It is also not wise to use herbs in conjunction with prescribed medication without your physician’s knowledge. A variety of unpredictable interactions are highly probable and must be carefully considered.

Some herbs increase the potency of certain drugs. This can be highly detrimental no matter your state of health. You could create a toxic reaction if you mix herbs with drugs without the proper precautions. In other cases, herbs can reduce the effectiveness of drugs, which can also be very bad for you.

There is no real way to know ahead of time exactly how herbs will interact with your medications. This is why I insist on anyone who comes to me must speak with their doctor first.

Herbs cannot replace skilled critical care. If you have an extensive injury or a chronic condition that requires frequent medical intervention, see your medical professional as recommended.

In these cases, the only thing herbs can do is help you maintain. Never risk your health and well-being. As stated, some herbs require a wash-in period to become truly effective. The time frame differs by person, but 3 days to 3 months is not unusual.

Don’t Think, KNOW

In the end, the best advice you can follow is to do a lot of research. Discuss what you want herbs for with your physician and with an herbalist. There is no perfect combination. Keeping your care team completely and fully aware is crucial to safely integrate natural remedies into your protocol.

Do not make any changes to your routine until you are certain of the benefits and risks.

Don’t think. KNOW.

One More thing…

I am NOT a medical practitioner.

I am an Herbalist.

Everything I share here is drawn from my studies, my beliefs and my own personal experience. This is NOT a Gospel. Nothing here should be considered “medical” advice. I make no claims that I can or will treat or cure any specific disease or condition.

My goal is to educate and empower you in managing your well-being.

If you chose to explore natural remedies, do your research. Discuss your options with your physician before beginning any herbal regimen.

Until next time,

Take care of yourself!

Gwendolyn J

Eclectic Herbalist

24 thoughts on “What Herbs Can (And CAN’T) Do

  1. This is a great place to visit Gwendolyn and I absolutely love herbs and use ginger, tarragon, sage, cumin,  too many to name and I also have a really yukky concoction I make if my family or myself are getting a cold and although it tastes really bad, it works after 3 days on it x 3 each day

    Herbs Rock

    1. Vicki,

      That concoction might not be so yucky with a touch of raw honey. As I mentioned in this post, honey is an excellent base for so many herbal preparations. 

      I love herbs -I know, hard to tell, right :P- and I find myself in such a happy place when I am working with them. 

      What I really need to do is find somebody to build my portable greenhouse. 

      Then I can have my garden without ever worrying about leaving it behind when I move. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and take care of yourself!

      Gwendolyn J

  2. Hello dear herbalist. What is the herb that can be use to cure rheumatism and dandruff.?.lols.  Thanks for this critical and sensitive review. Taking herb as been a generational practice which was more adopted during ancient time than the present age. My family still respect the work of herb because it hasn’t failed them. Truly, there are some synthetic drugs when taken can cause adverse side effects like high blood pressure, low blood pressure, dizziness, liver failure etcetera. These are the major reason why many people that still have ancient blood running in their vein scare away from GMO drugs and settle with herb. Off course herb have their side effects too if used wrongly. My one fear about herb is the measurements. There is no exact measurements which can pose a threat to the user. This is a very educating review and am able to learn from it. 

    1. Stella,

      Cayenne is actually very good for muscle aches and arthritis. Make it into a paste with beeswax or Vaseline in a pinch. Be careful with it because it is highly energetic. You shouldn’t need more than a 1/4 teaspoon if that. Just smear it on and let it sit until it’s absorbed into your skin. 

      WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE YOU TOUCH ANYTHING ELSE.

      Cayenne can be very irritating to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes, so be careful :).

      Dandruff is just extreme dry scalp. Are you washing your hair with very hot water? If so, try to cool it off a bit. Or if you’re using store-bought shampoo, try switching to something more natural. If you use a blow dryer quit it! Let your hair air dry if that is an option, if not, try the cooler setting on the blow dryer.

      Get a small spray bottle and fill it almost full of natural veggie-based glycerin add:

      5 drops tea tree oil

      5 drops lavender oil

      8 drops of mint oil

      Spray this on your scalp whenever you mess with your hair or feel like your scalp is itchy & dry. It’s very soothing and it should help with the itching and dryness. If the glycerin is too heavy use witch hazel instead. 

      And by the way, these aren’t cures 😉 they are herbal treatments that should help you feel better :D.

      I remember my grandmother doing things in the kitchen when I was small. I don’t know if she was an herbalist, but she was part Native American. I don’t know if I inherited my love of natural healing from her, but it had to come from somewhere.

      Dosage parameters are different with herbs. It’s always wise to start very small and work your way up.

      Thanks for stopping by and take care of yourself!

      Gwendolyn J 

  3. Good Morning Gwendolyn,

    I fully agree with what you said on the About Me page. There is not enough “care” in health care., actually the word should be sick care. The more and longer you remain sick the more money it will mean for the system. Just imagine humans would be healthy, the health care system would collapse. 

    I think the photo you chose to illustrate your post ” What herbs can and cannot do for you” says it all. Out with all that chemical stuff, back to nature which provides for most our needs. 

    Even if nature has helped men to make these pills etc. men will give it the personal twist as Big Pharma cannot patent something natural. That is why there is such huge opposition to natural products. Like the FDA does not want to admit Curcumin is good but allows Aspartame on the market. 

    You are right, if possible have a place where you can grow your own herbs like that you know what you eat. I really enjoyed your post.

    Regards, Taetske

    1. Taetske,

      Modern medicine has made great strides and has its place in continued wellness. I do not believe it should be completely done away with. I do believe that people should be free to take their wellness into their own hands if they so chose. Not to extremes, mind you, but a common cold, cold sores, headaches, minor burns or scrapes… these things can easily be treated at home if the knowledge is freely shared and accepted as effective.

      I had an OBGYN refuse to see me after I informed her that I did not want and would not tolerate excessive intrusion into my pregnancy. A sad majority of medical professionals apparently do not realize that they work for us. As an herbalist, I have no such illusion. I give advice and people can take it or leave it. If I make medicine for them and they don’t use it, I have done what I can.

      In cases of critical medical need, a hospital, urgent care or doctor is very much appropriate. On the flip side, people used to perform surgeries on family members when the doctor could not be reached. 

      Human history proves a vast majority of herbs work and work very well. The blinders modern medicine wears is for their own preservation of the illusion of superiority. There needs to be a middle ground, and modern medicine  -for the most part- refuses to entertain the notion of herbalists as their equals.

      If you would prefer a natural approach to your health I suggest doing a search for NDs (naturopathic doctor)or RHs (registered herbalist) in your area. We may be hard to find, but we are out there :).

      And please do not get upset with them if they tell you to see a doctor for a certain condition. We are limited in what we can do, just as doctors are. 

      Thanks for stopping by and take care of yourself,

      Gwendolyn J

  4. The big difference you find with Big Pharma is they can’t seem to do botanicals without chemicals. They don’t heal or cure because there is far more money in treating ailments. I found this out when my dad found out about a skin cream in Mexico that cured certain forms of Skin Cancer but was not legal for sale in the US. He had a bad tumor under his right eye for 30 years and in 6 weeks it was gone from a topical herbal cream common over the counter in Mexico. I prefer herbals to all of these stomach killing drugs I am on for my mental illness.

    1. Andy,

      If you have the option to get out from under those drugs I would be happy to help.

      Big Pharma owns so many doctors it is almost impossible to find one who will even entertain the idea of herbal remedies.

      I am so glad your Dad found a cure for his cancer! Of course, it isn’t legal here. That would put an enormous dent in the pockets of all those oncologists and their rounds of chemicals, chemo and radiation therapy. 

      My sister has lupus and she is thoroughly convinced that she will die if she does not accept the medications & treatments her doctors (yes plural, she’s seeing at least 6) put her through. They did chemo on her 2 years ago and when her lupus refused to abate, they wanted to do it again. “Hey, that poison we pumped you full of that made you so sick you lost your job didn’t work the first time. Let’s try it again!”

      What???

      I thought I talked her out of it, but she is back on that medication again.

      Too many people are indoctrinated by modern medicine. I can only hope enough of them wake up to shake the tree enough to make healthcare mean not be sick care.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and take care of yourself 🙂

      Gwendolyn J

  5. WoW! Your site display a total coverage regarding herbs. I guess its say to say that ‘herbs make the world go ’round.’lol. Like you mention they’re are herbal ingredients in almost everything we eat or drink. With so many Americans concerned about dieting and what goes into their system, they check for every little thing. Is it safe to ask, are there any herbs on the market that is harmful to us?

    I’m not a marketing research analyst, but I can just imagine they’re searching and studying ways to separate the good herb from the bad herb. If not in progress now, then It’s only a matter of time.

    1. RJ,

      Any herb can be harmful if misused or overused. A responsible herbalist carefully instructs a client on the use of any preparation and monitors their progress closely to ensure there are no adverse effects, or if there are, that they switch things around.

      There are herbs on the market that have been deemed safe by the powers that be. There are other herbs not on the market that are safer than Tylenol, Aspirin, and NyQuil. Not every herb will be effective or recommend for everyone. Herbalists tailor your protocol to you and your needs. We are confident in what we recommend, but can only be completely certain once you begin using the preparation. Like drugs, reactions are possible, though much less common with herbs.

      Please understand, I have no real formal training as an herbalist. I am learning more every day but there are people who have been doing this for my entire lifetime and longer. Those are the people I study. 

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and take care of yourself 🙂

      Gwendolyn J

  6. Hello Gwendolyn; a post I liked very much. I personally use all the plants enumerated by you (from ginger to rosemary) and others in addition. They also use a lot of healthy spices for cooking. And I think you’re right when you say that local products rather than organic ones. These are much more expensive and I personally do not have the belief that they are really ecological. It’s just my opinion.

    best regards

    Carmen

    1. Carmen,

      I believe the best we can do to assure ourselves we are getting truly naturally grown produce and herbs is to grow them ourselves OR cultivate relationships with USDA and FDA certified organic farmers.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. 

      Take care of yourself. 

      Gwendolyn J

  7. This was a great guide on what herbs can and cannot do, and I learned a lot as I read through the article. I am a big believer in wholesome and organic foods and do not like GMO altered foods for a number of reasons. I stay away from them and also look carefully at what is in any processed food that I may be forced to use from time to time.

    You are right that herbs cannot do magic overnight, but I have seen the benefits when they are used regularly and the not so great foods are eliminated from the diet. Right now I am treating myself using herbs and supplements for a malady that Doctors are recommending treatment that is as bad as the disease (if not worse).

    I am not an expert on herbs, however, and I have been looking for a website that can provide me with more information on what to take and in what amounts for certain medical problems. I like what I see here, and will be back. I also have bookmarked this website. Thanks for your effort putting this useful and informative website together.

    1. Dave,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I will do my best to keep this site up to date. 

      I am taking more courses to expand my herbal knowledge to include aromatherapy. Within a few months, I will become a Master Herbalist, and have another course that will grant me Certified Herbalist, and Certified Aromatherapist titles. 

      Unfortunately, what we have in the US is a business of healthcare that does not seem to care as much as it should.

      Thanks for stopping by and take care of yourself.

      Gwendolyn J

  8. Great post. Herbs can do a lot of things, but they aren’t magic stuff. Many people believe they can heal you instantly or have special effects. It is good you write about this, since many people got this wrong. I take herbs because they help me to enhance my power for workouts. So thanks a lot for sharing! 

    1. Emmanuel,

      You are welcome and it is my pleasure.

      I have to say though, that what you may be taking for your workouts may be more of a supplement than herbs. 

      There are herbs and preparations that can help boost energy and metabolism as well as replenish lost electrolytes and soothe muscles. Can you tell me what you’re taking?

      Take care of yourself!

      Gwendolyn J

  9. Gwendolyn

    I am happy to have read your article. The information displayed seems to cover the whole subject for a beginner…

    I know herbs are uncommon to use. What they can and can’t do is important to understand! For eg. you can use Reiki for many bodily problems but you can’t use it in place of painkillers…

    I know I am bad at the homeopathic even though I am quite good at health in general… It is an interesting subject for many people. It’ part of the reason it was easy for me to read your article and probably any article on your site…

    I would comment that your pictures/images may be a bit big. The content images I liked alot (images with writing and words) though!

    Other than this I have nothing negative to say…

    Please don’t hold back asking for more of an opinion if this was not good enough…

    Eric

    1. Eric, 

      Thanks for the heads up. I’ll take a look at those pictures.

      I actually do not proscribe to homeopathy. While both attempt to address the core issue of illness and unbalance, homeopaths are guided by the “like cures like” principle. Herbalists will offer preparations to support the body’s own healing properties in strengths determined by the virulence of the illness, age, weight, lifestyle, etc.. 

      They use pellets and dilutions, we use teas, tinctures, compresses, oils, rubs.. you get the idea.

      This should help.

      Take care of yourself.

      Gwendolyn J

  10. I believe in the power of herbs. 

    I’m a pharmacist and I strongly agree with what you said here that there are a lot of modern medicines that are derived from herbs. Maybe about 70% of what we have now in the shelves are from herbs and the remaining 25% are from minerals and the combination of both. The remaining 5% are synthetically produced which we can’t easily conclude if they are from herbs or from minerals, like for example, those antibiotics that are from living organisms.

    Having learned the science behind modern medicines, I can say that they are not completely bad as some people paint they are. Actually, they are the digitalized form of herbal medicines as the active ingredients that are expected to effect on humans are digitally calculated, the potency and the length of action on the affected areas. Compared with herbals, you never know how much in milligrams that alkaloids or the glycosides are present in the blood at a specific given time.

    Let us take note that in the field of pharmacy, there’s two subdivisions of our study namely pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics. Pharmacodynamics deals on the action of the active ingredient on the body while pharmacokinetic deals on what the body does on the active ingredient via urine and other excretory means. These two fields are dealt with digitally with constant monitoring after one hour, two hours, three hours and so forth until the drug is eliminated from the body.

    With all these super accurate monitoring, I’d like to know the counterparts like the herbalist if they have these kind of monitoring that’s equivalent to what the doctors and the pharmacists are doing?

    1. Gomer,

      Excellent question!

      Actually, herbalism was illegal to practice in the US until very recently. We are not under the umbrella of mainstream healthcare. Insurance does not cover or assistance We cannot claim to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition.

      As I mentioned in this post, herbalists do not have a hard and fast “policing” agency or overseeing entity like the AMA. For those that want to practice herbalism, there are courses, certifications, and organizations that grant us certain authority in our respective field of expertise. To maintain membership and standing in our micro-community, we must continue to expand our knowledge base.

      The thing is, knowledge of the use of herbs and natural treatments was passed down by apprentice-type relationships for generations. A lot of our information was anecdotal until science began to confirm what we already knew. 

      So we police ourselves and each other. 

      Thanks for stopping by and take care of yourself.

      Gwendolyn J

  11. Herbs are definitely one of the favorites foods I enjoy consuming. They can do pretty powerful things for our body like speeding the metabolism and improving the overall state of the body. 1 year ago I used some herbs for depression (I can’t remember which ones) and it worked. So many people don’t know the true power of herbs so often run for tablets and medicines which is not good.

    1. Daniel,

      Society has been taught to avoid “quacks” unless they wear a white coat and a stethoscope in a sanitized environment with alphabet soup behind their names. 

      We have forgotten that the village root woman was the one who kept so many alive and well once upon a time. So pills and shots and such are within the comfort zone. People who go outside of that box for relief have to be courageous and resilient. 

      Even with herbalism and natural remedies making a serious impact on people’s lives daily, self-treatment is still frowned upon by many people who believe only a doctor can take care of us. We are not supposed to take care of ourselves (insert sarcasm here)

      Thanks for stopping by & take care of yourself.

      Gwendolyn J

  12. Hi Gwendolyn,

    Your article was a good read about getting some knowledge about herbs.

    I am brought up in a family where we use herbs as medicine with my Grand Ma as the doctor and her legacy is preserved. We never use to go to the doctor when we were growing up. I have herbs on my fingertip to cure many ailments.

    Many herbs could be grown inside your house. I have a few like mint, basil, fenugreek now in my house in America. 

    For example, I use fenugreek leaves fresh or dried in any vegetable saute instead of oil. Fresh cilantro is great toppings for salads and stir-fries.  They are tasty, healthy and nourish your physiology.

    I grow and I preserve then by drying and pack them for use in amber bottles for future.

    Many herbs help me cut down on oil and spices. I hardly use medication from the doctor thought I worked ~25 years in the medicine development industry. 

    Thank you for this article.

    1. Anusya,

      That is very encouraging to hear! 

      My aunt is a nurse and my mother was a respiratory therapist, so I did not grow up with a lot of natural remedies. I honestly do not know where my interest in herbs came from.

      Despite no real exposure to it, it is so integrated into my life now that I wouldn’t even know who to go without it.

      I am working on starting a garden, and also expanding my herbal knowledge. One day I will have fresh herbs at my fingertips like you :).

      Take care of yourself.

      Gwendolyn J 

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