A Weed Is A Flower Growing In The Wrong Place Using Herbs Simply and Safely

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Using Herbs Simply and Safely

Are plants “diluted forms of drugs” – and therefore dangerous? Or are they “natural” – and therefore safe? If you sell herbs, you probably hear these questions a lot. What is the “right” answer? It depends on the plant! These thoughts on herbs will help you explain to your customers (and yourself) how safe—or dangerous—any herb might be.

To prevent problems when selling or using herbs:

  1. Be sure you have the right plant.
  2. Use simple ones.
  3. Understand that different preparations of the same plant can work differently.
  4. Use nutritious, tonic, stimulating and potentially poisonous herbs wisely.


One of the easiest ways to get into trouble with an herb is to use the “wrong” one. How could this happen? Common plant names overlap, causing confusion as to true identity. Plants that are properly labeled may contain foreign substances from other, more dangerous plants. Herbs can be picked at the wrong stage of growth or improperly handled after harvest, causing them to develop harmful properties.

Protect yourself and your customers with these simple steps:

  • Buy plants only from verified suppliers.
  • Buy only plants that are labeled with their botanical name. Botanical names are specific, but the same common names can refer to several different plants. “Marigold” is possible Calendula officinalismedicinal plant, or Tagetesannual plant used as litter.
  • If you grow herbs to sell, be sure to keep different plants separate when picking and drying, and obsess over labeling.


It is simply one plant. For optimal safety, I prepare, buy, sell, teach and use herbal simples, that is: preparations that contain only one plant. (Sometimes I’ll add some mint to flavor the medicine.)

The more herbs in a formula, the greater the likelihood of unwanted side effects. Understandably, the public is looking for combinations, hoping to get more for less. Many mistakenly believe that herbs must be used together to be effective (probably because potentially toxic herbs are often combined with protective herbs to mitigate the harm they cause). But combining herbs with the same properties, such as goldenseal and echinacea, is counterproductive and more likely to cause problems than simply. A simple tincture of echinacea is more effective than any combination and much safer.

Different people have different reactions to substances, whether they are drugs, foods or herbs. When herbs are mixed together in a formula and someone taking them has troubling side effects, there is no way to determine which herb is the cause. With simple it is easy to tell which plant does what. If there is a side effect, other plants with similar properties can be tried. Limiting the number of herbs used in one day (to no more than four) offers additional protection.

The side effects of medicinal herbs are less common than the side effects of drugs and are usually less severe. If the plant disturbs digestion, it is possible that the body is learning to process it. Try a few more times before giving up. Stop taking any herb that causes nausea, dizziness, sharp stomach pains, diarrhea, headache, or blurred vision. (These effects will generally occur fairly quickly.) Slippery elm is an excellent antidote for any type of poison.

If you are allergic to any food or medication, it is especially important to consult sources that list side effects of herbs before using them.


The safety of any herbal medicine depends on the way it is prepared and used.

  • Tinctures and extracts they contain alkaloids, or poisonous, parts of plants and must be used with caution and wisdom. Tinctures are only as safe as the herb involved (see warnings below for tonic, stimulant, sedative, or potentially toxic herbs). Best used/sold as singles, not combinations, especially when using strong plants.
  • Dried herbs made into teas or infusions contain the nourishing aspects of the plants and are usually quite safe, especially when nourishing or tonic herbs are used.
  • Dried herbs in capsules are generally the least effective way of using medicinal herbs. They are poorly digested, poorly used, often stale or ineffective, and quite expensive.
  • Soaked in vegetable oils they are available as is or thickened in fat. They are much safer than essential oils, which are highly concentrated and can be fatal if taken internally.
  • Vegetable vinegar they are not only decorative, but also rich in minerals. A good medium for nourishing and tonic herbs; not as strong as stimulant/sedative tinctures.
  • Vegetable glycerins they are available to those who prefer to avoid alcohol, but are usually less effective than tinctures.


Plants include a group of several thousand plants with very different effects. Some are nutritious, some are tonics, some are stimulants and sedatives, and some are potential poisons. To use them wisely and well, we need to understand each category, its uses, the best way to prepare it, and the usual dosage range.

Nutritious herbs are the safest of all plants; side effects are rare. Nutritious herbs are taken in any amount for any length of time. They are used as food, just like spinach and kale. Nutritious herbs provide a high level of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carotene and essential fatty acids.

Examples of nutritious plants are: alfalfa, amaranth, astragalus, calendula flowers, chicken, comfrey leaves, dandelion, fenugreek, flax seeds, honeysuckle flowers, lamb’s quarter, marshmallow, nettle, oat straw, plantain (leaves/seeds), purslane, red clover flowers, seaweed, Siberian ginseng, slippery elm, violet leaves and wild mushrooms.

Plants for toning they work slowly in the body and have a cumulative rather than immediate effect. They build the functional capacity of an organ (like the liver) or a system (like the immune system). Tonic herbs are most beneficial when used in small amounts over a long period of time. The more bitter the tonic, the less you should take. Mild tonics can be used in large quantities, like nourishing herbs.

Side effects occasionally occur with tonics, but they are usually very short-lived. Many older herbalists mistakenly equated stimulating herbs with tonic herbs, leading to widespread abuse of many herbs and serious side effects.

Examples from herbs for toning are: barberry bark, burdock root/seeds, virgin wood, crown (cup), dandelion root, echinacea, elecampane, fennel, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, ground ivy, hawthorn berries, horsetail, lady’s mantle, lemon balm, milk thistle seeds, lemon balm, mulberry, pau d’arco, raspberry leaves, schisandra berries, St. John’s wort, turmeric root, usnea, wild yam and yellow dock.

Soothing and stimulating herbs cause a series of rapid reactions, some of which may be unwanted. Some parts of a person may be stressed in order to help other parts. Strong sedatives and stimulants, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, push us beyond normal ranges of activity and can cause severe side effects. If we rely on them and then try to function without them, we end up more anxious (or depressed) than before. Habitual use of strong sedatives and stimulants – whether opium, rhubarb root, cayenne or coffee – leads to loss of tone, dysfunction and even physical dependence. The stronger the plant, the more moderate the dose and the shorter the duration of application.

Herbs that tone and nourish while soothing/stimulating are some of my favorite herbs. I use them freely because they are not addictive. Sedating/stimulating herbs that also tone or nourish: stonewort, catnip, citrus peel, thistle, ginger, hops, lavender, marjoram, lemon balm, oat straw, passionflower, peppermint, rosemary, sage, calendula.

Powerful soothing/stimulating herbs include: angelica, black pepper, blessed thistle root, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coffee, licorice, opium poppy, osha root, shepherd’s purse, sweet wood, rhubarb root, uva ursu leaves, valerian root, wild salad juice, willow bark and evergreen leaves.

Potentially toxic Herbs are intense, strong medicines that are taken in small amounts and only for as long as needed. Side effects are common.

Examples of the potentially poisonous plants are: belladonna, bloodsucker, comb, chaparica, foxglove, goldenrod, beech tree, iris root, Jimson’s grass, lobelia, may apple (American mandrake), mistletoe, thistle root, poison hemlock, stillingie root, turkey root, root wild cucumber.

Additionally, consider these thoughts on using herbs safely:

  • Respect the power of plants to dramatically change body and spirit.
  • Increase confidence in the healing power of plants by trying remedies for minor or external problems before or while working with major and internal problems.
  • Develop lasting relationships with experienced healers – in person or through books – who are interested in herbal medicine.
  • Respect the uniqueness of each plant, each person, each situation.
  • Remember that each person becomes whole and healed in their own unique way, at their own speed. Humans, plants and animals can help in this process. But it is the body/spirit that heals. Don’t expect herbs to be a cure-all.

Legal disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. All suggestions and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal instructions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified health professional with a specific formula for your. All material contained herein is for general information purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or consultation. See a reputable healthcare professional if you need medical care. Practice self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.

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