Health & Nature

The Way Of Herbs

There is a balance in nature, a delicate equilibrium of opposing forces that combine to form a harmonious whole, a benevolent environment that supports man and beast, herb, tree and flower with ease. It has always been so. Plants are the center of our ecosystem, and countless generations of humans used herbs to sustain and enrich their existence on the earth.

The 70’s saw a herbal revival with the use of herbs for cooking, healing, dyeing, household cleaners, and pleasing the senses with aromatherapy. The 80’s promise to be even more enlightening in our return to the source and our quest of well-being and harmony. There is a natural balance, and I hope that this feature will provide you with the incentive to come closer to your health through this natural way to be well.

I will start off with remedies for transforming the common cold. Fortunately there are plenty of herbal teas available to combat a cold and its big brother the flu. Prepare teas by infusing fresh or dried herbs in hot water for no more than 5 to 10 minutes. The usual amounts are three to five teaspoons of fresh or one teaspoon of dried herb to each cup of hot water.

Pennyroyal, Blessed Thistle, and Lemonbalm teas are reputed to help break a fever and overcome the chills especially if sipped while soaking your feet in warm water with a little grated ginger root in it.

YARROW tea with honey and a little Cayenne Pepper will promote perspiration and Borage is considered to be one of the best fever fighters to stimulate the body back to health.

Goldenseal, Hyssop, Red Clover, Coltsfoot and Sage are known as remedies for head colds and catarrh. A refreshing blend of Peppermint, Yarrow and Elderflowers can alleviate excessive mucus in sinuses and nasal passages.

Mullein, a very common plant in Ontario, an expectorant and bronchitis remedy, can be liberally drunk for such symptoms as asthma, congested lungs and bronchitis. Sweeten with honey and serve warm.

Equal portions of Horehound, Sage, Rosemary, Honeysuckle and Plantain boiled together will ease a sore throat as a gargle. Use honey to smooth horehound’s strong taste.

If feeling stiff and sore while awakening the body to spring, sun and more activity, try this: a decoction of Agrimony, Mugwort and Chamomile. Bring equal parts to a boil for ten minutes and strain, add this to a hot bath and it will beautifully relax tired muscles. A straight Chamomile compress is also considered beneficial.

Wild Willow Bark: Before aspirin was invented at the turn of the century, this natural product was the major headache reliever in the U.S.A. and Canada. The bark contains Salix alba, the same active ingredient that is contained in aspirin but in natural form. It produces the exact same results as aspirin. These remedies do not produce the internal bleeding and other negative effects associated with aspirin. Clyde St. Clair of Nature’s Herb Company in the U.S., the company that rediscovered the herb, tells us: “Because Willowbark is a herb, it works with the body, while drugs like aspirin tend to work against the body and produce side effects.”

In the late 1800’s Joseph Bayer isolated white willow bark’s active ingredient and produced it synthetically, calling it aspirin. It became very popular, and white willow bark was completely forgotten until six years ago when a biochemist, herbal pharmacist rediscovered and decided to market the herb. The demand for the herb in my practice has just skyrocketed. Aspirin is the world’s most popular drug, but it poisons the system, as nowadays it is made from crude coal-tar. Why would you take it when you can take something natural that does the same job?

Chamomile: This common weed has more self-help uses than I can tell you about. It is also an extraordinary pain reliever and works well with headaches and cramps, especially menstrual irregularities connected with cramping. It is a mild sedative, very gentle and healing on the system and eases nervousness.

A mixture of catnip, chamomile and rosehip create a lovely relaxing house-blend. Chamomile is also highly effective as a vapour steam with head-colds and sinus congestion, excellent as a sitzbath, with vaginal or rectal irritation, and soothing when placed on eyes in little poultices or teabags.

Peppermint: The mints grow easily and prolifically. They can be made into tea, oil or simply chewed. There are quite a few varieties, and cuttings are easily obtained and transplanted to start your own mint patch. When I go on long drives, I use a little mint bouquet to snuff as an inhalant for a quick pick-up as the mint family is highly aromatic. Peppermint is excellent for the digestive system, strengthens the nerves and acts as a general stimulant and toner.

Basil: Sweet basil leaves are a potent tonic for pain. Take as a tea or chew fresh.

Catnip also from the mint family, with the distinguished square stem is an old and proven household remedy. Catnip tea is very soothing to the nervous system, safe for children as a relaxant, and also works well as a poultice applied locally where there is congestion and cramping.

Cayenne: Jethro Kloss can’t say enough about this hot red spice in “Back to Eden”. It is also Dr. Christopher’s favorite cure all. It is one of the most wonderful herbal medicines. Although it is very hot, it is very soothing to the muscles and the head. It aids circulation and acts as a stimulant. Try a mixture of cayenne, cloves, bayberry bark and white pine bark.

Fennel: This licorice-flavored spice is great for relieving gas and upset stomachs that may be causing headaches. It can also be used to relieve burning eyes and as an eyewash. Fennel leaves or seeds can be mixed with hops and peppermint to make a delicious, potent headache reliever.

Ginger has a distinct hot taste and can be chewed raw as well as mixed into food and tea. It has a very pleasant smell and is excellent for expelling gas. Especially soothes headaches caused by gastric upsets, as well as being helpful with colds.

Rosemary, a common herb, is excellent for aiding digestion, relaxing tight, tired muscles and soothing nerves. It is an old-fashioned remedy for soothing nerves and a very good remedy for headaches. It works well when combined with comfrey and chamomile.

Sage: The Chinese are happy to send us their caffeinated tea which they consider bad for your health, and import American sage, which we grow by the ton. Sage leaves are not pleasant to the taste, but do wonders for the body and head. They are very soothing and quieting to the nerves. Try putting a teaspoon into boiling water with honey and lemon.

Dr. Christine de Vai

Christine de Vai is a master herbalist, iridologist and nutritionist, and she is president of the Ontario Herbalists Association.

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