Whenever people hear I am an herbalist a lot of questions follow. Even Rimakej has to fence questions for me from others many times just for being married to an herbalist. We welcome the interest! But we also tend to have to repeat ourselves. A lot. So here is a list of the most frequently asked questions with my answers.
1. Do you have an herb for [insert condition here]?
Short Answer: Yes.
Full Answer: There are a number of herbs that are suitable. Which ones I recommend depend on many things including your lifestyle and particular needs. Every body is different, just as every life is different. Therefore, tailoring your protocol to your body is best. This involves asking yourself the question: Are you committed to alleviating your condition? I can have the best protocol in the world for you, but it won’t work if you won’t follow it.
2. Do herbs work?
Continued Answer: To explain further, I need some bearings. So here are some questions for you:
What caused you to ask me this question? Did you try something that worked but only for a little while? Did it work for a friend but not you? Each herb works in its own unique way, which is why it’s so important for anyone using medicinal herbs to know exactly how that plant functions.
Did you take the right form, of the right herb, in the right dose for you? Some herbs only work when ingested, just as some only work through topical applications. Some medicinal properties are only activated when the plant material is steeped as a tea, just as some are only activated when a tincture is made from the plant matter. Also, an alcohol-based tincture can bring out different properties than a vinegar-based one.
Did you use the right part of the plant? Yes, this makes a huge difference too. Many plants have different medicinal properties for each separate part of the plant. Did you use the flowers, berries/fruit, leaves, bark/stems, or roots? The age of the plant when it was harvested can also make a difference. (See full answer to question 10 below.)
If you don’t know the answer to these questions yourself, make sure you consult a trustworthy herbalist who does know. (See full answer to question 9 below.)
3. Why do you need to know if I’m taking any medication?
Short Answer: Because your life may depend on it.
Full Answer: Herbs and pharmaceuticals can and do have chemical interactions. They are often taken together as support for the body while undergoing a more radical but necessary treatment plan.
Some herbs, like Saint John’s Wort, interact with around 50% of all pharmaceuticals. Other herbs, like basil, are in common use and pose little risk unless you have an allergy.
Knowing you’re on blood thinners will prevent me from choosing an herb that has coagulant properties that may counteract your medication. Knowing you are using diuretics will keep me from choosing an herb that will double the effects of your medication.
4. Can’t I just take [insert common plant name here] herb as a pill?
Short Answer: No.
Full Answer: I take time to select the herbs in a form that is the most medicinally potent for your particular needs. If you are wanting to use black cohosh for it’s pain relief properties it will not work as a pill. These particular properties are extracted by alcohol, thus an alcohol-based tincture would be the preferred form for ingesting. Also, a liniment made with black cohosh would be ideal for pain relief when used externally as a muscle rub.
5. Why am I not seeing immediate results for this chronic issue? / Why do I have to take it so long?
Short Answer: It took time to get sick, it will take time to get well.
Full Answer: Herbs work with your body to slowly rebalance what is out of balance. Herbs are not immediate like most pharmaceuticals and shouldn’t be treated as such. This is because herbs address the cause of an ailment and not just the symptoms. There is no one-to-one switch from a pharmaceutical medicine to an herbal medicine because they work differently.
6. My friend did this and it worked for them. Why are you suggesting something different?
Short Answer: People are different.
Full Answer: Herbs are living things, as are humans. What works for my body may not work for yours. There are many things that affect how each person’s body will metabolize any given herb.
One example of what can affect how your body will react to each herb is your specific human constitution. Unlike Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda (Traditional Indian Medicine), Traditional Western Medicine (European-based) often omits information regarding energetic properties of the herbs or the person taking the herbs. Instead, they only occasionally refer to these herbal properties and human constitutions in terms of cold, hot, wet and dry. If your constitution is cold, you eat something warm, maybe something with ginger. If you’re classified as someone with a hot constitution you eat something cooling, perhaps with peppermint.
7. But we use that all the time as a seasoning. Why would that work?
Short Answer: Why wouldn’t it?
Full Answer: Herbal medicines evolved alongside us. Because of their usefulness they were kept nearby in gardens, given special religious status, and tended and wildcrafted in their ideal environments. Many of our popular seasonings originated as medicine that just happened to be tasty, or play nice together in the food gardens.
Thyme, oregano, basil, garlic, and ginger are some of my favorite choices. You can learn about their specific abilities using the table chart in my previous blog, Kitchen Herbalism: Why I Teach Affordable Care.
8. Can’t you just suggest something (in the next ten seconds) for this person I know for this [insert condition here]?
Short Answer: I don’t work like that.
Full Answer: Using herbal medicine is still using medicine, and there is a great responsibility to use it correctly. Natural is also not the equivalent of safe. The foxglove plant is incredibly poisonous and can be lethal if mishandled, yet it furnishes digitalis, a life-saving heart medicine. It is critical to get the dosage right.
Even with my preference for using safe, familiar, easy to access herbs something can still go wrong. Most herbalists I know (including myself) require an intake session to get a history and assess needs, and are unlikely to offer an answer to this kind of question.
9. Your information isn’t the same as what I read online. Why should I trust you to answer to my questions?
Short Answer: You should want the most complete information, for your own safety.
Full Answer: Of all of the sources I use to continue my education the least reliable in my experience, sometimes dangerously so, is the internet. Ensure your source is trustworthy, and check the information with other reliable sources.
Note: There is no legal certification/regulation process for herbalists in the USA and some other countries. These governments choose not to recognize natural medicinal abilities in plants. This is due to the fact that companies can’t patent and profit from anything they didn’t create/synthesize themselves. So any medicine that exists in nature on its own is ignored or discredited in most allopathic (mainstream) medicine practices. Therefore finding a trustworthy herbalist involves personal research.
It takes a long time to learn how to use herbs properly. I have taken and completed a 1,000 hour course with a respected online herbal school. I read material extensively and follow several prominent clinical herbalists. The only herbs I work with are ones I am familiar with and have used myself. Most of the herbs I use I also grow and process myself.
10. I got these herbs from a cheap online source. Why are you suggesting a different source?
Short Answer: Effectiveness.
Full Answer: Herbal properties are not the same as a manufactured product, where every dose is equivalent. How and when the herb was harvested, where and how it was grown, how it was stored and processed, and how old it is all affects the quality of the herb.
Herbs generally have a rather short shelf life for optimal potency. Cut and sifted (such as a tea blend), they last approximately 6 months. If they are left whole, they may last 1-2 years. These time frames are for when the herbs are in air-tight, light-proof containers stored in a dry cool area. Lack of these best conditions shortens the shelf life of herbs even more.
Questions Bonus: But you’re an herbalist, don’t you hate mainstream medicine?
Short Answer: No.
Full Answer: Questions like this one drive me nuts, though they are valid. Many herbalists have a range of opinions on this particular topic. This is mine:
Herbal medicine excels in minor injuries and chronic issues. Allopathic (mainstream) medicine is excellent for trauma and emergency care. To cut one out in favor of the other is a disservice to both and there is no reason they cannot compliment each other.
Seriously, if you have an asthma attack or break your arm, don’t come to me. Go to the nearest Emergency Room. Sure I can make a rough splint or cast from comfrey root, or potentially calm a minor asthma attack with mullein tea. But I have no idea on how to set bones, and mullein does not stop a life-threatening asthma attack like albuterol can.
Have more questions?
Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments to our firstname.lastname@example.org email. Or message us on our Facebook page and/or Instagram page. I offer personalized herbal consultations with compensation tailored to your specific needs and situation. I believe that herbal medicine should be readily accessible to everyone, both physically and financially, always.