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The Safety of Herbs

I think I came dangerously close to failing history in high school.  It was boring and I was certain it had no bearing on my own future. Eventually, though,  I did realize that, more often than not, history repeats itself.  It also allows us to move forward by examining the failures and successes of those who have come before us.  It allows us to draw on the wisdom of  our ancestors ~ both the brilliant and the…um…not so brilliant.

Don’t worry.  This won’t be your typical history lesson.  It will be long and drawn out.  It would be nearly impossible to pull this off using all the technical terms and citing hundreds of sources in one blog post.  However, I really have no intention of elaborating on historical information that everyone else already knows and has written a two-page article on.  At least, not too much.  No, this will be done like everything else in my world ~ with a certain amount of sarcasm and enough weird to make it almost unbelievable.  Yes, I might drift off-course and go into small (or not so small) rants here and there.  I’ll apologize ahead of time.  Sometimes, I just can’t seem to help myself.

Like now.  See, here’s what happened…

My husband was watching a show on tv and some lady was spouting off about the lack of research concerning herbal medicine.  It was one of many utterly ridiculous statements made by the medical community at large concerning herbs and their medicinal uses.

I should know better than to watch shows like that.  Really, I should.  To take my props, though…I didn’t get on here and start screaming about the idiocy and ignorance of some people.   I calmed down a little and decided to fight the oppression with a bit of humor and, hopefully, I’ll be passing on a little bit of information that just might come in handy.  So, here goes…

I’m pretty sure there is no faction out there that doubts the use of herbs as medicine since the beginning of recorded history. Early Mesopotamian drawings dating back approximately 5,000 years show the use of herbs as medicine, as do many ancient Chinese and Indian drawings that are, perhaps, even older.  These websites have some very interesting information.

That being a fact, why would anyone be so ignorant as to say there is no viable research available concerning herbs?  I mean, really, how long does one have to research a thing for it to be considered ‘thoroughly researched’?  Last time I checked, many prescription medications are being considered ‘extremely safe’ after only 3-5 years of research, but 5,000 years of research concerning herbs is irrelevant?  I don’t suppose expounding on this point will do any good.  You either get it or you don’t.

After all these years of being an outspoken advocate of natural healing and warning everyone who’ll listen of the dangers concerning Western Medicine, I’ve heard almost every misconception possible about herbs and other alternative healing methods.  Some of them are so far from the truth that I just giggle and go on. I always say, ‘you can’t fix stupid’.

Some, though, are just close enough to the truth to be believable.  I have always made it a point to verify any information I gather with at least three separate, reliable sources that corroborate each other.  I search journals, magazines, books and the internet for viewpoints from both sides.  I see the evidence-not the opinion- that each side quotes.  Then, I dig a little deeper.

What I have found over and over again is that the medical community has a bad habit of taking a perfectly good herb, breaking it down into pieces, then testing each of those pieces.  It then finds that the pieces don’t work, or are dangerous.  Here’s the thing.   They are right.  Totally and completely correct.  Let me give you an example.

Lobelia is an awesome herb.  Magical, really.  Many herbalists use lobelia to induce vomiting.  Take it right and you’ll be puking your guts up in no time.  Oddly enough, those same herbalists will also use lobelia to stop vomiting.  Take it right and the puking will stop in no time.

For hundreds of years,  lobelia has been used to treat many other common complaints including influenza, worms, venereal disease, to relieve aches and pains, to heal abscesses, sore throats, coughs, chest congestion, asthma, bronchitis…the list is long.  Did you catch the part where I said ‘for hundreds of years’?  That’s an important part.  Why would an entire race of people (Native Americans) continue to use something for hundreds of years, passing it on to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, if it was neither safe nor effective?

But, should you ask a doctor or pharmacist about lobelia and their answer will be quick and firm.  It is very dangerous and it doesn’t work.  Why would they say this?  Why would they believe this?  Because it is what they were told.  They didn’t bother to research it for themselves.  They didn’t weigh out the evidence.  They didn’t try it.

Here’s the problem.  As best as the medical community can figure, the active ingredient in lobelia is lobeline.  Using this assumption, they found a way to extract the lobeline from the rest of the plant.  Then, they ran around injecting various amounts of this concentrated lobeline into various objects…cysts, tumors, animals.  Guess what they found?  Yep.  Lobeline didn’t cure cancer and it caused some serious problems.

What any simpleton with a lick of common sense could have told them was that you can’t break something apart and expect it to work properly.  Lobelia is effective because of all of the things in it.  The lobeline is only one small part and it needs all of it’s other parts to work the way it is supposed to.   Furthermore, the amount of lobeline they injected was ridiculous.  In fact, it would take four pounds of lobelia herb to equal enough lobeline to render it dangerous.  That’s a whole lot of lobelia and I don’t really recommend eating four pounds of anything at one sitting.  It could cause terrible indigestion!

Seriously, though, do you see the problem?   And, its not just lobelia they did this with.  Several other herbs have earned a nasty, dangerous reputation because of this type of faulty research.  Chaparral, ephedra, comfrey…they have all fallen victim to the lies.  The point here is that, when studying anything you should always look at the methods used, as well as the results.  Look at the other criteria, too.  Who were the test subjects?  What was their medical condition going in?  What was their diet?  How old were they?

Which leads to my next point.  No two people are the same.  What works for one might not work for another.  That is why it is so important to consult an experienced herbalist.  Some herbs should not be taken if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, liver or kidney troubles.  Some herbs are nearly ineffective unless used with other herbs.  Some herbs will increase, or decrease, the effectiveness of prescription drugs, including birth control.  Never, ever forget that herbs are medicine.

That being said, there are an astounding number of herbs that are exceptionally potent, capable of healing the body of such things as cancer, diabetes and staph infections, yet safe enough that they could be eaten in limitless quantities without causing anything more that a bloated stomach.  Here is where we draw on history to guide us.  We look at ancient drawings by such advanced people as the Egyptians, who relied heavily on herbs as a primary method of medicine.  We look to writings by such esteemed figures as Hippocrates, who believed absolutely in the power of herbal medicine.  We read their notes on what worked…and what didn’t.

After all of this, you might think that I’m convinced that herbs hold the power to heal mankind of every imaginable ill.  You would be right.  I’ll take my chances with herbal medicine over prescription medicines any day.   But, I don’t think that herbs alone will do the trick.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.  Illness doesn’t just happen.  We create it.  We eat the wrong things, we use chemical-laden products on our skin, we don’t exercise, we lead stress-filled lives and we never take the time to walk barefoot in the grass or commune with Mother Nature.

If you want to find true, lasting healing it’s about more than finding a magic pill.  It is about feeding our bodies the things it needs.  Lay off the sugar and sugar by-products.  The commercials are absolutely right.  Corn syrup is no more dangerous to our health than regular sugar.  Unfortunately, sugar is detrimental to our body, leaching calcium and water from our bones and tissues, then settling in places like our hips, thighs and intestines where it ferments and turns rancid and deadly.  Instead, choose live foods whenever you can.  Raw fruits and veggies, whole grains that are sprouted instead of cooked.  Raw seeds.

It is also about keeping our bodies fit.  Exercise is essential, whether it is a walk around the block or an hour of yoga, do something.  Dance, walk, jog, climb or the personal favorite of many ~ sex!  Anything that gets your heart rate up a bit and stretches muscles and tendons without damaging them is awesome.

Finally, water.  This is one of the few places that every healer can meet and agree.  Water is essential to optimal health.  Not just any water, though.  Distilled water is the first and best choice.  Why?  Because it is actually ’empty’ water.  There is no fluoride, no minerals, no vitamins…nothing.  What that means for your body is that is capable of traveling through your system and picking up toxins and other undesirables from your bloodstream and, ultimately, from your body.  Studies have shown that distilled water is actually 30% more efficient at cleansing and hydrating the body than tap or well water.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘enriched water’ scam.  Yes, there probably are many vitamins and minerals in that expensive bottle of water.  The problem is, the body can’t process those vitamins and minerals, and they are worse than useless.  I could go into a long and detailed explanation here about why, but I won’t.  If you want to understand the ‘why’ of it, check out this easy-to-understand article.

At the root of this all is Nature.  It is nature that can provide us with the proper foods to keep our body healthy.  It provides us with medicine to fix the imbalances that we create.  It is also Nature that can renew and revive both our body and our spirit by simply spending time with her.  Plant a garden, take a walk, sit on the front porch and watch the sun go down or walk barefoot in the grass.  Take in the beauty and symmetry that can only be found in Nature.  Be happy.  Be healthy.

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