Are you interested in using more herbs or herbal medicine? Learn how to tell if herbs are right for you and your medical condition.
You have probably seen herbal products everywhere, including in your grocery store. The prevalence of herbs as medicine has been rising for decades. So much so that it has now become a profitable industry.
**Note, this article is full of things to check when using herbs. I made a FREE printable reference guide for you, which is available at the bottom.
People of all ages use herbs as supplements and nutrition in their diets.
Even back in 1997, about 42% of Americans acknowledged using some form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Back then already 12% of the population was using herbal medicine.
Today, herbs are used to manage symptoms or chronic conditions. Examples include using herbs to lower high blood pressure to using herbs that increase daily energy levels.
Herbs are also used to make lifestyle changes. And, some people are adding herbs into their diet as part of their wellness plan.
As an RN for over 25 years, I have been a witness to the increasing patient use of herbs. I’ve seen herbal medicine merge with conventional medicine. And I’ve observed the influence the patient use of herbs has had on current healthcare practices. (And, full disclosure – I use herbal supplements as part of my self-care plan).
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of scientific data available about herbs on specific populations.
Detailed research is lacking for gender, age, and specific conditions. There is also a lack of research on people with multiple symptoms. Finally, data is lacking for how herbs will interact with medications or multiple medications.
Right now, herbs are considered as supplements and do not fall under the drug regulations. So, the FDA doesn’t provide very much regulation on the quality of herbs in the marketplace.
Thus, it is essential to ask the right questions to know if the herbs, the herbalist you are working with, or herbal medicine is right for you.
Here are Questions to Know if Herbs are Safe for You
Standardized Education or Training
At this point, there is not a standard for training in herbal medicine.
People can study Chinese herbalism, nutritional herbalism, Western herbalism, and holistic herbalism to name a few components of the study.
Choose an herbalist based on your level of comfort.
You will find people who have learned herbal medicine from their grandma or family member who function as ‘folk herbalists’.
You will also find people who have read and studied books, have used herbs for years, and are now recommending herbal medicine for others.
And, you may also find people who have had extensive education through organized institutions.
Any of these herbalists may work for you.
Be mindful when selecting an herbalist.
You can find reliable herbalists locally through word-of-mouth.
Or, you can find herbalists through the Professional Herbalists Guild.
And, you can also find an herbalist on Facebook in the Clinical Herbalists Forum
The first question to ask is, “How did you get your herbalist knowledge?”
Unfortunately, you will also find people who make recommendations without appropriate (or any) education. People want to make money fast or get traffic to their website. You definitely want to avoid working with these people!
“Take This Herb For That Symptom”
Be wary of people who say “Take this herb for that symptom.”
You probably already know that the herbal community and the medical community recognize conditions differently.
While they can work together, different philosophies exist.
For example, the herbal community acknowledges that people have different constitutions. One person may consider themselves a warm person – someone who feels hot most of the time. Another may tell you they always feel cold. These details tell the herbalist about their constitution, or the ‘energetics’ of a person.
Herbalists also learn about the ‘energetics’ of the plant. They need to know if it is a warm or cool herb. Then, they use algorithms or guides to match the herb to the condition, and the constitution, or the ‘energetics’ of the person.
It’s also important to know that in the herbal community, a condition may have more than one source or cause. And furthermore, some of the sources or causes recognized by the herbalist is not recognized as a cause or condition by a medical provider in
The herbalist will treat the whole person when recommending herbal treatment. Meaning, they strive to match the energetics of the herb to the energetics of the person.
A professional herbalist would NOT recommend an herb to treat a problem without first matching energetics of the herb and the person.
Therefore, they would not say, “take this herb for that condition” without first considering you and your body.
Another question to ask to know if herbs are safe for you is, “Is this herb a good match for my body, my constitution, and it’s a condition?”
Other questions to know if herbs are safe are going to be centered on medication interference.
Herbs can interfere with the chemical components of prescribed or over-the-counter medications and can have potentially dangerous side-effects.
This is particularly of concern with heart medication, high blood pressure medication, and anesthesia.
Interactions can change or affect clotting factors, blood pressure, heart rate or heart rhythm, among other factors.
It is estimated that at least 50% of people who use herbal medicines do not tell their convention medical provider they are using them.
Due to the lack of research, it is difficult to know exactly how medication and an herb will work together. Plusneveryone will respond differently.
Therefore, tell both your medical and herbal providers what herbs and medications you are taking.
A third question to ask to know if herbs are safe for you is, “Is this herb safe to use with my medication(s)?”
Minimal Testing and FDA Regulation
Herbs can be ingested in the food you eat, or as a pill-form supplement. There is not enough research available to know if an herb will adversely react with a condition, symptom or medication.
Be aware of how your body reacts and responds to the herbs you ingest.
Pay attention to changes in how your body functions after using herbal supplements or eating herbs.
Sometimes it may not be visible immediately, but a pattern may appear in the documentation.
A food diary is a simple way to do this without a lot of time and effort.
Another question to ask to know if herbs are safe for you is, “How is my body responding to this herb I am taking?”
Recommending Without Enough Knowledge
As the population of herbal medicine has grown, more people have become interested in learning herbal medicine. There is excitement in the idea of being an herbalist to others.
But, being an herbalist requires extensive study and more understanding of a plant’s chemistry than you might think.
There will be herbalists who will start practicing herbal medicine after learning the plant chemistry of approximately 200 herbs. In many cases, that may not be enough.
Look for herbalists that know the plant chemistry of >500 herbs.
This knowledge is especially important when you have multiple or severe symptoms. It will go back to the processes of aligning the energetics of the person to the energetics of the herb.
A final question to ask to know if herbs are safe for you is, “How many herbs do you know/prescribe?”
In conclusion, it may be helpful to use herbs and herbal supplements in your pursuit of wellness, But, it takes some investigation to make sure herbs are safe for you to use.
Be sure to do plenty of research and do some homework on the herbalist you choose to follow or use.
Practice safety when using herbs. Please remember to tell both your herbalist and your medical provider about your medications and herbs you want to take.
And, finally, ask these five questions..
- How did you get your herbalist knowledge?
- Is this herb a good match for my body, my constitution, and it’s a condition?
- Is this herb safe to use with my medication(s)?
- How is my body responding to this herb I am taking?
- How many herbs do you know/prescribe?
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This article is the combined result of my research, my knowledge, and a detailed interview with a family member who is a highly-educated herbalist. She has graciously provided her insights and details to form these five questions. Be sure to tell your herbalist and your medical provider about your medications and herbs you are using.
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