The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide
Herbal medicine is one of the most ancient of the healing arts. It is, and always will be, the medicine of the people. No matter which political party is in power, no matter what is deemed legal versus illegal, not even the FDA in all of its regulatory glory can prevent someone from stepping out their door and using nature’s free medicine. Herbal medicine exists, and always has, because we live in symbiosis with plants. As herbalist Sam Coffman says, with every breath we take we perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with nature. Plants have been here longer than we have. They have learned their lessons and adapted to their environment, and they have produced a beautiful language to communicate those lessons with other plants, animals, and fungi. The chemical compounds that plants produce, their biochemical language, is so complicated that we haven’t even scratched the surface in the thousand or so plants that have been researched, let alone the remaining tens of thousands of plants around the world that are used as medicine.
Although we may not understand how plants act chemically in our body, we have a long and well-documented history of their use as food and medicine. As we move toward a more sustainable world with clean energy production, locally grown organic foods, and nature conservation, we must look at our current model of medicine through the same filter of sustainability. A world that remains totally dependent on high-cost chemical medicines, controlled by multinational pharmaceutical companies whose main purpose is profit, is dependent upon the very institutions that created the environmental problems that are poisoning this world.
Modern medicine and the judicious use of pharmaceuticals are essential for treating many serious illnesses. But although it is a great disease-care system, modern medical care is not a health care system. Any system of medicine that is separated from the greater whole of health, including food production, ecological health, social health, and emotional health, can only put a bandage on a bullet wound, conveniently masking the real issues that are slowly bleeding us to death. Rising costs for disease care and lack of access to care are taking a toll on everyone, and minorities and underprivileged groups bear the brunt of that burden. In America, disease care is the primary cause of financial ruin: Nearly two million people file bankruptcy every year because of medical bills.
USING HERBS AS MEDICINE
Medicinal plants grow everywhere and are easily available for harvest or purchase for a fraction of the cost of modern pharmaceuticals. Learning how to make your own herbal medicines is as easy as learning how to cook. The goal of this book is to empower you to use herbs to help yourself, your family, and others.
Mastering herbalism involves a lot of work. Different herbs with entirely different medicinal actions can have the same common name. Conversely, the same herb can be called many different names depending on what book you are looking at. Learning the Latin (botanical) name of a plant is a good place to start to identify the correct herb, but identifying the right plant is just the first step.
Different parts of a single plant can have different actions on the body. The root of dandelion is a wonderful digestive tonic and gently stimulates phase one liver detoxification. Dandelion leaves, on the other hand, are a strong diuretic; and the flowers, prepared as a flower essence or a wine, are specific for helping overachievers who are tense and stressed to learn to go with the flow.
How you use an herb makes a difference in how it affects the body. Different constituents are soluble in different mediums. Some constituents of plants are exclusively alcohol soluble, whereas others only come out in water. Yarrow is a great herb for fevers when it is prepared as a hot infusion (tea) of the flowers. A hot infusion draws out the aromatic qualities of yarrow that stimulate circulation and promote perspiration, whereas a decoction extracts more of the bitter and astringent principles. Many Native Americans used a cooled decoction of the whole herb (flowers and leaves) as a digestive tonic for weak digestion. The dried leaves make an excellent styptic for cuts and wounds, and encapsulated yarrow clears the lymphatics, stimulates innate immunity, and helps relieve urinary tract infections. Yarrow essential oil is anti-inflammatory, but most of this oil is lost when the herb is dried. Yarrow flower essence is used to help sensitive individuals who overidentify with other people’s problems (a characteristic that comes naturally to many herbalists).
Some books list yarrow as being good for toothache; the Diné (Navajo) and other Native Americans use yarrow for this purpose. But swallowing a capsule or tincture won’t do anything for a toothache, nor will chewing on dried mature leaves. The part of the plant that is used for toothache is the purplish part of the young leaves, which contain a topical analgesic. The fresh young leaves are chewed to relieve tooth pain. As you can see, knowing how a plant is prepared and how that changes its usage is an important part of effective herbalism.
Much of the information about how to properly prepare and administer herbs is being lost as people increasingly rely on commercial herbal preparations. Traditional herbalists keep the knowledge of how to make and use herbs alive. This book aims to present different methods for preparing and administering herbs to help you choose not only the appropriate remedy but the preparation method that brings forth the actions you want. We hope it will help you learn to use herbs in new and creative ways.
Introduction: On Herbal Medicine
CHAPTER 1 Getting Started: Basic Concepts in Herbal Medicine
CHAPTER 2 Herbal Preparations: Understanding the Many Ways to Prepare and Use Herbs
CHAPTER 3 Using Fresh Plants: Harvesting, Drying, and Using Fresh Herbs
CHAPTER 4 Dried Herbs: Bulk Herbs, Capsules, and Tablets
CHAPTER 5 Introduction to Extractions: Terms, Equipment, Solvents, and Calculations
CHAPTER 6 Making Basic Extracts: Extracting Herbs in Water, Alcohol, Glycerin, and Vinegar
CHAPTER 7 Advanced Extraction Techniques: Percolation Extracts, Fluid Extracts, and Soxhlet Extracts
CHAPTER 8 Topical Preparations: Oil-Based Extractions, Topical Applications, and Local Applications
CHAPTER 9 Other Preparations: Concentrates, Lozenges, and Traditional Chinese Methods
CHAPTER 10 Aromatherapy and Flower Essences: Two Unique Ways to Extract and Use Herbs
CHAPTER 11 Formulas and Dosages: Designing Herbal Formulas and Using Herbs Effectively
CHAPTER 12 Sample Formulas: Some of Our Favorite Formulas
CHAPTER 13 Single Herbs: Instructions for Preparing and Using Single Herbs
Appendix 1: Herbal Hydrotherapy: Combining Herbs and Water for Healing
Appendix 2: Recommended Suppliers: Sources for Herb Plants and Seeds, Bulk Herbs, Bottles, Glycerin, and Other Supplies
About the Authors
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