HomeTraditional Chinese MedicineArticlesLecturesAikidoBioContact

The Practical Herbalist

Cautions About Herbal Information

There is more and more information available on herbs. Much of the information available is very general and lacks specificity. As with pharmaceutical ads that say you should consult your physician to see if these medications are right for you, likewise you should do the same when it comes to herbs, and consult a certified herbalist.

Many people would criticize that type of comment. They say that herbs are the medicine of the people, that they are safe and that the information provided in books and on the web is accurate. All of which is true, however we no longer have the cultural wisdom of proper herb use passed down through families. Much of the herbal lore is no longer passed from mother to daughter as it once was. Though the information available on the web and in books, is often factual, it may not be appropriate. A few herbs that demonstrate this point are ginger, licorice and aconite.

Ginger is one of the few herbs that still has some family cultural wisdom behind it. Many people have been told that if you have an upset stomach, to drink ginger tea or ginger ale. This information is correct, ginger is a powerful herb when it come to some kinds of stomach discomfort. What is lacking is the old differentiation as to when it will help and when other herbs would be better. Ginger works best on a "cold" stomach marked by nausea, tightness, sticky or cold wet stool, desire for warm liquids, and especially after overeating of cold raw foods. Stomach problems marked by acid reflux, hot diarrhea, or dry stool are better treated with other herbs (fennel, and hawthorn berry for example).

Licorice is very common in traditional herbal medicine. As such it has been through a lot of scientific testing. Research indicates that there can be problems with licorice interacting with various medications. As a result, doctors caution against its use. The testing done on licorice has been with licorice in large doses as a single herb preparation. Traditionally, licorice was used in very small quantity in a larger formula. Worrying about licorice and drug interactions, can lead to a false sense that other herbs are safer, when in fact many have not been well researched. There are many common foods that pose a greater threat than licorice when it comes to drug and herb interactions.

If you look up aconite in any of the popular herbal texts you will find warnings that this herb is poisonous and should not be be used. What is not mentioned is that there is a difference between raw aconite and processed aconite. Raw aconite which is prohibited from sale in the U.S. is poisonous. Properly processed aconite is a powerful herb that is quite safe especially if prescribed appropriately.

Research and textbooks provide factual information. Quite often they are lacking in the information on proper clinical application of these substances. There are several books from very respected publishers that provide factual information, and report how a herb has been used, rather than why and how it should be used. The area of greatest concern is when people use these herbs to self treat without knowing how to self diagnose. Herbal diagnosis is different from biomedical diagnosis. The advice should always be; understand what you are putting into your body and why. If you are not sure, get the advice of someone who knows not only the medicine but how and why it should or should not be applied to you.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

Return to the Articles archive

David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066