Proper herbal prescription
Herbs are not simple medicines that work according to a single "active ingredient" or "mechanism of action." Rather herbs contain many constituents from the whole plant that work together synergistically. They are best understood by the effect on the whole person.
Organ system affinity:
Herbs may suppress or excite specific systems. For example, motherwort calms down the heart, whereas licorice would be stimulating.
Some common examples:
- Liver (milk thistle, dandelion, Oregon grape)
- Lymphatic system (red clover, poke root, blue flag)
- Digestive system stimulant (ginger, gentian)
- Digestive system calming (meadowsweet, lemon balm)
Herbs don't do just one thing. For example milk thistle protects the liver and stimulates digestion.
Proper herbal prescription means taking a proper history and matching that up with an herbs that support specific organ systems appropriately.
Many healing traditions have concepts of tissue states and understand how specific herbs effect them.
- Hot/cold - very important in traditional use of herbs. If someone is already very hot, it may not be best to use oregano oil or garlic to treat Candida, even if those herbs are commonly sold for that.
- Constriction or tension in a system. Such as in muscles, or tightness in digestive system.
- Dryness, or lack of fluids. If someone is very dry then perhaps a hot drying herb would not be best to use, even if it is supposedly good for some symptom.
- Relaxation - tissues that has lost tone, or flaccid.
- Dampness or stagnation - accumulation of fluids.
Without consideration to tissue states it's possible to prescribe the right herb for an illness, but the wrong one for the person. For example, garlic and Oregon are excellent for numerous digestive system symptoms. However, they are both very hot and drying. Someone who is hot and dry to begin with (according to symptoms, or has a thin red tongue with crack down middle) isn't going to do well on herbs that just make them even more hot and dry.
The following is a very simple case. Constitutional signs are used to prescribe a specific herbal.
35 year old female. Chief complains are of fatigue and anxiety worse during her period. PMS along with cramps and heavy bleeding.
Tongue is thin, long, red at end and crack down middle - indicating excessive heat. Skin is very dry.
Abdominal muscles are very tight, especially around and inferior to naval.
Protocol: herbal mixture of Oregon grape, burdock, blue cohosh and black cohosh. All mixed together as herbal tincture, 1 tsp twice a day. Borage oil, 2000 mg per day.
Results: after 1 month all symptoms greatly improved and patient reports feeling like a new person.
Rational: Tongue analysis and skin indicated a dry hot condition. Cramping and PMS are also general signs of toxicity. Specifically the liver is overwhelmed and not able to move toxins out, so the female body uses cycle as an auxiliary route of elimination. Therefore, goal is to help liver with detoxification. Oregon grape and burdock root are classic combination to help liver in dry hot conditions. The tightness over abdomen showed constriction in the pelvic floor. Blue and black cohosh added in to relax pelvic floor - which would also aid in detoxification. Borage oil added because essential fatty acids typically help PMS and dry skin.
Mass marketing of herbs for specific conditions
Consider how herbs are typically marketed:
- Tumeric for joint pain
- Echinacea for the immune system
- St. Johns wort for depression
- Valerian for insomnia
- Aloe for irritated digestive system
- Cranberry for urinary tract infection
- Ginko for memory
- Milk thistle for the liver
Essentially, the public is given a short list of herbs to use for specific illnesses
But is this really the best way to practice herbal medicine?
Will everyone who feels depressed really benefit from taking St. Johns wort?
While some herbs may be marketed to the masses appropriately, for the most part top selling herbs are sold to either palliate, or suppress symptoms, not truly help the body heal. However, when herbs are used accordingly, with respect to their actions on the whole body, and the needs of each patient, there is great potential to aid the body in its self healing process.