1) What is an herb anyway?
The word “herb” technically means “grass” in Latin. Herbs are plants that wither back each Autumn. Trees and shrubs aren’t technically herbs in this sense, but there are many healing shrubs and trees that are used in herbal healing. So basically when you ask what an herb really means to an herbalist, it’s a plant that has medicinal value-and that includes every type of medicinal plant whether it’s a tree, shrub, grass, or even a fungus.
2) Do herbs really work?
In ancient times, our ancestors learned about healing herbs by trial and error. Anything that would make their lives a bit more predictable acquired almost an aura of magic because they knew they worked, but they didn’t know why or how. Today we have the benefit of validation thanks to the advent of the scientific method. Modern science has taught us how and why herbs actually work. They contain chemicals, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that produce different results in the body. It’s not like pharmaceuticals where one type of chemical is neatly isolated, precisely measured, and has a defined reaction. Herbs are different from pharmaceuticals in that they usually have varied strengths and mixtures of these chemicals in them.
3) Are herbs really safe to use?
Some people think herbs are perfectly safe because they’re natural. Other people think modern medicine is the safest because it’s a precise dosage of an isolated chemical. There’s a bit of truth to both arguments. We can look at statistics of overdose of pharmaceuticals and those of herbs. Whether the overdose of pharmaceuticals is intentional or accidental, the issue of safety is that they tend to be highly concentrated, and pills and capsules have little to no taste which are factors enabling an easy overdose. Herbs on the other hand have active chemicals that are usually less concentrated and have the built-in overdose deterrent, in that most of the herbs are bitter. Also, it takes a bit more time for some herbs to build in the body because of herbs being a more gentle, slow solution whereas pharmaceuticals are more instantaneous because of their concentration. So the real answer lies in the person using the herbs, their research in the herbs used, and their personal responsibility for their health needs.
Here are some general guidelines of safety:
· Don’t take herb identity for granted. If you are not 100% of what a wild plant is, don’t use it.
· Use only recommended amounts for recommended periods.
· If you’re over 65 or sensitive to drugs in general, start with lower strength preparations.
· Pay attention to what your body tells you.
· Be extra cautious if you have a pre-existing condition or chronic disease.
· Be extra cautious when using herbal oils, they’re extremely concentrated.
· With a few exceptions, pregnant and nursing women shouldn’t use medicinal amounts of herbs.
· With few exceptions, children under the age of 2 should not use medicinal amounts of herbs.
Just to be safe it’s always a good idea to discuss using herbs with your doctor.
4) How do you know what herb to use?
Luckily our ancestors did a lot of the work for us and history has kept excellent records of both failures and successes people have had with various herbs. While many herbs were used for certain ailments in history, some have been proven scientifically ineffective. There are a few questions you should answer to help narrow down your search for what herbs you’ll be using.
First, what reason do you want to use an herb? Are you sick with a cold? Maybe you need a known expectorant. Do you want something that is known to create a certain reaction such as reduces appetite? When you answer these questions you can search for herbs that are known to have those properties.
Second, what method do you feel comfortable using to take the herb? If you want to have a nice tasting tea or infusion, you’ll have to see what herbs are pleasing to the palate. If taste is a factor and you know the perfect herb for you is horrible tasting, consider capsules or a tincture to make those factors easier to deal with.
Lastly, what other properties does this herb have that I need to take into account? Would it interfere with a pre-existing condition, allergy, or medication? Always ask your doctor just to make sure.
5) How do know how much of an herb to use?
Typically a dose recommendation involves a range of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water. Start on a lower end if you have a chronic illness, are generally sensitive to drugs, are over 65 or using the herbs to treat a child. If you’re an otherwise healthy adult without particular sensitivity to drugs, feel free to start with a stronger dose.
Let your body tell you if you need more or less judging from how you feel. For example for headaches, the adult aspirin dose is two tablets every 4 hours. But through experience you learn what is right for you. Just like some people are fine with one Aspirin, others may need two or three to get relief, herbs are the same way as all people react differently. Research the herb you’re interested in before taking a dose, ask your doctor about any concerns with taking the herb, and mostly listen to your body to tell you what’s right for you.
6) How do I choose what form to buy my herbs?
Our herbs come in whole, cut and sifted (c/s), powdered, and sometimes capsules and salves. The question you need to ask yourself is how are you planning on using the herb and are you certain you won’t use it for other reasons. If you’re open to experimenting with various preparation methods get the most unchanged form possible, either whole or cut and sifted. You can always powder a portion, or reduce the herb how you desire as the need arises. Powdered, salves, and capsules are the most convenient forms available to use but not quite as versatile as the whole, unaltered form. Think about your current skill level and the purpose you intend to use, and make a judgment call on what is right for you.
7) Herbs look complicated, can I really do this?
If you can make a box of macaroni and cheese, you can just as easily use herbs. There’s no fancy alchemy magic that requires scientific know-how or a chemistry degree. Through the ages people have been experimenting with the best ways to use herbs and luckily most of those are what we call infusions. Infusions are simply a very concentrated form of tea. So if you think you can do some research, measure out a teaspoon of herb and a cup of water, you can use herbs! There are many other ways to use herbs that involve methods that are more unfamiliar to most people, but they’re really still not much more complicated than cooking a simple meal out of a box. We are here to show you each step of the way just how easy it is to use herbs.
8) Why should I purchase a pound of an herb?
The first obvious reason is economy. For example an ounce of Parsley at Walmart is about $4.24 per ounce. At Herbs for Remedies a pound costs $15.45, which is about 96 cents per ounce. Even if you factor in shipping that’s $1.41 per ounce. Would you rather pay $4.24 or $1.41?
Then you factor in the carbon footprint of all the extra plastic packaging and waste that comes along with individual size bottles, their shipment, packaging in boxes, and transportation to the stores. Then there’s the pollution factories produce when making plastic bottles and labeling. The list goes on!
Not to mention most of the bottles on the shelves are clear which is bad for preserving the herbs. It’s also a problem with controlling the amount of air the herbs are exposed to since as you use the herb the bottle contains more air which drains the herbs of its qualities. Herbs for Remedies uses an economical, yet strong opaque (light-proof) bag where you can adjust the amount of air that is exposed to the herbs as you use them.
9) A pound of herbs seems like a lot, what will I do with it all?
The good news is that herbs usually have many many uses around the house that we might not be thinking of. For example Basil isn’t just for cooking, it also kills intestinal parasites, boosts the immune system by 20%, and has been used successfully to treat acne. That’s four uses the herb has suddenly, stead of just in cooking!
One idea that many of our customers do often is splitting and sharing with neighbors and family. Collaborating on an herbal list can be a great bonding experience and several of these have turned into regular group activities.
Many people split the herbs up and make vinegars, flavored salts and sugars, and many other mixtures and give them away as gifts. The possibilities are limitless when you add in pretty bottles, boxes, bins, and baskets. You’ll never be caught unprepared again when you find you suddenly need a gift for an occasion.
10) How long are my herbs going to keep and how should I store them?
The bags we ship our herbs in are the perfect container for your herbs, but if you keep two main factors in mind, you can transfer your herbs into other containers.
Those factors are oxygen and light exposure. Always store your herbs in opaque containers. Also, to limit the amount of oxygen your herbs are exposed to, either reduce the amount of air as much as possible from the bags, or if you’re using other containers use cotton wadding to limit the amount of oxygen inside of them.
Moisture, insects, and heat are other factors that quickly ruin herbs if not prevented.
Most aromatic herbs (such as sage, rosemary, and thyme) can remain potent for more than a year, and non-aromatic herbs (such as alfalfa, comfrey, and chaparral) last about two years.
If you prepare your herbs they have various shelf lives. Infusions and decoctions do not have an extended shelf life and should be made as needed. Tinctures however can last for at least two to three years, some much longer if properly stored.