Tag Archive | "herbalism"

Guide to Essential Oils

360px-CistusEssOilThe fragrant essential oils used in aromatherapy fall into five groups: floral, green, spicy, citrus and woody/balsamic. They sound good enough to eat, but you must;

Never take them internally. Keep them out of the reach of children and take special care with them if you’re pregnant. These warnings are given because it’s hard to imagine how a few drops of scented oil could cause any damage. They can if they’re applied to the skin undiluted. Also some are photo-toxic (react badly with sunlight, causing skin irritation). If they come into contact with the eyes bathe with sweet almond oil, rather than water, and seek the advice of a doctor.

The essential oils which should not be used by pregnant women are:

Angelica, Basil, Cedarwood, Citronella, Fennel, Juniper, Laurel, Marjoram, Myrrh, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, Thyme, Yarrow.

The following are known to be photo-toxic. Do not go out in the sun for at least six hours after the application of any of these:

Angelica, Bergamot, Citronella, Ginger, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Orange. Take care also with Basil and Laurel. They can also irritate the skin when it’s exposed to the sun.


Lavender oil is extremely useful and versatile. Choose Lavender oil made from English Lavender if possible, as plants grown in southern Britain have been found to yield the most fragrant oil.

As already noted, Lavender facilitates the healing of burns, and it has antiseptic properties. The oil can be used in the treatment of sores, bites and itches. It’s one of the safest oils and its action is very gentle.

Add Lavender oil to the bath, lie back and feel the tension leave tired muscles. Lavender combats fatigue, lifts the spirits and invigorates. A few drops of diluted oil can relieve a tired headache when rubbed into the temples; in fact Lavender will relieve any muscular aches (spasms even) and pains in the joints when massaged in.

It can also help to induce sleep when sprayed, in diluted form, on a pillow. Or you may buy small pillows which are stuffed with Lavender. They can be heated up and used to support the neck, or the back, thus relaxing the muscles, relieving any pain and aiding sleep.

Insects dislike Lavender oil, and it can be useful for killing the parasites which live on animals.

Lavender oil mixes with many essential oils. It belongs to the ‘floral’ group, and combines particularly well with other members of this group, such as Geranium, Jasmine, Mimosa, Neroli, Rose, Violet, and Ylang-Ylang.


There is a plant called Bergamot (monada didyma), which belongs to the mint family, and a tree called the Bergamot Orange (citrus bergamia). Most of the essential oil of Bergamot used in aromatherapy comes from the tree, though it is possible to get Bergamot Mint essential oil.

Bergamot oil can be used to stabilize mood, treat depression and alleviate anxiety. It’s reputed to help those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders. It can aid sleep, and is said to chase bad dreams away.

Bergamot belongs to the citrus group. It mixes well with Jasmine,
Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Lemongrass, and Rosemary.


Eucalyptus oil is extracted from the twigs and foliage of the Blue Gum tree. It has powerful antiseptic properties which airborne germs cannot easily survive. Used in an inhalation, or in the bath, Eucalyptus oil acts as an efficient decongestant, giving relief from the symptoms of coughs, colds, sinusitis and fever. When used in massage therapy it soothes aching muscles and sprains. It also aids the healing of abrasions.

Eucalyptus belongs to the green group of oils, and mixes well with many other oils including Angelica, Bay, Chamomile, Frankincense, Peppermint, Tea Tree and Sandalwood.


Neroli has been used traditionally to dispel sadness from the hearts and minds of grieving widows. It can soothe those who are suffering from emotional upset and anxiety, even going so far as to reduce the severity of panic attacks. It helps to control fears and drives away stress and feelings of exhaustion. Neroli promotes restful sleep. This mild oil belongs to the floral group and mixes well with Lavender, Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine, Melissa and Peppermint.


The name Melissa is derived from the Greek word for bee. Bees are attracted to the plant for its high yield of nectar. Melissa is also known as Lemon Balm, or simply Balm.

The balsamic oil of Melissa has been used to dress wounds because it forms a barrier against infection. If you plan to use it this way be aware that it may irritate sensitive skin. Do a spot test on the skin before you proceed.

Melissa has a calming effect. It can lessen the severity of panic attacks and may bring some comfort to those battling with addiction to nicotine or alcohol, as it’s said to quell the cravings for these substances.

Melissa belongs to the balsamic group and it combines well with Cedarwood, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Neroli and Chamomile.


Frankincense has been offered to the gods in religious ceremonies throughout history and is still used in rituals today.

In aromatherapy, a steamy inhalation of Frankincense is said to be helpful to those suffering from bronchitis or a sore throat. Frankincense can also ease the troubled mind by soothing frayed nerves and enabling one to relax. It’s said to drive away feelings of paranoia and restore confidence. Those who fear the onset of bad dreams may also be helped by Frankincense, as it is said to banish nightmares.

Frankincense belongs to the balsamic group and it mixes well with Patchouli, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Neroli, Melissa and Lavender.


Juniper is a member of the pine family and is adapted to diverse climates and soil conditions, from swampy land to dry mountain slopes. The Juniper tree does not mind the cold; in fact it seems to thrive in it, as Juniper trees have grown to a height of 36 feet in Scandinavian countries. Its aromatic berries are highly prized by cooks and distillers of gin, and the wood has been praised for its stubborn resistance to rot. Juniper berries are quite expensive because they take 2-3 years to ripen.

You may not, therefore, feel inclined to throw your Juniper berries into the flames, but you could do this if you wished to fumigate a room. The smoke from Juniper branches has also been used for fumigation; the branches were burned in public places and hospitals during epidemics of smallpox, cholera and the plague.

When Juniper berries are boiled up, especially with Eucalyptus, the vapor will clear a head cold and a foggy mind. Juniper is also said to help us to forget unpleasant experiences and bring back our joie de vivre.

No harm will come to those who inhale Juniper’s vapor or smoke, however great care should be exercised when using it internally, especially by those who have renal disease. Incidentally, if Juniper’s extract is ingested it will render the urine a rather alarming shade of violet!

Juniper belongs to the spicy group of oils, and it combines well with Tea Tree, Laurel, Ginger, Eucalyptus, Frankincense and Myrrh.

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Herbalism and Modern Medicine

If you do decide to go out foraging in the wild there are numerous guides which can assist you with the identification of plants and many herbals which contain information about their constituents and uses. If, after reading the various guides, you still don’t entirely trust yourself to choose the right herbs you could consult a qualified herbalist. There are many whose services are listed in telephone directories and on the WWW. Look for the word ‘phytotherapist’ if you seek a practitioner who has scientific knowledge of plant remedies.

Incidentally the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy, which “exists to protect the public interest” (their words) is currently campaigning for the British people’s right to access the herbal medicines they require. The CPP is currently participating in a consultation with the UK government and calling for the statutory regulation of herbal medicines. This government is considering bringing in voluntary regulation which, according to the CPP, will take away the British people’s right to use a full range of herbs and preparations by making some of them illegal, (such as Atropa belladonna and Ephedra sinica) , including the majority of traditional Chinese and Indian remedies.

HerbalismSome people might object to scientific interventions in the field of herbalism because they’ve become disillusioned with medical science, wish to avoid their doctor like the plague and simply go back to nature. Their distrust is understandable, in view of the warnings about the damaging effects of processed foods and pharmaceuticals so often reported in the media nowadays. The objectors might argue that people got by before medical doctors arrived on the scene by consulting the village wise woman. This is true up to a point, however let’s remove our rose-colored spectacles for a moment and remind ourselves of how many people died of serious illnesses, blood loss and infections in the good old days. How many people, for example, would have died from diabetes mellitus if scientists hadn’t learned about insulin and its relationship with carbohydrates?

A good herbalist will always ask the patient if they’ve sought the advice of a MD for their complaint. If the answer is no, then they will seek to establish why not. Is it, for example, because the patient fears the diagnosis? If this is the case then the herbalist can listen to the patient’s concerns, reassure him/her and prescribe a gentle herb to alleviate anxiety. If the patient has already sought the advice of a doctor, then the wise herbalist will ask what action the doctor has taken. This is an extremely important question because some herbs can interact dangerously with some prescription drugs. It’s not by accident that some plants are referred to as ‘power plants’.

The vast majority of herbs, though, are gentle in their actions. Use them carefully to prevent disease, detoxify the body and bolster immunity. Stock your medicine cabinet with herbs that can treat your ailments and soothe you. Grow them in your garden, or in pots, and tend them lovingly. They will reward you by producing wonderful fragrances and saving you money. Add them to a nutritious diet, cutting out processed foods whenever possible. Go out into the countryside, or the garden, whenever you can.

If you follow this advice you’ll find little real need to visit your doctor for prescriptions. If you do have a condition which persists and is bothering you, seek the advice of your doctor. Think of him as your ally. Don’t be embarrassed about telling him that you prefer herbal remedies to pharmaceuticals. Doctors do not so easily dismiss the remedies as old wives tales these days; in fact many have supplemented their orthodox medical training by taking courses in philosophy and natural healing techniques, thus becoming licensed holistic M.D.s. Others have become N.Ds (doctors of naturopathic medicine) and they are licensed to practice in a number of US states.

Your doctor should be supportive of your efforts to keep healthy by natural means. Doctors are aware of the unwanted effects of prescription medications and don’t wish to give them to their patients unnecessarily. There is a class of illnesses called ‘iatrogenic’ which any doctor worth his salt will avoid giving to his patients. Iatrogenic is derived from the Greek ‘iatros’, meaning ‘brought forth by a healer’. Illnesses caused by harmful interactions between prescription drugs fall into this category, as do those caused by adverse reactions to prescription drugs (allergic reactions). Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is also classed as an iatrogenic disorder, because it’s linked to their over-prescription.

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Herbalism: A Holistic Approach to Health

Holistic-healthHerbalism can be defined as the use of plants for the detoxification of the body, support of the immune system and prevention of disease, and for the treatment of ailments, chronic illnesses and injuries. The idea is to use herbs to restore balance in body, mind and spirit and maintain a naturally healthy human system; the achievement of holistic health in other words.

The earth is an ecosystem whose components exist in equilibrium, and the human system is a microcosm of this complex organic arrangement. From this point of view we can look at ourselves as cells in the body of an earth which breathes the same air as we do, has the same minerals at its core and whose vascular system is the rivers and their tributaries which carry water, just as our arteries and veins carry blood. From this point of view it naturally follows that the earth supplies all of the nutrients and medicines necessary for its inhabitants to live healthily. Plants deliver a vast proportion of the goods.

The roots of the holistic approach to health possibly lie in folk medicine. Folk medicine refers in part to the use of indigenous plants by a native, rural population for the maintenance of health and curing of ailments. The people of the mountainous regions of Vermont, for example, have often chewed gum from the spruce tree to cure a sore throat. It seems safe to say that the spruce tree would not be available to help the inhabitants of a desert region to cure a sore throat, but there will be an indigenous plant somewhere in the area that can do the same job, and the local people will know which one it is. The plants used in diverse regions of the world are different, but folk medicine is the same everywhere, insofar as the tradition is passed down unmodified over generations by word of mouth. Those who pioneered these traditions originally learned about the plants by observing which ones animals chose to cure their own ailments.

Today we can follow in the footsteps of our ancestors by looking for herbs in our own locality. The very act of getting outdoors and acquainting yourself with the natural world is in itself beneficial to health. Fresh air and the fragrance of flowers, the sound of birdsong and the breeze rustling the leaves, the hum produced by industrious insects going about their business on a miniature scale, the sound of running water-not forgetting moments of utter silence-are all simple sensory delights which have a calming and therapeutic effect on the human psyche and are available to everyone.

Holistic healing recognizes this and seeks the integration of the human being with its natural environment. If you haven’t got time to go out exploring the fields and woods then you can grow herbs in your own garden. If you don’t have a garden, or suffer from any condition which restricts your ability to move around, you can grow them in pots.

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