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Many Ways to Use Herbs
by Marion Mackonochie


As an herbalist, I normally administer herbs as alcoholic tinctures or teas. In some situations, such as when the person taking the herbs needs lots of hydration or the relaxing effect of a hot drink, a tea is more appropriate. In other situations, such as when the person has a busy life and doesn’t have time to stop and brew teas regularly throughout the day, or if the herbs I want to administer have constituents that won’t be extracted by water alone, tinctures are more suitable. However, occasionally neither of these formulations is suitable. One person I treated recently couldn’t tolerate any alcohol as it gave her a migraine, and she really hated drinking herbal teas. We’ve gotten around this by using a tablet form for one of the herbs and having her take a bath in some of the other herbs. She brews up the dried herbs as if she was going to drink them as a tea, but then just adds the tea to her bath instead. This works as an effective and relaxing way to absorb the herbs.

Although most people know the benefits of having a relaxing bath and adding some lavender to help aid sleep, external application of herbs is fairly underused except in skin conditions, but can be very effective. The French herbalist Maurice Mességué, whose books are unfortunately not in print anymore, was a great fan of using foot, hand and hip baths to treat all kinds of complaints. For example, he recommends a hip bath using a handful of shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) in a litre of water to treat heavy periods. He used the leaves, roots and seeds of parsley in foot or hand baths to treat asthma, coughs and problems with the menopause.

Of course, herbs such as arnica and chilli (Capsicum minimum) are often applied externally to have an effect on the tissues directly under the skin at the point of application in the case of sprains, swelling and bruising. Yet the use of a foot bath to treat asthma seems unlikely, however, the constituents of herbs can and do penetrate the skin to have actions in different parts of the body. Research in 2004 by investigators at the University of Vienna demonstrated that linalool, one of the constituents of lavender essential oil was absorbed through the skin and caused a lowering of blood pressure that wasn’t associated with any effect from its smell (the human guinea pigs in the trial had to wear breathing masks to stop them smelling the essential oil). It has also been found that if you rub the soles of the feet with garlic, you will end up with garlic breath a few hours later, as components of garlic are excreted via the lungs.

Other than applying herbal oils or bathing in herbal teas, poultices and fomentations can be used. Poultices are pastes made from dried herbs and/or herbal powders that are placed on the skin and can then be covered with a dressing, while fomentations are a piece of material soaked in an herbal infusion and applied to the skin with a heat pack on top. These sorts of external applications are often used on the abdomen to treat digestive problems or pain and swelling due to uterine problems.

Although not necessarily as practical and easy as taking a tablet or tincture, some of these more ritual-like methods of herb application can be an enjoyable way to treat people with herbs and can be as effective.

This article was written to be informative and interesting, but if you have any serious health concerns please consult a qualified herbalist or doctor.



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About the Author

Marion Mackonochie is a qualified Medical Herbalist and member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, practising in Brighton and Peacehaven on the South East coast of England. With an interest in health and healing for many years, Marion completed a degree in pharmacology and physiology, in addition to spending seven years editing science journals for the pharmaceutical industry. With a growing disillusionment in conventional pharmaceuticals and positive personal experiences using herbal medicine and a more natural approach to health, she decided to undertake a degree in herbal medicine.

Marion combines an intuitive connection to herbs and a good background in traditional herb use in Western Europe with up-to-date clinical knowledge to choose the most suitable herbs. Practical and realistic dietary and lifestyle advice alongside a holistic and in-depth examination of why health problems exist are combined to successfully work with people to take control of their own health.

Marion also continues to work in publishing, editing and writing for complementary health journals and helping with the preparation of research articles on alternative therapies for publication.

Visit Marion's website at www.FieldRemedies.com or contact her by email at marion@fieldremedies.com.




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