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Indications for Commonly Used Herbs...


Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea, and a few other species

Echinacea stimulates the proliferation of the white blood cells that roam through the body looking for invaders to destroy. It also helps to clear up stagnation on the lymphatic system (think swollen glands), sore throats, and is one of the best herbs to use for septic infections and eruptive diseases. Echinacea is probably also the first herb to think about for treating poisonous bites, stings or infected scratches. It is commonly used to help stave off the common cold, and can be quite effective for this is taken at the very first sign of infection. Its efficacy in this regard decreases the longer one waits to use it. It is worth remembering that Echinacea does not have a marked effect of the lungs or sinuses, and generally doesn't, by itself, help with runny noses, sneezing, coughing, or congestion.

While it is commonly stated that Echinacea, taken daily, will "overstimulate" or "wear out" your immune system, and you need to take breaks (three days on, two days off, a week on, a week off), there is no truth to this whatsoever. If Echinacea hasn't worked after a week’s time, it's probably not the right herb to be using. It is also not an herb for long term use to strengthen the immune system, but suited to defending against acute infection.

Best forms to use...
Buy only organically grown Echinacea angustifolia. Echinacea purpurea is usually cultivated, and easily grown, though the plant should be at least three years old before harvesting the root. Other parts of the plant are also effective; from most to least: roots, flower pith, seeds, leaves. All parts of echinacea are sensitive to degradation, and should always be stored in glass, away from light and heat, and ideal replaced every year or so.

Infusion: Add about an ounce of recently dried Echinacea to a quart mason jar, fill with boiling water, and let steep covered for several hours. Strain and drink this throughout the day. Weaker teas will also work, though not nearly so well.
Tincture (liquid extract): Take 30 drops as soon as any inkling of infection is suspected. Initially, you can take it every half hour to hour, tapering down over the course of a day or two to every couple of hours. Taking it 2-3 times a day is very inefficient in many acute situations.
Capsules: Dried, powdered Echinacea loses its efficacy very quickly. Much of what is found in capsules is near inert, beacuse its old old old and probably shake anyway.
Topical: The tincture or strong tea can be used along with Plantain (Plantago major, P. lanceolata) leaves for infected or venomous bites or scratches. Gangrenous limbs were also bathed in Echinacea infusions with good results, though I would suggest a hospital for such situations.

Indications for its use...
` Treating the common cold; Echinacea needs to be used liberally and as soon as possible. Delay in using it results in proportionally decreased efficacy.
` When colds manifest a sore throat or swollen glands. Though some deem it uncomfortable to do so, squirting the undiluted tincture right onto the back of the throat will hasten its effects and also have a contact antimicrobial effect and many viruses and bacteria.
` Septic fevers/eruptive diseases... mumps, chickenpox, smallpox, measles, mono, cat scratch fever...

` Mastitis... use large frequent doses,  Ditto infections from retained tissue after birth or miscarriage.
` Venomous bites/stings (taken liberally internally and applied in some form externally)
` Chronic or deep cystic acne, tendency for boils or carbuncles, or other septic skin eruptions. If these conditions are present, long term use of Echinacea as part of a formula is very appropriate.

Contraindications and considerations...
While will not weaken an immune system if taken long term, it doesn't work to strengthen it either. To strengthen a weak/depleted immune system, herbs such as Astragalus and various medicinal mushrooms are more appropriate.

Echinacea can, though does not always, aggravate autoimmune conditions, and so should be tried with care if this is an issue.

There is also a rare but possible chance of reaction in those allergic to composite family plants.

Hydrastic canadensis

Goldenseal is a mucous membrane restorative tonic and a topical antimicrobial. Though it does kill bacteria very effectively, it is very poorly absorbed into the blood stream and does not act as an "herbal antibiotic" as it is said to. It is also a bitter tonic and can be used to stimulate sluggish metabolism/liver function.

Best forms to use...
Buy only organically grown goldenseal. The plant is threatened in the wild do to commercial overharvest. The root is used, but the leaves can also be substituted if they are recently dried. You'll have to use more and they lose their efficacy much more quickly than the root.

Tincture (liquid extract): 5-15 drops, up to three times a day or more frequently if specifically indicated.
Tea: Effective, but tasting so bad as to be near undrinkable.
Capsules: Not ideal, but useful for bacterial GI infections. Probably best mixed with other herbs than used on its own.
Topical: Use a tea as a compress for infected ulcerations, or cuts. You can also apply the powdered herb to shallow, clean wounds to speed healing.  To damp wounds with marshmallow or slippery elm powder.  Likewise, it can be used in salves.
Nasal Rinse: for sinus infections, you can make a weak tea of goldenseal, strain through a coffee filter, and add 1/4 heaping teaspoon of salt per cup of tea and use this in a nasal spray bottle or neti pot. You can also add 10-20 drops of the tincture to a saline solution (same proportions as the previously mentioned, but using water instead of tea).

Indications for its use...
` Sub acute or chronic inflammation of mucous membranes (not for acute inflammation... think about it as being good on day 2 or 3 of a cold or sinus infection, not on day 1)
` Congestion of mucous membranes with "heat signs": mucous thick, stuck and yellow/green, not thin and drippy (Goldenrod/Solidago might be good here), not cloudy white (Yerba Mansa/Anemopsis californica is excellent for this)
` Mucous membranes lacking tone (chronic oversecretion of nonproductive mucous)
` Ulceration in mucous membranes, especially H. pylori colonization, as in gastric ulcers.
` Bacterial and/or fungal infection of mucous membranes, especially in sinuses (specific for chronic sinusitis, which is almost always a concurrent bacterial and fungal infection). To be used as a nasal spray or rinse.

These conditions being present, Goldenseal will not only act as a tonic to the weakened, congested tissues, but restoratively in favor of their proper, healthy function. If these conditions are not present in the mucous membranes, I don't see any reason to use it for other organs/systems/uses. As a topical, on the skin or the nasal mucous membranes, I think there's more leeway.

For reasons I understand little, applying Goldenseal tincture topically over an injured spinal disc seems to help strengthen it. Very small doses of the tincture taken internally appear to work as well.

Contraindications and considerations...
If Goldenseal is used as soon as a person feels a cold coming on, it will suppress the healthy production of mucous. This effectively suppresses the immune system, since healthy mucous is a very important part of the bodies immune response. For example, taking Goldenseal at the first sign or a runny nose may make the runny nose go away, but it stops the body's vital response to an infection, and can result in a chronic, low grade infection instead of a more vigorous acute infection. So, although it seems like the Goldenseal stopped the cold in its tracks, it actually stopped the immune response, and may potentially allow the infection to get a more tenacious foothold in the mucous membranes.

This is why it makes no sense at all to use Echinacea and Goldenseal together - Echinacea needs to be taken at the first sign of infection, while Goldenseal should not be.

Large doses of Goldenseal (frequent or long term 30 drop doses of tincture or liberal use of goldenseal capsules) can overtonify tissues, drying them out and inhibiting proper function.

Sambucus nigra, S. canadense

Both the flowers and berries are used, to help with colds, flus and fevers, though they do so differently. The berries are rich in antioxidant bioflavinoids, and are antiviral. The flowers aid the body's natural defenses and responses to infection by improving peripheral circulation and lessening resistance (often manifested as chills or tension) in the periphery of the body.

Best forms to use...
Tea: a simple tea of a tablespoonish of dried elderflowers to a mug of water, drunk while hot.

Au Natural: eat the dried berries as is.  Fresh berries may cuase GI upset, and in some, large quantities of dried berries may do the same.
Tea: a tea of a tablespoonish of dried elderberries to a mug of water
Tincture: a tincture of the berries can be helpful. Take 10-30 drops 3-5x daily during a cold or flu
Syrup: A syrup of the berries is divine and very effective. Take a tablespoonish every hour or so during a cold/flu/fever. This is my preferred method of using Elderberry.

Indications for its use...
` for pretty much any cold/flu/fever with runny nose, congestion, and a sense of tension, constriction and/or chills in the periphery of the body. Suitable (ideal, really) for small children and frail elders alike. Be sure to drink the tea hot.

` Specific to viral infections and influenza. Elderberry inhibits the ability of a virus to break into out cells and make copies or itself. Though viruses mutate year after year, the mechanism that they use to break into our cells often remains the same, and so Elderberry does not lose its efficacy due to viral mutation.
` Stimulates white blood cell production, similar to Echinacea
` Rich in bioflavinoids & provides excellent antioxidant activity, helping to reduce tissue inflammation

Contraindications and considerations...
Infants can be given Elderflower and Elderberry, but avoid honey based Elderberry Syrup in children under 1 year.

The leaves, bark and roots or Elderberry are purgative/cathartic, and can cause rather dramatic evacuation from one end of the body or the other. Avoid them.

St. John’s Wort

Hypericum perforatum
While St. John’s Wort is widely marketed as an herbal antidepressant, this is really an incorrect means of understanding its action on mood. Most antidepressants work by inhibiting body processes such as monoamine oxidase (MAOIs) or the re-uptake of serotonin (SSRIs). Though several modes of action of St. John’s Wort have been investigated, no one really understands how it works. What it will not do, though, is end depression without the inclusion of appropriate changes in lifestyle. St. John’s Wort isn’t like a drug, which forces the body to do or not do something; rather, it acts to uplift the spirit and mood, giving a person an impetus to get to implementing the changes in their life they need to make to get back on track. We can therefore see it as an herb that is indicated when life throws a person a curve ball, which leaves them off balance and seemingly unable to get back to themselves. While it may be helpful in more severe cases of depression, you can’t just take it and feel better.

St. John’s Wort is rarely lauded enough for its highly impressive action of nervous system tissues and injuries. When injuries to the nerves are involved, it is often among the most beneficial and broadly acting herbs available. It is appropriate for conditions ranging from sciatica to atrophy of nervous tissue, and also often relieves the pain of sore muscles.

St. John’s Wort is antimicrobial, and effective topically against some strains of bacteria, including staph. It has been used to address burns.

Best forms to use...
St. John’s Wort is most effective for internal use when taken as a tincture of the fresh flowers and uppermost leaves of the plant, or as tea if the herb was recently dried, then stored immediately in glass away from light and heat. Most commercial products contain absolutely dreadful quality St. John’s Wort. Though it is often claimed that “standardization ensures quality”, I feel that standardized St. John’s Wort is far less effective than simple fresh plant tinctures, and also that they markedly increase the risk of herb-drug interactions. The notion that there is one “active ingredient” (usually Hypericin) that should be standardized is a flawed assumption.

Infusion: Very recently dried St. John’s Wort can be drunk as a tea by covering the herb with water just off the boil. The ratio of herb to water is highly individualized among people who use it. Some use a tablespoon or two in a mug of water, other use an ounce of the dried herb per quart of boiling water, as described under Echinacea.
Tincture (liquid extract): Take between 5 and 15 drops 3-5x daily. It is best to start at the smaller doe and frequency, then increase as need indicates.
Capsules: I would never use or recommend St. John’s Wort capsules.
Topical: Fresh St. John’s Wort infused in oil is appropriate for sore muscles, nerve pain and/or joint injuries; it makes an excellent massage oil or balm for overexerted muscles. It can also be used for damp, septic infections (cat scratches/infected piercings) and burns. St. John’s Wort is specific for addressing sunburn, and can even be used as sunscreen. It has been used for radiation burns related to cancer treatment.

Indications for its use...
` Situational depression. A person lost a job, a relationship failed, or some other life situation has thrown them into a funk they just can’t seem to shake.
` Nerve pain, characterized by numbness/tingling/shooting and/or searing pain. Sciatica.
` Inflammation of nerve tissue.
` Sore/tender/injured/overexerted muscles/joints.
` Some skin infections, such as cat scratched, infected piercings.
` Burns, including sunburn and radiation burns.

` "St. John's Wort is very specific for viral infections of the nerves such as herpes. It can both prevent herpes outbreaks, stop herpes outbreaks (when taken aggressively at the beginning) and shorten the duration of a herpes outbreak." ~ sayeth Rosalee de la ForÍt

Contraindications and considerations...
St. John’s Wort has been shown to interact with certain medications; specifically those metabolized by the cytochrome P450 pathway in the liver. The nature of the interaction is that St. John’s Wort hastens the detoxification of drugs processed via this pathway, and clears them more rapidly from the body. If, for example, a person is using immunosuppressive drugs because of an organ transplant or the “drug cocktails” used to treat HIV/AIDS, clearance of these medicines before the next dose is taken can be very dangerous.

While most of the research done on this interaction has used standardized products and there is room for debate over whether small doses of tincture are likely to pose hazards, it is best to be very cautious, and to avoid the potential for interactions when the drugs the person is using are vital to their health/life. That said, some people say that St. John’s Wort should not be used with any medications, and this is just incorrect. Specific information on this topic can be researched by visiting my article index and scrolling all the way down to the “cautions/contraindications/drug interactions” heading.

Also, many people want to use St. John’s Wort to replace prescription antidepressants. While this may be an effective strategy or worthwhile consideration, it must be noted that it can be very dangerous to abruptly discontinue prescription antidepressants. SSRIs in particular have serious withdrawal symptoms that can cause severe depression and potentially suicidal inclinations. The discontinuation of any prescription medication merits the oversight of a qualified medical practitioner. Because of the drug clearance issues mentioned above, St. John’s Wort should only be used with prescription antidepressants if this potential is looked into.

Though it is claimed that increased sensitivity to sunlight is a side effect to beware of, this assertion is founded in its effects on cattle who graze upon the plant in large quantities. Problems actually affecting people are rare, and have been difficult to objectively quantify.

Again, I would avoid all standardized products.

© jim mcdonald

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