When we start out learning about anything new, we always need to consider the safety aspects. This is especially true when it comes to things we are using internally and on our families. So before you consider starting to make herbal remedies you need to understand herbal safety.
Herbs, in the large part, are safe to use and our ancestors regularly used them for medicinal purposes but as with anything you need to know what you are doing.
There are many plants out there that are poisonous to humans, this is why it is always best to start slowly and learn deeply before you try anything new.
Food Herbs – a safe place to start
The best place to start to use herbs is the herbs we use in cooking. Each of these herbs has a specific benefit when ingested. Good ones include garlic, ginger, and shiitake mushrooms. Add to these foraged greens like dandelion leaves and nettles as well as rosehips to build up your confidence.
Culinary herbs are also a great way to start. Many of these have health benefits as well as helping make your food taste better. Think about using turmeric, thyme and oregano.
Applying herbs externally using poultice, salves and compresses is another good idea to help you understand and learn the benefits of certain herbs.
Herb Quality – know where you’re getting them from
When starting out, it is best to buy your herbs and other ingredients from reputable herbal shops. You can start foraging for things like lavender, nettles and dandelion leaves and gradually progress once you know what you are looking for.
There are many plants that look very similar but are actually toxic so unless you really know your plants, I would recommend finding either a local herbal shop or look online.
That way, at least you know that what you are buying is the herb you want to be using and not something that is going to make you ill.
If you are unsure of what to look for when buying herbs from an online site, do the usual safety checks. See if there are any industry related approval marks on the website. Check out reviews and search the internet to see what other’s have said.
Allergies – be careful
Simon Mills, an internationally known herbal authority and coauthor of The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety (Elsevier, 2005), says, “Allergic reactions are the most common type of herbal side effect although still infrequent.”
If you already have allergies, be careful as you are already sensitive to certain things and are more likely to react to herbs.
Sensitive people can react to handling herbs and applying them to their skin can develop contact dermatitis, an itchy skin rash. If you suffer from asthma or hay fever, inhaling herbs may aggregate this. Also, you could have an allergic response to ingesting herbs such as stomach upset, skin rash or at the very extreme anaphylaxis.
If you know you are allergic to one plant, then you will possibly find you are allergic to the other members of that plant family.
“If you are prone to allergic reactions, be careful with your herbal attempts,” Mills says. Try one herb at a time and start with the lowest recommended dose and work your way up.
If you are already taking prescription drugs then you need to proceed with caution when looking at adding herbal remedies into your lifestyle. There are two reasons why, interfering with the drugs affects and amplifying the drug’s effects.
Herbs could interfere with the drug’s effects and cause it to act differently. One example is drinking 3 cups of stimulating coffee or black tea after taking Valium. Herbs can also lower blood levels, St John’s Wort is well known for doing this and as it speeds up the liver enzyme system that breaks down drugs. Therefore you should not be using St John’s Wort when taking pharmaceutical antidepressants, on chemotherapy, using anti-HIX drugs, warfarin, some antihistamines and oral contraceptives.
Combining herbs and drugs that have a similar action can increase the effects of the drug or increase the side effects of that drug. Avoid using drugs and herbs that have similar actions.
And always as your Doctor before adding anything new into your diet or routine.
Herbs and Children
Babies under 6 months should not be taking herbs internally. You can apply small amounts to the skin using oils, salves, compresses or baths. Be careful and research which herbs are safe to use on babies.
Older children can use more, the dosages are usually calculated by weight. Take the child’s weight in pounds, divide it by 150 (average adults weight) then multiply with by the adult dose.
There are many herbs you can use on children but there are also some that adults can use but children can’t. To find out more ask an expert or get a good book.
Pregnancy, Nursing and Herbs
As many plant constituents pass through the intestinal tract into the blood and across the placenta to the fetus’s blood and later on into the breast milk, it is advised that you don’t use anything medicinal whilst pregnant or lactating.
Food herbs are fine when used as a flavouring. Always check with an expert or medic before trying anything new when you are expecting.
We can’t talk about herbal safety without mentioning essential oils. These have their own set of guidelines which you can find out more about in Essential Oils – What you need to know.
Herbal Safety – the main thing to remember
Before you start anything new, always speak to your doctor, especially if you are already taking prescription drugs.