Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains the complexities of herbs

Instead of a single chemical substance, a herbal remedy contains a broad spectrum of compounds, giving it multiple uses.

By Medical herbalist Nicola Parker
Thursday, 13th August 2020, 7:00 am

Herbs have more uses than as a garnish for your dinner

Herbs are beautifully complex. I dread the question “what does this herb do?” because while I know that the person asking me wants a simple answer, I also know I’m going to disappoint. I’ll take a breath, one that my colleagues have heard me take many times before, open my mouth and say, “well, that depends....”

In our society, medicine comes across as fairly straight forward when it comes to taking drugs. We can put them into clearly defined categories, like blood pressure medicines, antidepressants, pain killers, etc.

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Herbs

Herbs, on the other hand, are far more complicated. Instead of a single chemical substance, a herbal remedy contains a broad spectrum of compounds, giving it multiple uses. Some of the more recognised herbs are licensed or marketed for specific health conditions and as such, their other uses remain unknown.

So, if you’re interested in the secrets of our common herbal remedies, knowledge that is now slowly fading from public awareness thanks to clever marketing and licensing laws, this is the article for you.

Did you know that echinacea is a skin herb? Echinacea stands in the spotlight when it comes to fighting off colds and flu. It’s an immune booster and it’s licensed for use against the common cold.

Yet, traditionally, echinacea is used to treat the skin. The lymphatic and immune modulating actions of echinacea make it an excellent remedy for eczema, dermatitis and acne. I recommend huge doses of tincture for treating boils and to be honest, nothing makes me feel like a an olde worlde apothecary more than prescribing spoonfuls of echinacea tincture for a case of boils!

Medical herbalist Nicola Parker

Did you know that valerian is used for muscle pain? As a gentle sedative, it is marketed as a sleep remedy, to help restless insomniacs get a better night’s rest.

I use valerian more as a muscle relaxant than anything else. Since it helps with both stress and muscle relaxation, it’s ideal for pain related to muscular tension or high blood pressure caused by stress. In women, it can ease menstrual cramps and for IBS sufferers, it can relax the bowel and gut to reduce spasm and cramps. A very useful root, which is far more than just a simple sleep aid.

St John’s wort (pictured) for low mood? Yes, indeed it is. In fact, it’s possibly the most famous herbal antidepressant. It’s also fabulous for nerve pain. It can be applied topically as an oil or taken internally as a medicine.

I most commonly use it when helping people alleviate lingering pain from shingles, but it has the potential to relieve all sorts of neuropathy. It also increases the speed at which your liver detoxes a number of different chemicals and compounds, including medication. For this reason, you should always check with a herbalist before taking St John’s wort if you’re on medication, or stick to the topical oil instead.

Milk thistle is famous for it’s effect on the liver. It helps protect liver cells from various toxic substances that we’re exposed to, from a glass of wine, to road pollution, to heavy duty medications. Since it protects the liver, this means it can be useful when treating any problem that requires the liver to up its game.

Digestive issues like bloating? Support the liver. High cholesterol? Support the liver. Want to lose weight by improving fat breakdown? Support the liver. The liver has a huge range of functions, meaning I’ve suggested milk thistle for just as many conditions. Due to it’s versatility, it’s probably one of the herbs that I order in the most out of my over the counter remedies.

So many herbs get boxed into categories that are far too narrow to do them justice. If you’re considering trying a herbal remedy, avoid the trap of picking up an attractive box bearing a clever advertisement.

Ask a herbalist in your local health food store or pharmacy and take a bit of time to explain your problem. You may find that they have something far more appropriate for your treatment goals and as an added bonus, we get to spread the knowledge that might otherwise become lost.

For more information on using herbal remedies, or to make an appointment with Nicola, call her clinic on 01524 413733.