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Natural Awakenings

Healthful Herbs: The People’s Medicine

Apr 01, 2009 03:00AM ● By Susan DeSantis

Herbs, whether prepared as extracts, infusions, compresses, poultices or tinctures, are ancient remedies garnering new public favor. A recent National Health Interview Survey by University of Iowa researchers indicates that some 38 million U.S. adults had used natural herbs or supplements during the 12-month period researched.

Relied upon for thousands of years to restore and maintain health, herbs perform several functions that help the body heal itself. They cleanse, strengthen and normalize the glands and bodily functions; provide nutrition; raise energy levels; and stimulate the immune system. High in vitamins and minerals, as well as many plant-derived chemical compounds known as phytochemicals, herbs can be compared with food, because they nourish the body and help it thrive.According to Michael Tierra, a doctor of Oriental medicine, clinical herbalist/acupuncturist, founder of the American Herbalist Guild and author of The Way of Herbs, “Most modern pharmaceuticals are based on chemical constituents that were at one time isolated from the traditionally used herbs. Today, herbs serve as the basis for at least 25 percent of all pharmaceutical drugs.” As just one example, the anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving phytochemicals contained in the leaves of the white willow tree are synthetically produced in the common, over-the-counter remedy, aspirin.

“Herbs have long been considered the people’s first choice of medicine, and they generally work better in combinations,” says world-renowned herbalist and author, Rosemary Gladstar, co-founder of Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center and Botanical Sanctuary, in Vermont. She explains that, unlike allopathic medicine’s release of drugs into the human system as “single silver bullets,” which can create havoc in the body, herbal formulas contain a mixture of herbs, acknowledging that a single herb may have an effect that is too strong or a set of effects is desired that no one herb can provide.

“This makes sense,” says Gladstar, “since humanity has co-evolved with plants. Plants and people are interrelated, just like our body parts and the symptoms that we experience.” She notes that this means several herbs are usually needed to affect each aspect of a health challenge, although there are exceptions where a single herb is used for a particular condition.

“To restore health, herbal therapies generally require the consumption of herbs over an extended period of time,” advises Master Herbalist James Occhiogrosso, of Estero, Florida. “In fact, it is important to continue the treatment beyond the point where the symptoms have vanished, to return strength and vitality to the deepest levels.”

A general rule of thumb, cited by Occhiogrosso, is that herbs need to be taken for a minimum of three months, plus one month for every year that the problem has existed. “This is because herbs, which treat the source of the problem, rather than just the symptoms, are more gentle-acting than pharmaceuticals,” he explains.

Occhiogrosso makes a point to educate his clients about the herbs they choose. “Since herbs are becoming so popular and people are seeing them advertised on television, in magazines and on the Internet,” he notes, “education and understanding are essential.”

Some herbs conflict with prescriptive medicines, so it is vital that people are aware of the dangers. That’s why consulting a knowledgeable herbalist is a necessity.

Occhiogrosso highlights, as a common example, the allopathic drug, Coumadin, prescribed as a blood thinner. Some herbs also contain blood-thinning properties and should not be used by individuals taking Coumadin. “Even allopathic practitioners have to educate themselves about herbs,” he advises.

“Herbs are inexpensive and readily available,” observes Gladstar. “As the people’s medicine, the wisdom inherent in the plants continues to be passed down in the community, from one generation to the next.”

Licensing laws for recommending herbs vary from state to state; for
additional information, visit For more information on herbs see

To connect with Rosemary Gladstar, visit

Contact Michael Tierra at

Call James Occhiogrosso, natural health practitioner, at 239-498-1547.

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