Day 5: Herbal Safety 101
Welcome to Day 5 of the #40DayHerbalist Challenge! Today’s topic is Herbal Safety 101, and today we will examine the basics of working with herbs safely.
Time Needed: 20- 30 minutes
Supplies: Pens/Pencils, Notebook
There is a common misconception that simply because all herbs are natural, all herbs must be safe for everyone in every situation. The truth is more nuanced, so let’s spend today’s Challenge looking at five rules that will guide you toward safety while using herbs.
5 Herbal Safety Topics
Always research the suggested serving size for any herb you plan to use. This information should be easy to find in herb books that feature profiles about individual herbs (also known as monographs). Knowing the length of time an herb can be used before you should take a break is important, too. It can be helpful to learn the Herbal Safety Scale so that you know the categories of use and their timeframes. These times can vary from safe, food-like herbs that can be used daily, to herbs that can only be used in very small amounts for a few days at a time.
Potential Herb/Drug Interactions
Err on the side of caution when it comes to potential herb/drug interactions. Herbs can have an influence on how quickly your body flushes prescription drugs out of your system, make make a drug act more strongly in your body, or interfere with what the drug is meant to accomplish. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done in this area, but a good reference book that you borrow from your local library can help you start a discussion with your doctor or pharmacist.
If you have any known allergies to pollen or plants of any kind, it’s a good idea to research what herbs are in the same family. You could have a cross reaction! Mountain Rose Herbs has an excellent article on this topic that can be found here.
Know what parts of the plant can be used. Elder is my favorite example here. Flowers and berries are fine to use (although raw berries may give you an upset stomach), but the leaves are only safe for topical use. The roots and bark aren’t safe for internal use.
Research precautions before you begin using a new herb for the first time. Some herbs shouldn’t be used during pregnancy, and others aren’t safe for children. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it may be best to avoid some herbs even though other herbs might be perfectly fine for you.
One of the best ways to learn herbal safety is to devote a portion of your reading and study time to individual herbs. Later on, we will spend a day of the Challenge looking at ways to do just that, including how to make your own materia medica (a type of research and reference tool that contains many individual herbal profiles). Herbal Academy is also offering free enrollment for the brand new Materia Medica Herbal Course, so by all means - go sign up! You can read more about that in the More Fun section below.
For now, it's time for your daily Mission!
Take a few minutes to evaluate your own situation, and if you like, create additional profile for any family members who may also be interested in learning about or using herbs with you.
Each profile should contain the following three sections:
Pre-existing medical conditions
List anything unique to you that belongs in each category, and dedicate a little of your time over the weekend to search through your herbal books or online to see what herbal safety information you can uncover that will be helpful for your particular situation.
Also, plan for a day to visit your local library this weekend or sometime next week. Find out if they have any of these references:
Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 3rd edition
The Essential Herb, Drug, Vitamin Interaction Guide
Herb, Nutrient, and Drug Interactions: Clinical Implications
PDR for Herbal Medicines
A librarian should be able to help you borrow a copy through the Interlibrary Loan program if they don’t have a copy in-house. In some cases it will be free to place a request through ILL; at other libraries you may need to pay a few dollars to place the hold.
The idea is to become familiar with how these reference books are organized so that you will know where to go when you have questions later. Knowing where to find good information is half the battle!
Enjoy your weekend, and be ready for Day 6 of the Challenge on Monday! The focus next week is on how to set up an organized home apothecary + gathering the ingredients you will need for Week 3 of the Challenge.
All the best,
Agatha is the author of the popular new herbal recipe book, Adaptogens: Your Guide to Radiant Health!
Herbal Safety with Herbal Academy
The Herbal Academy is offering FREE enrollment for their new Materia Medica Course this month, and Lesson 5 is all about Herb Safety and Dosage! Learn more and sign up here.