Should you self-prescribe medicinal herbs?

by Preston Brady III, 2023

The easiest and safest answer is no.

The study of herbalism is very complex. But it can be summarized for the layperson in a sentence that applies to the study or habits of almost anything: Too much of almost anything, can harm you. Even too much love has it’s fatal attractions (a different blog, another time.) When it comes to herbs though, the first word of caution has it’s foundation in common sense: moderation. Someone who drinks 10 cups of rosemary tea a day could get sick. Some people could be allergic to rosemary, or hibiscus. Blood pressure is a major concern of a lot of people – and not only older people. A peanut allergy is far more common than say a rosemary allergy. I don’t know anyone allergic to rosemary or hibiscus, but hibiscus, like hollyhocks contains tannins and some people are allergic to tannins. Tannins are found in coffee, tea, wine, chocolate, but usually in moderation. Acorns are packed with tannins. Squirrels can eat them with no problem but if we want to consume acorns we will have to extract most of the tannin. Too much tannin is harmful. Back before we were here ,wherever there were oak trees Native Americans consumed acorns – it was a main ingredient in their diet.

The big disclaimer is ask your doctor before self-prescribing herbal remedies or supplements. Your doctor may not know if you will be harmed by, say, consumption of turmeric and ginger tea, but they may advise against it if you are taking certain medications. A common sense approach would be if you are on medications, even antibiotics, you probably do not want to throw herbal medication into the mix. Let the antibiotic do what it is supposed to do. You should not need anything else to alleviate the infection. If you do, your doctor will likely provide that advise. Some herbs are said to have antibiotic qualities, but researchers are only beginning to understand this subject.

An example of a moment when it seems okay to self-prescribe: you are nauseous. You think a cup of fresh ginger tea might help. You make yourself one cup of tea. Unless you are allergic to ginger, this scenario should be fine. Or, you are feeling restless and it’s getting close to bedtime. You make yourself a cup of chamomile tea. While it may not seem like you are self-prescribing herbs – after all you are just having a cup of tea – you are in fact playing doctor for yourself, and in these two cases it seems fine. Notice I said one cup of tea. If the remedy is going to work – and sometimes they don’t – then a small amount of the herb should fix the problem. In case you are interested in buying some herbal tea, Amazon offers a variety you may find useful.

There are a variety of exotic Chinese herbs that are used far more for medical purposes than casual consumption. This is where you should definitely exercise care and caution, especially if you are delving into herbal names you’ve never heard of, and the herb is found only in a remote part of Tibet during a certain month of the year. Ginseng is a common herb most of us have heard of and perhaps taken. There are a number of varieties including Chinese, Korean, and American Ginseng. Some people take ginseng for energy. But again, like everything if it is taken it should be so in moderation. Surprisingly, herbal medicine has not really found it’s way into mainstream modern medicine. The reasons given are lack of scientific research and the accessibility of herbs to the public and possible consequences. However, it should be noted that aspirin is derived from willow bark and we know morphine along with codeine come from the opium poppy plant. Meanwhile, I have just had a small cup of fresh turmeric and ginger tea. I had a crick in my neck and decided a few days ago to have one small cup of this tea in the morning, after coffee. The muscle stiffness seems to have subsided, but then again I also worked in the herb garden for several hours yesterday, pulling weeds, digging dirt, working that wheel barrow up and down the hill. One might think that could cause more muscle aches but it didn’t, and I feel better today. Was it the tea or the exercise, or a combination of both? If you know the answer to that question why are you still sitting there reading this? You should be at the bank cashing your billion dollar check.

Tea strainer hanging near a baby persimmon tree,, 2023

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