Toxicity and Herbs
By: Stephanie Burgess [Tephyr], Co-Creative Gardener
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(For educational information only. No parts of this document are to be taken as diagnosis or prescription for any illness. See your Healthcare Practitioner for any personal health concerns).
In the classes I teach, I find one of the things that seems to worry people a lot is how easy is it to poison oneself. The answer is both rather difficult and quite easy. It depends greatly on not so much as what herb it is but how much of that herb you are taking. I don't know who said it first but a good rule of thumb to remember is:
" There are no poisonous herbs. Only poisonous dosages."
Even deadly poisonous herbs, in minute dosages, are used to heal. Homeopathic medicines are so minute you can't detect any of it's chemical constituents in analysis and yet they are widely reported to be extremely beneficial (in double blind studies). This is not to say that you should go out and take tiny nibbles of known poisonous herbs because it is said to be beneficial: leave this up to a professional Healthcare Practitioner! The most widely known example is Digitalis: small doses are said to be good for many heart conditions, while a larger dose will stop the heart. And so, the opposite is true that large doses of innocuous herbs can do a great deal of damage. Anything taken regularly over a long period of time is stored in the body and could create a condition of toxicity.
The best way for the user to protect themselves is to first educate themselves before they consume anything. This can be done by studying the many herbals available today, taking courses and classes by the many Herbalists, Natural Healthcare Practitioners and schools of natural healing. And second remember: All Things in Moderation. Even that cup of chamomile tea at bedtime can be causing you problems, especially if you find you can't get to sleep without it. Different Herbalists and Healthcare Practitioners have different "formulas" to avoid toxicity. Some say to leave one day a week where you don't take whatever herb you are using. Others say a week a month. Still others a month every six months. It depends on the Practitioner's opinion, the herb in question and the illness or condition being treated. However, this is often abandoned in the case of serious, long term illness. Again, ask your Practitioner their opinion.
A good example of too much of a good thing is a story of one family and Echinacea. Echinacea is reported to be a very useful immune system "booster". I noticed this family was buying a lot of Echinacea, quite a lot: tincture, capsules and tea, purchased on a regular basis for several months I finally asked "What are you doing with all that Echinacea?". They felt that was a stupid question: They were taking it of course. I tried to convince them if they were consuming that much of this herb they were tempting disaster. Echinacea is not a tonic herb: that is an herb that "feeds the system". Basically, it is a stimulant: an immune system stimulant and if you take too much too long you over stimulate and then you "crash". They didn't listen and sure enough they started a cycle of constant illness. One flu, cold or virus after another; if it was going around, they caught it or couldn't get rid of it once they had it. Their immune systems had been sorely tried and compromised from constant stimulation. Finally, they listened and stopped taking the herb and built their immune systems strength back up, mostly with rest, gentle exercise, plenty of fresh water and a good diet; which is one of the best ways to keep your immune system and general health going anyway. Echinacea is said to do wonders for various illnesses and their symptoms with short term immune system stimulation. It should never be taken over the long term (general reports are regular daily use over several weeks is safe). If you are considering using herbs for your family's health this is definitely one you should look into and educate yourself about. This family was actually lucky in that what they did was repairable, though it did take almost six months before they felt all of them were back to normal.
One last bit of advice before you take an herb for the first time is to start very slowly. Always take smaller doses in the beginning just in case you have one of the rare allergies to whatever herb it is. For example, if you know you are allergic to one plant, check what family it is in and be cautious with other members in that family. You may or may not have a similar reaction, so if you need to take a similar herb, proceed with caution; start with small doses.
With education and common sense you should be able to use herbs for you and your family's health safely. Not only are herbs beautiful, abundant and mostly inexpensive they are also effective.
Also by Stephanie Burgess: Root Harvesting, Getting Kids to Take Herbs, Herbal Consumers
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