We can all agree that taking chemicals to cure sickness should only be done when absolutely necessary. Herbal remedies can cure many, many illnesses, aches and pains. Common sense and knowledge is key. Some guidelines are:
Know the plant. Proper plant identification is crucial — there is no room for carelessness or guessing games. Fennel is a common medicinal herb, and closely related species such as parsley, celery, dill, cilantro and lovage have a long history of medicinal use as well. But two members of this family are deadly poisonous — water hemlock and poison hemlock — and mistakes with these look-alikes can be fatal. This sounds scary, but we need simply to practice the same common sense we use when instructing our children about any hazardous plant in their environment — whether poison ivy, jimsonweed or lily-of-the-valley.
Know the part to be used. It may be that one part of a traditional medicinal plant is safe to use, while others are off limits. For example, elderberry flowers and berries are safe for the beginner to use (to make medicines for flu and fever), but the bark can have toxic effects.
Know the application. Some plants that can be seriously toxic if taken internally can be safely used externally. An excellent example is foxglove (digitalis), which can be fatal if ingested, but can be used to make a fomentation to promote wound healing.
Know the dosage. It should never be assumed that “if a little is good, a little more is even better.” Indeed, James Green observes that small doses of German chamomile can provide positive effects for the nervous system that larger doses cannot duplicate. In some cases, the possibility of side effects or toxicity goes up with increasing dosage. Remember that dosage is keyed to body weight as well, so special care must be taken when administering herbal medicines to children.
Know potential side effects. Though unwelcome side effects are much less common in herbal medicine than in pharmaceuticals, it is wise to “read and heed” herbal literature to minimize possible side effects. For example, herbals high in tannins — such as yellow dock (a liver stimulant and laxative) — can be a problem for individuals with a history of kidney stones.
Remember individual sensitivities. An individual might have an allergic reaction to a medicinal plant safely used by others. When beginning use of a medicinal herb (just as when trying a new food) start with a reduced amount and work up to a normal dose.
Be aware of restrictions on use. Some herbs safe to use by the general patient may not be appropriate for children or the elderly. Most importantly, pregnant women should always be considered a special case. With regard to any plant medicine, the responsible herbalist will consider the issue of safe use during pregnancy and will err on the side of caution. Some herbs such as black cohosh, comfrey, goldenseal, mugwort and yarrow should be avoided entirely by pregnant women. Others such as cayenne and ginger might be used, but very sparingly.
Recognize the limits of your own expertise. There are many herbs that are easy and safe for the beginner to use. A good place to start is with herbs commonly used as food and in teas. Others require far greater experience, knowledge and skill. In the case of elderberry bark, mentioned above, it actually is used medicinally, even for internal applications. However, it is strong medicine indeed and should be used only by those who know what they are doing. The rest of us should stick with the more user-friendly plants and applications and seek out a reliable teacher if we want to advance.
And the most obvious common sense advice: Be careful using herbal medicine on children or pets and don’t use herbs for something that truly needs medical attention. If your child has a high fever, uncontrolled coughing or any other serious symptom, take him to the doctor. We all remember the sad recent case of the vegan baby who developed pneumonia and was treated with folk medicine instead of being taken to the hospital. She died. People have been using herbal remedies for centuries but don’t forget how often people still died of things we can cure very easily now. It’s about finding a balance.
Most pioneers brought with them to their new homes a wealth of old family cures; some included medicine, first aid supplies and even The Lost Book Of Remedies in their effects.
As more and more settlers arrived in Saskatchewan bringing their traditional home remedies with them, people shared their remedies and knowledge with their neighbours until they became common knowledge.
Old west remedies developed on the western frontier, because the closest “Sawbones” could be over 100 miles away. Our pioneer great-great grandmothers had to have a vast knowledge of old west hand me down cures and homes remedies.
Take a look at this collection The Lost Book Of Remedies, taken word for word out of a circa 1845 manual.
Dissolve as much table salt in pure vinegar as will ferment and work clear. When the foam is discharged cork it up in a bottle, and put it away for use. A large spoonful of this in a gill of boiling water is efficacious in cases of dysentery and cholic.
The plant, commonly called hoarhound, is said to afford a certain cure. Boil it in water, and drink freely of the tea.
SORE THROAT, DIPTHERIA OR SCARLET FEVER
Mix in a common size cup of fresh milk two teaspoonfuls of pulverized charcoal and ten drops of spirits of turpentine. Soften the charcoal with a few drops of milk before putting into the cup. Gargle frequently, according to the violence of the symptoms.
Take the leaves of the stramonium (or Jamestown weed,) dried in the shade, saturated with a pretty strong solution of salt petre, and smoke it so as to inhale the fumes. It may strangle at first if taken too freely, but it will loosen the phlegm in the lungs. The leaves should be gathered before frost.
If a child is taken with croup apply cold water suddenly and freely to the neck and chest with a sponge or towel. The breathing will instantly be relieved, then wipe it dry, cover it up warm, and soon a quiet slumber will relieve the parent’s anxiety.
A TROUBLESOME COUGH
Take of treacle and the best white wine vinegar six tablespoonfuls each, add forty drops of laudanum, mix it well, and put into a bottle. A teaspoonful to be taken occasionally when the cough is troublesome. The mixture will be found efficacious without the laudanum in many cases.
A SICK HEADACHE
One teaspoonful of pulverized charcoal and one-third of a teaspoonful of soda mixed in very warm water.
Powdered alum will not only relieve the toothache, but prevent the decay of the tooth. Salt may advantageously be mixed with the alum.
Wheat flour and cold water, mixed to the consistency of soft paste, is an almost instantaneous cure for a burn. Renew before the first gets dry so as to stick.
Take iodide of potassium, sixty grains, lard, two ounces, mix well, and after washing the body well with warm soap suds rub the ointment over the person three times a week. In seven or eight days the acarus or itch insect will be destroyed. In this recipe the horrible effects of the old sulphur ointment are obviated.
The Selma Reporter says: A poultice of onions, applied morning, noon and night for three or four days, will cure a felon. No matter how bad the case, splitting the finger will be unnecessary, if this poultice be used. We have seen it tried several times, and know that the remedy is a sure, safe and speedy one.
The cause of corns, and likewise the pain they occasion, is simply friction, and to lessen the friction you have only to use your toe as you do in like circumstances a coach wheel–lubricate it with some oily substance. The best thing to use is a little sweet oil rubbed on the affected part (after the corn is carefully pared) with the tip of the finger, which should be done on getting up in the morning, and just before stepping into bed at night. In a few days the pain will diminish, and in a few days more it will cease, when the nightly application may be discontinued.
Dissolve as much common washing soda as the water will take up, wash the warts with this for a minute or two, and let them dry without wiping. Keep the water in a bottle and repeat the washing often, and it will take away the largest of warts.
Sometimes the women experimented, mixing plants with household ingredients. A paste of oatmeal, linseed oil, buttermilk, and baking soda was concocted to ease insect bites or bee stings. Mud or clay mixed with turpentine, crushed chrysanthemum leaves, butter, and salt might also ease the pain of a bite. A paste made of turpentine and brown sugar was sometimes applied to stop bleeding.
Some of the pioneer remedies are still used today, but most have been replaced by new and more effective medicines. There were no hospitals for early pioneer families. Mothers had to rely on Heavenly Father and the plants of the land to care for their families.
Acerola– Has antioxidant, antifungal and astringent properties. Helps support the liver and hydrate the skin. Useful against diarrhea and fever.
Alfalfa– Alkalizes and detoxifies the body. Diuretic, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol reducer, hormonal balancer, antifungal. Enhances the function of the pituitary gland. Helpful for anemia and ulcers, and also disorders related to: bleeding, bones and joints, colon, digestive, skin.
Aloe Vera– Used topically, heals burns and wounds; stimulates cell regeneration; and. Has astringent, emollient, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral properties. Used internally, soothes stomach irritation, aids in healing, and has laxative properties.
Anise– Indicated for respiratory infections such as sinusitis. Combats infection and relieves mucus from air passages. Good digestion aid. Helpful during menopause. Increases milk production in nursing mothers.
Annatto– Diuretic, antioxident, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties. Helps protect the liver and kidneys. May reduce blood sugar levels. Good for indigestion, fever, coughs, burns, skin problems and weight loss.
Ashwagandha– Rejuvenates and energizes the nervous system. Helps prevent stress related disorders and stress related depletion of Vitamin C and cortisol. Increases physical endurance and improves sexual function. Has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects. (Has stimulated immune function in laboratory studies.)
Astragalus– Tonic to the immune, adrenal, and digestive system. Raises stamina and energy to fight fatigue. Stimulates metabolism, produces spontaneous sweating, promotes healing. Good for colds, flu, and immune-deficiency related problems, including AIDS, cancer, tumors as well as chronic lung weakness. If you have a fever, do not use.
Barberry– Reduces heart rate, breathing, bronchial constriction. Do not use if pregnant. Promotes intestinal movement. Kills bacteria on skin.
Bayberry– Indicated for circulatory disorders, fever, hypothyroidism, ulcers, eyes and immune system. Clears congestion, assists circulation, lowers fever. Astringent. Helps stop bleeding.
Bilberry– Helps control insulin levels. Diuretic. Antiseptic for the urinary tract. Indicated for: hypoglycemia, inflammation, stress, anxiety, night blindness, cataracts. Strengthens connective tissue. When taken internally can interfere with iron absorption.
Birch– Diuretic, anti-inflammatory, pain reliever. Helpful in joint pain and urinary tract infections. Used externally, good for boils and sores.
Black Cohosh– Indicated for: blood pressure, cholesterol, mucus production, cardiovascular & circulatory disorders, arthritis, poisonous snake bites, relieving hot flashes, menstrual cramps, morning sickness, pain. Induces labor and aids in childbirth, so should not be used during pregnancy until needed for delivery.
Black Walnut– Assists digestion and healing of mouth or throat sores. Cleanses the body of many parasites. Also indicated for bruising, fungal infection, herpes, poison ivy, and warts.
Blessed Thistle– Anti-inflammatory, circulatory aid, blood purifier, liver healer, and heart strengthener. Increases appetite and stomach secretions. Has been recommended as a brain food. Good for female disorders and increases milk flow for nursing mothers.
Blue Cohosh– Indicated for memory problems, menstrual disorders, nervous disorders, and muscle spasms. Helpful for childbirth as it stimulates uterine contractions. Do not use in first sixth months of pregnancy.
Boldo– Acts as a diuretic, laxative, antibiotic, liver tonic and anti-inflammatory. Aids in the excretion of uric acid and stimulates digestion.
Boneset– Laxative. Anti-inflammatory. Indicated for bronchitis and fever-induced aches and pains. Helps clear congestion, loosen phlegm, reduce fever, increase perspiration, and calm the body. Can become toxic with long-time use.
Borage– Tonic for adrenals. Balances glands. Contains valuable minerals and essential fatty acids helpful to cardiovascular function and healthy skin and nails.
Boswellia– Acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, antifungal and antibacterial. Topically used for pain relief. Lowers cholesterol and protects the liver. Useful for arthritis, gout, low back pain, myositis, and fibromyalgia. Helps repair blood vessels damaged by inflammation. Used as a remedy for obesity, diarrhea, dysentary, pulmonary diseases, ringworm and boils.
Buchu– Anti-inflammatory for the colon, gums, mucous membranes, prostate, sinuses, and vagina. Indicated for bladder and kidney problems, diabetes, digestive disorders, fluid retention, and prostate disorders. Particularly helpful for bladder infections.
Burdock– Blood purifier, restores liver and gallbladder function, stimulates immune system. Good for skin disorders (i.e. boils and carbuncles). Relieves gout symptoms.
Butcher’s Broom– Anti-inflammatory. Good for bladder, kidney, and circulatory disorders. Indicated for carpal tunnel syndrome, edema, Meniere’s disease, obesity, Raynaud’s phenomenon, thrombophlebitis, varicose veins, and vertigo.