This post was originally published on August 18, 2011. Although our traveling “medicine” kit is big enough to sink a ship and full of things like herbal tinctures, essential oils, clay, arnica cream, and all sorts of other goodies, I am sorely missing my drawer full of dried herbs back home. Using them for homemade medicinal teas, baths, tinctures, steams, and poultices always made me feel that I had almost everything I needed for treating sicknesses or ailments right at my fingertips. Of course, I can still find fresh herbs like garlic, onion, fresh peppermint, ginger, etc. even as we travel, but there’s nothing like having a stock of dried herbs and learning how to use them for your family. This post I wrote a couple summers ago will give you a glimpse into the herbs I like to keep around and what I use them for. I’d love to hear about how you use herbs in the comments!
Herbs fascinate me.
These timeless plants have been used by various healers over thousands of years in order to treat symptoms, ease discomfort, improve mood or mental function, fight infection, and so much more. It seems to me that many Christians steer away from herbalism, using conventional medicine instead.
I have come to appreciate herbs, though, as a gentle healing gift from God. Every time we drive down to the town of Lynden, WA, I notice that sign from the herbal supplement company Flora, that “For every disease we know, God provides a herb to grow”. Whether that is actually true or not, I have no idea, but I do know that the more I study the plants in Creation and the medicinal properties that they have, the more I am in awe of the One who made them and gave them to us.
Just an Amateur
I am certainly not a herbalist. Far from it. At present, I am simply a woman who enjoys studying and learning about the history and practical uses of herbs, for use within our own family.
About a month ago, I mentioned casually on Facebook that I had been organizing my dried herbs in a drawer (and you’ll see what a joke the word “organizing” really was down below) and was amazed to realize how many I had accumulated over the past couple of years of casual study. Readers were instantly interested and curious to know exactly what herbs I do use and what it is that I do with them.
So, with the full disclosure that I am not a medical professional of any sort, nor a trained herbalist, I would love to share with you what this amateur herb-loving mama uses.
Herbs in My Home and What I Use Them For
Chamomile (top image): This is a favorite for making relaxing teas, especially for children who are restless at night or for those who are sick and weary. It’s wonderful just steeped on its own, or combined with other soothing herbs.
Catnip: Strange as it sounds, I love using catnip! This herb is particularly relaxing and calming. I have used it in a post-partum tea for myself, when I was struggling with anxiety and mild depression. It also works wonders as a weakly brewed tea to be given to a colicky, fussy baby. I definitely noticed the calming effect it had on both myself and my last baby (and it seemed to soothe her tummy as well).
Yarrow: I bought yarrow a couple of years ago with big plans for using it (mostly based on this book, that I have yet to get my hands on inexpensively). I wanted it for digestive help, for boosting the immune system, and for help with balancing hormones. It unfortunately has ended up as one that I haven’t become as experienced with as I would like, although I did add it to a potent immune-boosting, anti-flu tea that I made for myself a year or two ago. I have read that it is useful for cuts and infections in wounds, although I tend to run to comfrey for that purpose instead.
Comfrey: This is my herb of choice when there is a need for external healing. I make poultices with comfrey to place on strained or swollen muscles, on scraped knees, on cuts, on rashes, etc. Basically, any need for skin or tissue healing. It’s also great in baths for soaking in, depending on where the injury or need for healing is. I also added it to the oat and clay baths that my children soaked in while they had chicken pox this spring, to help encourage faster healing of the sores.
Dandelion: Harvested from my own yard, dandelion leaves are mildly detoxifying, and strengthening for the liver. They are also nutritious, but you need to keep in mind their detoxifying effect. Much more potent is the dandelion root, often used in teas intended for specific times of cleansing or detoxification. The leaves and flowers can also be used fresh, as a nutritious form of “weed control”!
Red Raspberry Leaf: This herb is wonderful in teas for women, as it is well known as a uterine toner and it contains high amounts of vitamin C. It can be used in a woman’s tea during any season of life, but if particularly helpful during pregnancy to prepare the uterus for labor and birth and help to reduce the possibility of complications like hemorrhage. Some swear by it during first trimester, but there are others who warn against it at that time. Personally, I like to use it more conservatively, starting with small amounts in my tea during second trimester and upping in to several cups per day during the third trimester. It is also wonderful in lactation tea after birth.
Mullein: This is a newer herb to me, but one that I found very useful this winter. Several members of our family kept battling a very deep cough that would just seem to go away, and then come back with a vengeance. I made a mullein steam by bringing half a pot of water to a boil, turning the heat off, and adding half a cup of dried mullein. Then we would take turns putting a towel over our head and breathing the steam from the pot in deeply. I really felt that it gave us a respite from the constant coughing and helped to clear up some of the deep phlegm. Afterwards, I would strain out the herbs and we would drink some of the remaining “tea”. I also added mullein to my honey and onion cough syrup this winter.
Marshmallow Root: Another herb that I added to my repertoire this winter, this one is also very helpful for coughs. I added it to my cough syrup as well, and used it in teas for those dealing with coughs and colds. It helps to soothe inflammation, which is what makes it so helpful for bronchial issues and for decreasing coughing fits.
Peppermint: Besides the fact that I just enjoy a good mint tea sometimes, I also use peppermint teas to aid in digestion. It’s helpful to sip on when you have indigestion, and can help with nausea.
Nettles: I use nettles for their nutrient density. They are bursting with many vitamins and minerals. This is an important ingredient in my homemade pregnancy nutrient tea (and yes, I will share this recipe shortly). There are many other uses of nettles which I am eager to learn, since my mother-in-law just moved in to a new home with massive amounts of nettle plants on the property!
Red Clover: I have used this herb in pregnancy nutrient teas, although I have recently read that there are conflicting ideas about whether it is safe in pregnancy or not. I’m continuing to do research on it and haven’t made a decision one way or the other yet.
Oat Straw: Another addition my pregnancy tea, oat straw is high in nutrients, especially minerals calcium, magnesium and silica. It also has a soothing, restful effect, making it a nice addition to any tea.
Ginger: This is a perfect warming, winter herb. One of my favorite ways to use powdered ginger is in a hot bath, when I am feeling flu-ish or have a fever and chills. It warms the body and helps to bring down a fever, and I find it helps me to relax enough to sleep better when I’m sick. I also add it to warm honey and lemon teas (and chamomile tea as well) for those who have colds or flus, as it helps to increase circulation, which in turns encourages a faster recovery. It is also good for decongesting, especially when you have a stuffed nose during a cold.
Burdock: This is one that I have only played around with a little bit. I bought some fresh, wild burdock root at a farmer’s market last summer, because I had learned that it was very helpful for detoxifying, especially for those with heavy metal concerns. I chopped and dried it myself and have added it to teas for the purpose of cleansing. But, it is strong and bitter tasting, so it’s a bit tough to get into the child that I wanted to give it to (or adults, for that matter!). I try to hide it amongst more pleasant tasting herbs and add some honey to make it go down easier.
Other Herb Resources I Find Helpful
I would like to purchase more books on herbs and how to use them for healing, but at this point in time I usually rely on Google searches and I try to look at many different articles and sources in order to weed out bad information. But, here are a few resources that I do actually use and find helpful:
10 Essential Herbs by Lalitha Thomas: This is unfortunately out of print, so you have to find used copies. My mother-in-law has one and I like to take peaks at it or borrow it when I can. This book is very practical. It only focuses on 10 herbs, but I found it so helpful and informative.
The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody: This is a great resource to have, although it isn’t as practical as I would like it to be. It includes a large number of herbs, including brief history, usages, and excellent pictures and diagrams. I go to it often for reference and to understand more about a herb, but it doesn’t help me as much with the “how” of using herbs.
Herbal Nurturing: This is an inexpensive ebook by Michele of Frugal Granola. She is not a certified herbalist, but she has studied and practised far more than I have, and it is obvious that she is very comfortable using herbs. Her book is full of easy-to-make recipes for common ailments, including many specifically for women and children. If you’re looking for a place to start, this might be a good fit for you.
If in doubt, always ask a certified natural practitioner. A midwife will usually be quite knowledgeable on what is safe for mama and baby, and most naturopathic doctors are skilled in the use of herbs as well. If you can find a certified herbalist, even better!
So these are the herbs lurking around my home and what I use them for… how about you? Do you use herbs?