Monday, April 28, 2008

Venturing Into the Land of Curative Medicinal Herbs

I'm an herb geek at heart, but have not had the opportunity to put it to much practical use...yet. Other than teas and some basic spicing up of foods, my herb knowledge is lying fallow as far as practical application in my family's life.

That is one area we're trying to gradually change.

Some folks really don't consider medicinal herbs much more than snake oil remedies, while others see the term "herb" and assume anything "herbal" is safe to take for anything, in any quantity.

We've learned through a process of trial and error over the years that we still have much to learn. Many herbs' benefits have been enjoyed in their native habitats by populations indigenous to those locales, many of whom still practice time-honored remedies using the herbs at hand. In western society, change has come slowly..."progress" in "medicine" meant a societal replacement of traditional wisdom with the "modern" convention of man-made copycat pharmaceuticals.

It's our innate belief that anything man-made will never be as suitable for the human body as its natural counterpart, if that can be discovered...or recovered.

We have some physical health conditions that warrant a closer look at natural solutions for things we now take pharmaceuticals for.

Let me briefly interrupt this to say that I am NOT one of those folks who advocates that people with precarious or fragile health conditions throw caution to the wind and dump their pills down the toilet. I'm also not the sort that believes that all pharmaceuticals are mind-altering and that if we just have faith in God we can believe ourselves into better health, do or die. As much as I believe we can restore our immune systems so that they can withstand the stresses of today, I'm also grateful for the discovery of penicillin and the polio vaccine. As cautious as I am about the use of widespread vaccinations of our children, I also see the benefits and understand the difficulty of making viable choices for ourselves and our families.

We have to use wisdom and a lot of attention to detail, and it's nice that the internet can open doors of inquiry into many of the plants, seeds, roots, leaves, bark, etc that are in the natural world that can be used to support, mend, and heal our maladies.

I like actually handling things that are mild, work over a longer period of time, and are usually gentler, (most herbs fall into this category) and applying my own problem -solving to our health problems and our future as we age. The medical community cringes when they hear individuals trying to come up with their own remedies. There is some foundation for this, as we shouldn't consume or practice health-related things with ignorance of our bodies and a diagnosis. But ultimately, WE care about ourselves differently than a doctor or health practitioner does...we simply live with ourselves daily and can become intuitive about certain things long before a physical is done in an office.

We are dealing with hypertension, diabetes, and needing to lose weight. We are working toward implementing foods that are more anti-fungal and that lend support to our "inner world" of digestion and healthy bacteria...things such as certain fermented foods and nutrient-rich foods such as "live-bacteria" yogurt and kefir (to name only a few) that will build up our immune systems and reduce our susceptibility to allergies and asthma. Raw milk products are touted to be a positive contributor to this sort of recovery, and we're trying real milk-related things and testing it out as we go.

We've had a very very positive response to the Caspian Sea Yogurt. Our bodies feel lighter, and's hard to describe, but it's very real. We've lost much of our cravings for breads and sugars, except the occasional dense whole grain food and fruits. We've almost completely eliminated processed foods, especially anything with preservatives and food coloring. Getting off of processed flours and sugars continues to be a goal.

In searching for plants AND in searching for gentle herbal support for some of our health concerns, we've found some that overlap. Our gardening goals have expanded to include a wider number of herbs and medicinal plants, and we've found that many of the plants we have on our gardening list for foods, nectar, or forage also have mutiple uses in salads, teas, fertilizers, or medicines. Incorporating these things, and growing them ourselves are current goals.

So we are searching out specific plants for medicines, and in doing so have begun compiling a that is growing longer and longer. I'm amazed at how many plants are available in herbal pill form but are not grown here in the States. Many of them are widely grown in Asia or India, the African continent, or South and Central America...but not here. So the search cuts a worldwide swath.

We experienced this sort of fun when beginning a search for natural home-friendly soaping plants (saponins), many of which have been used by native populations in different geographical situations all over the globe. Indigenous to the U.S. was the soapberry tree, and I'm happy to report that our little soapberry twigs that looked so dead are now leafing out with a vengeance, loving the heat that's already bearing down on us here in Florida. Soapnuts (from the Ritha tree) were another experiment, and are very slow growing, and reputedly hard to germinate, but we're trying, just for fun...the little seeds get daily moisture and warmth outside in a protected area. No signs of life so far, but we'll keep waiting. The soapnuts themselves, the sort used for washing clothes with, can be bought retail...we were just searching for the source so we can grow our own. That search took us all the way to India, as did a more recent search for plants used to help with diabetes-related concerns.

Yesterday, we found mention of the plant Gymnema Sylvestre, described here, which has been used by some populations for many generations to assist diabetics. It's available as a supplement through herbal suppliers, and we're in the process of seeking a source from which to purchase the plants or seeds.

We know better than to just go crazy popping any sort of medication, herbal or not, without a lot of discrimination and care as to amounts, but I'm going to try (slowly, carefully) the bottled pills of this herb in hopes of easing my body off its dependency on the higher doses of synthetic medicines, while working to lose weight, eat the right things, etc. There were several herbs we found mention of that actually seem to provide pancreatic support, even some that encourage regeneration of healthy pancreas tissue, so it's definatly worth a look...and some deliberate tracking and care as to the results. This is a longer-term project, and is only one of the ways we're trying to become less dependent on "things elsewhere." Medicine can be a drain on our resources, as can doctor visits. I still have not given up hope that my Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with weight loss, eating right, exercise, and other supports. It just has to be gentle and gradual, because the ol' blood sugar goes crazy with any sudden changes :)

I'm in the process of compiling a list of the medicines we want to grow. These are as simple as white willow, the bark of which is the source of aspirin, and can be make into a tea drunk rather than taking an aspirin...and willow twigs soaked in water a few days are said to be an excellent root stimulator for starting garden and tree cuttings, too. We'll see! Jack is trimming some willows this week and we want to see if we can start some Moringa trees from cuttings.

As much as we'll devote our time and energies to cultivate open-pollinated organically-grown heirloom vegetables, indigenous trees and plants, and seek to satisfy our food needs ourselves this way, we'll also be paying attention to plants that are good at keeping ourselves and our animals and plants in top health. Everything from nectar-rich plants for bees, native grasses/seeds/forbs for grazing health, diversity in field and hedgerown plants, and collecting traditional (and sometimes "exotic-to-us") seeds, fruits, and plants...those PLUS educating ourselves about how to use plants as healthy nutritional and medicinal support are VERY much becoming our passions :)

As we have some successes, they'll be reported here, as will the flops. We look forward to years to follow in which we have surpluses of seeds and cuttings to share for free for anyone else who might want to add them to their homesteads, too!

It's so seems the plants to be discovered are endless...


Razor Family Farms said...

What a fabulous and informative post! I love that you too are interested in medicinal herbs. I was just commenting on a friend's blog about how I am ready to start exploring some herbal remedies. I suppose I'm growing more daring as the years pass. At one time, I was frightened of medicine that didn't come out of a pill bottle. Sounds silly, eh?

Anyway, I really enjoyed my visit here and look forward to many happy hours reading about your discoveries and adventures!


Brenda Kula said...

I've always had many herbs in my garden. And many herb books in my library. But I seldom utilize them. I really should take note and "use what I have." Thanks for the gentle reminder!

Joan said...

I am building up a collection of herbs in my garden - up to now just culinary herbs. But now you have got me thinking about medicinal plants.

I may not use them medicinally but it would be fun having a part of my garden set aside for this type of herb/plant.

I am also planning a poisonous plant section !!

Keep up the good work.
Joan (bellebouche)

Wendy said...

Fantastic! You must feel incredibly empowered by taking control of your health and doing for yourself. I've been attempting something similar, and actually hope to start a home-study course in herbology/herbalism. It's something I've been interested in doing for many years, and I've been growing many of my own herbs for a long time (mostly culinary, but some purely medicinal). Of course with things going the way they are, it seems like a good time to start training for a new profession ;).

Verde said...

Like the others, I am interested but don't have the background. That is the way of modern life. We don't carry this kind of information forward with us.

johndaddy said...
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