Herbs with Yarrow Willard Cl.H
What are herbs?
Botanically herbs are non-woody flowering plant. Although we consider any plant that is valued for flavor, scent, medicinal, or other qualities to be a herb. Even fungi, pitch, minerals, and animals can be considered herbs to some practices of herbal medicine. Herbs are used in smaller amounts then food as they are more potent and have stronger action in the body.
Culinary Herbs and Spices
Plants that are used in small amounts to add flavor food rather then sustain the body. Many of them contain medicinal compound, often that are useful in the digestion and assimilation of food.
Plants that contain strong chemistry, often toxic or hard on the system in large doses. When used in appropriate doses they can interact with our bodies in specific ways, often helping correct imbalances and health issues. The complexity of nature gives rise to many herbal compounds with a diverse array of effects on the body.
Plants that are considered safe to consume in large doses, and also have a generalized health effect on many areas of the body or whole body system harmony. In Chinese medicine these are considered “superior herbs” as there low toxicity and high benefit make them very beneficial. Some herbs are specific tonics, that tonify a specific body system.
How do we use Herbs?
As there is often much fiber and inedible compounds in herbs, it can be ideal to extract them. The methods used usually are chosen based on the chemical constituents. If the beneficial ingredients are extracted properly then the effects will be more potent. Compliance and ease of use are also important as herbs only work if people take them. Some of the common ways to extract and use herbs are:
Hot water infusions (tea), Cold Infusion, Decoction, Alcohol Tincture, Glycerite, Syrup, Poltice, Macerates or infused Oil Extraction, Salve, Cream, Powder and Essential Oil
Why use Herbs? And what are the health benefits?
Our bodies are self-regenerating systems that strive to create balance, to maintain homeostasis and optimal health. Diseases occur if the body or part of it is not in balance. When used properly, herbs can help correct many imbalances. Each herb contains its own unique chemistry and personality, just like each person. This complexity often gives herbs many actions in the body, effecting each person differently.
Herbs with specific actions should be only used for short periods of time. Their effects can be strong and some have negative consequence when used inappropriately. Always develop a relationship with a herb you are taking, listening to the bodies signals when determining effect and dosage. There are some herbs that are nontoxic and can be used over extended time periods or in large volumes. These are often incorporated into long term health strategies, helping rebuild debilitated systems and achieve optimal health. Blending herbs can enhances there effectiveness and balance out strong attributes. Many herbs enjoy community and work well when compounded. It is always good to take breaks from using any herb, as the body can become used to it or dependent, everything in moderation.
What is important to quality?
High quality dried herbs are in there first 2 years from harvest. Freshness is important as the constituents in most herbs will break down over time. They should be properly stored in a way that they are not exposed to heat, light or oxygen. These will deteriorate them. Dried herbs must maintain a relative humidity of below 12% moisture content to keep well. The Size of the cut also matters, if a herb is powdered it can loose up to 50% of is value (based on oxidized constituents), if cut to a fine tea up to 30%. Most herbs are best in a c/s cut, which is around 1-2cm. This allows good surface area for extraction but also keeps the nutrients fresh. Unless you can gather or grow a herb your self, organically grown herbs should be the first choice. Many herbs concentrate chemical and pollutants, which can have negative effects. Large scale wild harvesting is often unsustainable and has been the cause for the endangerment of many plants. Although wild herbs can be high quality, in most causes it is better to support organic agriculture.
What are the safety concerns?
As whole herbs contain all of what naturally grows in a plant they are often much safer then concentrated extracts or pharmaceuticals. Some have toxic compounds and must be carefully monitored in small or large doses. Some can interact negatively with pharmaceuticals or the way the liver metabolizes them. Always consult a reputable source or practitioner, especially if wanting to work with plants with potential interactions or toxic effect.
Yarrow Willard is a Clinical/Master Herbalist and co-visionary/formulator of the Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary on Vancouver Island. Raised by two herbalist parents, he has been immersed in the world of plant medicine since birth. Yarrow is a passionate and entertaining promoter of plant based nutrition and medicine. He is continually updating his knowledge and understanding with the growing edge science of re-claiming wellness and vibrant living. Yarrow’s path and purpose is in cultivating a deeper connection with the natural world through a seasonally tuned holistic approach to life. With hopes in assisting our collective evolution towards high vitality, he shares health empowering practices with herbs, mushrooms, superfoods, advanced nutrition and more.