In this practical and informative blog post, discover what is herbalism and how to use the herbs in your garden, with Norwich medical herbalist Alex Hobbs.
Many people ask What is Herbalism? Most simply it is the use of whole plant extracts to restore health and wellbeing, with the active constituents from the plants applied to address and relieve many different symptoms. Herbs can be taken as teas, tinctures or capsules, or used externally as sprays, creams and ointments. Many people don’t realise that conventional drugs often originate from plants. However in contrast, herbalists find that using whole plant extracts rather than one isolated chemical can be a gentle yet effective way to address health conditions, with few side effects.
Many people consult a medical herbalist if they are unwell, and following a consultation have bespoke herbal remedies prescribed for them. A medical herbalist is trained to degree level and assessed by experienced herbalists and a GP. Some herbal remedies are also available over the counter from pharmacies and health food shops.
There will be lots of herbs that you may already have come across and even have in your home, such as chamomile, cinnamon, nettle, turmeric or fennel. A herbalist is trained to know how to use these and many other herbs to address illness, learning which herbs are most appropriate for each specific condition and what dose to recommend.
You may already use what is know as herbalism at home, taking herbs from your garden to make simple home remedies for common complaints. You can research many of these in simple books about herbal medicine – however always remember to consult your GP and medical herbalist if you are concerned about any of your symptoms. Alex Hobbs also runs a series of How to Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, with a new course starting in the New Year.
What is Herbalism? How to Use Herbs from your Own Garden
What is Herbalism: What is Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Most people have heard of Echinacea and many people use it regularly at the first sign of a cough or cold. It helps the immune system to fight infections.
Why not have a go at making your own Echinacea tincture?
Echinacea purpurea, common name purple coneflower, is one of the most beautiful and easy to grow medicinal herbs yet it can be expensive to buy it as a tincture if you want one that is good quality.
To make your own Echinacea tincture, all you need to do is cut enough stems with leaves and flowers from the plant when it is in flower (choose the ones that look most vibrant) to fill a jar. Cut the flower heads (cones and petals), stems and leaves, into small pieces and fill the jar. Pour neat vodka into the jar to cover and put the lid on. Shake the jar every day for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks strain the liquid (use muslin if you can and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, otherwise a sieve will suffice). Pour the liquid into a brown glass bottle and hey presto, you have made your very own Echinacea tincture. You know it is good quality if your tongue tingles when you try it. Take 3 – 5 ml up to 3 times a day at the first sign of a cough, cold or infection.
What is Herbalism? How to Use Sage
Sage is a wonderful anti-infective herb for mouth ulcers and sore throats. Make a strong infusion of the fresh leaves from your garden and allow it to cool. Rinse and gargle three times a day. Some people like to drink the tea as well and find it cooling with symptoms such as hot flushes that can accompany the menopause. Therapeutic amounts of sage should be avoided internally in pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is always important to check with a qualified medical herbalist which herbs are safe to use in pregnancy.
What is Herbalism? How to Use Thyme
Thyme is a great herb for coughs and thyme tea can work wonders for relieving cough symptoms and fighting the infection that is causing the cough. Herbs do such a good job at helping with coughs that many pharmacies stock herbal cough mixtures.
What is Herbalism? How to Use Lavender
Lavender is a wonderful relaxing and digestive herb. Many people use lavender bags for sleep and to keep their clothes drawers fresh, but they don’t realise how delicious it can be to add a sprinkle of lavender flowers (not too many) to a herbal tea such as chamomile or fennel. You can cut your lavender in the garden just before the buds come into full flower, making sure of course that you leave some for the bees. You can tie these in bunches and hang them in a warm place out of direct sunlight to dry. When they are dry, the flowers easily rub off the stems and can be stored in a jar to keep them fresh.
What is Herbalism? How to Use Rosemary
Rosemary is a favourite herb for the hair. Rinsing the hair and scalp (this can be after you have used your normal shampoo/conditioner) with an infusion of rosemary – no need to rinse it off – can soothe irritated scalps and condition hair. The added bonus to this is that rosemary is an excellent herb to help you focus.
What is Herbalism? How to Use Pot Marigold (calendula)
Calendula is a wonderful healing herb, both internally and externally. Its beautiful golden petals can be added to salad and the dried petals can be a lovely soothing addition to a herbal tea. To make a calendula ointment, fresh petals can be infused in oil such as olive oil for a couple of weeks. You then strain the oil, warm it and melt in a few grams of beewax (approx.5 gper 50 ml infused oil).
What is Herbalism? How to Use Nettle
Nettles are very important medicinally – they are rich in minerals and help to cleanse the body. The fresh tops can be picked in the spring (wear gloves) and made into a nourishing, cleansing soup. The leaves can be dried and used for mineral rich cleansing nettle teas, add fennel, cardamom, a pinch of calendula petals and a touch of lavender for a delicious digestive tea.
If you would like to learn more about how to make your own herbal remedies at home, Alex is running a series of courses:
- Make Your Own Herbal Remedies
- How to Make Your Own Skin Cream
- Coming Soon: How to Make Your Own Herbal First Aid Kit
Medical herbalists use both traditional and scientific rationale to prescribe combinations of herbs (often as teas and tinctures) to help restore health and alleviate symptoms for many different conditions. For an individual herbalist appointment with Alex, please contact us. Alongside full appointments, Alex is also running a series of mini-consultations to address minor ailments. More details here.