The “Danger” of Herb Misuse

I saw this article about the Pros and Cons of Turmeric and immediately knew I needed to address the topic of herb misuse.  My dad and I were having a conversation a while ago, and he always gets really excited whenever he discovers some new herb or supplement that he can tell me about – and he most recently had started taking Turmeric.  He’d been taking it for a while (a couple months) and said he had been feeling great, but something wasn’t quite right.  He lives in Arizona and it’s incredibly dry and hot, and my dad runs hot generally.  I asked him if he was noticing any dryness in his body – did his mouth feel dry, was he hotter than usual, were his eyes dry?  He said yes, and hadn’t really noticed it before I asked.

All herbs have their own “personality” I say.  They all have certain properties like temperature properties and direction of movement – one example is an herb like Senna that causes peristalsis in the colon (makes you poop!), so in that way it would have a downward moving action.  For temperature, you can think how peppermint cools you down, thus it’s more of a cooling herb.  Turmeric is hot and drying, and most recently it has become very popular as an anti-inflammatory.  Naturally, people are flocking to use this herb, but taking it like a drug, because well, we all basically live in a state of chronic inflammation with the diets that we eat and environments we live in so often we try to tone the inflammation down with drugs  (like constantly popping ibuprofen…).

In the article, I LOVE how Lesley Tierra quotes that Turmeric is “quite powerful and can strongly imbalance the body if over-used or misused,” and I could say this about a good handful of herbs.  Don’t get me started on Oregon Grape or Goldenseal (or maybe I will later!)– but these are also other herbs that are frequently misused.  An example might be for you to think of someone who is cold all the time – hands and feet, maybe their stomach feels cold, and you ask them what they’re eating and they’re constantly drinking ice water, eating salads, lots of raw food – no wonder they’re freezing!  Herbs can cause a similar effect like this over time with improper use.

HOWEVER, what I want to empower you with is that herbs are relatively safe (they are medicine AND food), and a lot of “damage” or “danger” can be counterbalanced with other herbs and treatments.  What I ask of you, dear reader, is to please consider what you are taking before you just pop herbal pills of the latest trend, or after you read someone’s blog who is stoked about all the new super-food herbs and tells you to take all of them – they are not all for you!  As an herbalist, I not only want to consider the well-being of your body, so that you are not throwing it into imbalance, but also that you consider that whatever herbs you put into your mouth are things that were harvested and along with your usage comes a demand that will need to be filled.  Many plants are over-harvested and some close to extinction (or already extinct!).

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Here are some steps you could take when you feel like you would like to take an herb, or you’re interested in getting some treatment:

Do some research before you take something.  Check the internet if you want, but find an herbalist in your community or a Naturopathic doctor that knows herbs.  There is SO much misinformation about herbs on the internet, BUT there are some good things too (like Michael & Leslie Tierra’s blogs, Rosalee’s blog– I love the intro here on her herb page, please read it!).  Come into a shop like Rainbow Natural Remedies, where I work, and have conversations with people about it.

It’s also empowering gathering knowledge from people who know their stuff, and books!  It’s empowering to have conversations with people, and not just take everything you read on the internet as “the gospel” so-to-speak – even this entry! 🙂  Now go forth my little herbie minions.

Photo credit (a handful of some of my favorite herbs and my altar items): Meghann Wiedl 

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