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Herbs Plain & Simple: The Only Book You'll Ever Need

Herbs Plain & Simple: The Only Book You'll Ever Need

by Marlene Houghton PhD


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Over 100 Recipes for Health and Healing

There have been many books written on herbal medicine. This book differs from most because it is based on the empowerment model, which aims to help people take responsibility for their own health.

Houghton helps readers tackle everyday ailments and takes the guesswork out of using herbs to keep them feeling well. Herbal medicine is useful for a range of common complaints, and gentle and effective herbs can offer benefit where conventional medicine sometimes fails.

Included is this concrete and practical primer are all the essentials you need to know about healing herbs and their properties. Among the topics covered are:

  • A brief history of herbalism
  • An overview of how herbs heal
  • An herb glossary that includes how to use herbs and the benefits of each
  • The body's systems and the herbs that make them work better
  • An herb dictionary

In a world that is becoming more and more illness and disease focused, it is clearly important for individuals to learn about natural therapies and take their health into their own hands. By educating yourself in the use of traditional herbalism, you can attain a high level of wellbeing, and you will only need to consult a conventional doctor when you have a problem that only a medically qualified professional can handle.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571747662
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/01/2017
Series: Plain & Simple Series
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 980,484
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Marlene Houghton, PhD, is a nutritional counselor, educator, author, and lecturer on natural therapies and the historical use of herbs who teaches people how to stay well. She lives in London

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Plain & Simple

By Marlene Houghton

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2017 Marlene Houghton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57174-766-2


A History of Herbalism

"A weed is a plant whose virtue is not yet known."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flowers, barks, and roots have been used for their therapeutic properties in the treatment of disease as far back as the time of the ancient Sumerians. Simply put, for thousands of years, plants have shown their efficiency as natural healers, and traditional herbal medicine can rightly be called "The People's Medicine." Herbalism is the oldest form of medical therapy in the world. It has no starting point in history, and no culture or country can claim ownership. It just evolved; therefore it can be called a universal medicine. Before the advent of modern medicine, people routinely used plant power to maintain their health and ensure their survival, and herbalism is still in use today in many parts of the world. According to the World Health Organization, there are still around eighty percent of people worldwide who rely on plant medicines to treat and cure disease.

The early history of traditional herbalism and medical botany in the Americas dates back to the early native peoples; in the United Kingdom we know it dates back to the time of the Druids, who used the simple herbs of the fields, woods, and meadows to cure various human ailments. They believed that the benefits of healing plants were governed by the sun, moon, and the stars, and that the remedies were prepared for mankind by nature herself.

Archeological evidence shows us that early man had an array of herbal cures, and it is from their ancient sacred texts and "herbals" that many modern medicines have developed, just like modern chemistry, which has its roots in alchemy. The high priest/physicians of Ancient Egypt had a sophisticated knowledge of healing methods, and the Ebers Papyrus, a seventy-foot long parchment written in 1500 BC, contains references to more than seven hundred herbal remedies. Evidence of medicinal herbs was excavated in 1960 in Northern Iraq in a burial ground dating back thousands of years, and it is amazing that many of these herbal remedies are still in use today, proving that their efficacy has withstood the test of time.

Today we are using the wisdom of the ages when we turn to herbs and plants for our health and well-being. By making a connection with the world of nature we are moving toward a more holistic approach to health care and we are returning to our roots. We have inherited this understanding from a time when no manmade drugs were produced and when drug companies did not obtain the active ingredients, extract them, and then sell them in a marketable form. Herbal knowledge of healing has been built on the successful experience of working in harmony with nature, and today there is a growing awareness that to be healthy we have to make healthy choices and to live within nature's laws.

We have begun to grasp the fact that most minor or major illnesses don't just happen out of the blue or because of bad luck. They are the body's reaction to poor living habits and lifestyle choices. Sometimes there are genetic factors, but we are not under the tyranny of our genes as much as was once believed. With their gentle but profound action, herbal remedies are the ideal solution for many common afflictions such as colds, flu, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, and stress.

Much herbal wisdom was lost during the witch hunts of the 17th century, which meant that knowledge of natural medicine went underground, but a useful body of herbal knowledge survived. Medicine advanced and herbalism took a back seat until the New Age era of the 1970s, when people began to reconsider the idea of living within nature. A rebirth in the use of plant medicines has seen people take back their power — and take control of their own health. Pharmaceutical medicine just cannot deal with every demand that is made upon it, and in some areas, society has outstripped its ability to pay for everything that is needed.

Despite continuing disregard from the medical world, herbs have always had a part to play. The pharmaceutical drug digitalis is derived from the foxglove plant, and is used in the treatment of heart problems. Two successful cancer treatments, Vincristine and Vinblastine, are derived from the rosy periwinkle shrub, which is native to Southern Madagascar, and these alone have saved the lives of many children with leukemia. How many other plants are waiting to be discovered to be used therapeutically? I would say many, since Mother Nature has not yielded up her many secrets and if these are explored many more healing plants may be discovered.

The ancient herb doctors had sophisticated medical theories of how the human body worked, and they developed a complex set of ideas for the use of medicinal plants. Based on a different philosophical system of hot and cold, herbalists would use hot herbs to treat what was deemed a cold condition and cold herbal compounds in order to cool a system down. In traditional Chinese medicine, this concept of hot and cold herbs is still used. Ayurveda is a traditional Indian healing system that is based on a similar philosophy, where herbal remedies are used to reinstate balance in a system that has lost its equilibrium. The theory of cold or hot is also used to categorize diseases.

Most of the diseases our European ancestors faced were contagious or infectious, with the worst being the Black Death, the plague that swept through Europe in AD 1348. During these times herbalists were much in demand and they used medicinal and aromatic herbs to cleanse the premises of the sick. For protection, people used herbal oils to fumigate homes but sadly, herbal treatment alone was not enough to save the infected, and thousands died.

Plagues were not the only problem in medieval times; our ancestors used herbs to treat wounds of all kinds, especially battlefield wounds. These were violent times and for serious injuries herb doctors used plants with antiseptic properties such as garlic, lavender, or lemon balm. Cleansing astringents were employed, and a popular one was yarrow, which is a simple meadow herb that was used to treat flesh wounds. An old country name, soldier's woundwort, was another name for yarrow, because of its ability to staunch hemorrhages and its power to promote rapid scar tissue healing. The word anti-septic speaks for itself; it means "against" sepsis, which causes tissue destruction through bacterial putrefaction. Sepsis can be fatal.

During the First World War, women cultivated healing plants in their gardens and picked herbs to help the wounded when medical supplies were in short supply. Doctors treating the wounded resorted to traditional herbalism when these herbs-of-war were said to have saved lives, and even medical doctors turned to herbs whenever conventional medical supplies ran out. In field hospitals during the tragedy of the Great War, lavender oil was used as a surgical antiseptic.

Soldiers injured in the trenches lost a lot of blood, so the humble stinging nettle was used because of its rich iron content for help during massive blood loss, and also for its diuretic and detoxifying properties. During the war, surgeons who had to operate on wounded soldiers without standard antiseptics used garlic juice on swabs of sphagnum moss in order to prevent sepsis setting in. Garlic was also used during the Second World War to disinfect wounds and prevent gangrene.

In France, until the end of the 19th century, sprigs of rosemary were burned for their purifying properties; the warm, resinous smell, which is similar to incense and honey, could be detected wafting through hospital wards while disinfecting the air. This tradition goes back hundreds of years.

In the 1920s, the famous herbalist, Mrs. Hilda Leyel, opened Culpeper's in Baker Street, London, and she founded the "Society of Herbalists" in 1926 at Culpeper House. Culpeper house was named for Nicholas Culpeper, the famous Elizabethan-era herbalist who is the author of Culpeper's Complete Herbal, a classic still in print today, in use for over 360 years. Dame Barbara Cartland, the doyenne of natural health, studied herbal medicine with Mr. Leyel. Dame Barbara lived to be 99 years old and she attributed her good health and longevity to natural medicine. The concept of using plants for healing and the maintenance of vitality was accepted in the United Kingdom before the advent of the National Health Service, and Mrs. Leyel's many herbal books have become standard reference works for herbalists today.

The biochemistry of many plants is still imperfectly understood. For example, the use of the whole plant appears to have stronger healing powers than the extraction and purification of a single ingredient, perhaps because the whole plant's ingredients appear to work more effectively together on a synergistic level.

Modern traditional herbalists believe in the Hippocratic notion of energy and balance. Herbs play a vital role in promoting harmony and well-being of body, mind and spirit, preventing illness, and enhancing health. To an herbalist, healing is a whole body issue that cannot take place unless every body system is in equilibrium. This can only be achieved via a balanced lifestyle that avoids extremes of hot and cold, destructive emotions, poor food choices, and stress.

Herbs Plain and Simple is organized by body system so that you may look up your ailment or area of concern, and read about the recommended herbs for specific conditions. You will find that many of the same herbs pop up in multiple parts of this book, for their beneficial qualities are wide-ranging.


Herbal Healing

"Only nature heals."

— School of Hippocrates

In an herbalist's Materia Medica, there are many versatile herbs. Some are strengthening restoratives for when we are feeling low, and when we have lost our nerve force there are healing nervines. If we are suffering from a blood deficiency, there are herbs that enrich impoverished blood. Some herbs have energy opening abilities, and are able to break up stagnant conditions to get energy flowing again, others have cooling abilities and can be used in hot conditions such as chest colds. Herbs cleanse, nourish, and help the body by tackling the cause of disease. They are created from the sun's energy and are related to nature's cycles. When used for health maintenance they encourage the body's own natural healing processes to restore a healthy balance.

Greek people have always valued herbs as medicines, and today in the remoter villages of the Greek islands markets can be found where ancient herbal traditions are still observed. Country peasant women with weather beaten faces are seen selling bunches of freshly picked, fragrant, medicinal herbs gathered from the hillsides. In these markets you will find many herbs, but sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) a most regal herb whose name means "king" in Greek, is especially popular. Used to make delicious St. Basil's bread, the flower tops and leaves of this herb are used medicinally in the treatment of stomach disorders due to basil's antiseptic and sedative properties.

Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) is another popular Greek herb. The rose-purple flowers of this herb can be seen on Greek hill slopes and over mountainous regions all over Greece. This gave it the name "Joy of the Mountains," and with its pungent, balsamic aroma, wild marjoram has anti-viral, anti-bacterial properties and is used medicinally to fight infection.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), another Greek favorite, is used to make a delicious rosemary honey that is taken at the first sign of a cold during the winter months. Rosemary, an anti-microbial, contains immune boosting properties making it a useful herb to use during the cold season. A teaspoon of this honey a day can also soothe stress-related disorders.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is another valued Greek herb that has been used for centuries by Mediterranean families, and is still served today as a fragrant sage tea in cafes throughout Greece. Medicinally it is used for the treatment of colds and as a gargle to soothe sore throats.

No Hellenic herb market would be complete without garlic (Allium sativum). This much loved botanical; a member of the onion family, and one of the oldest herbs known to humankind, is widely used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

On the island of Ikaria in the North East Aegean, the people are very long-lived. The Ikarians attribute this to a drink made from locally grown medicinal herbs that are brewed into a thick, black, sweet-scented herbal tea. The dried herbs that make up this tea include wildmint, spleenwort, purple sage, rosemary, and a secret ingredient that the people of Ikaria do not divulge. I was told the secret of this longevity tea by my Greek grandmother before she passed away, but I will not reveal it!

Although herbs are nutritive, healing and nourishing to the body, some are poisonous, and I do not advise using any herb picked from the wild or even from a herb garden unless you know what you are doing. The use of the wrong herb could be fatal, so bear this in mind. The herbs that are on display in health shops are safe and they have undergone rigorous and extensive testing. Tablets, liquids, tinctures and herbs packaged in tea bag form are easily available although some are now only available from a qualified herbalist. In my experience tinctures absorb faster than other forms but it is up to you which preparation you choose.

Popular herbs such as mint, thyme, sage, and marjoram are sold for culinary purposes in supermarkets and plant nurseries. These herbs are easy to grow in an herb garden or on a kitchen windowsill. Fresh herbs grown holistically are the most potent. Look for good quality plants when choosing herbs.

By using the entire plant as a medicine, viruses and bacteria find it difficult to develop a way of getting around its therapeutic properties, due to the fact that with every harvest there is never quite the same active mix in the plant. It could be because the weather was too wet or too hot, or if it was a good season, then the active principles will be more powerful. In this way, use of the whole plant actually confuses bacteria and viruses. Viruses and bacteria have an innate intelligence that know how to circumvent the compound in a standardized extract, because the composition is always the same. Superbugs have been clever enough to outwit drugs which are standardized. They know what to expect. These organisms have a strong survival mechanism and have mutated in a way that many antibiotics are now no longer a threat to them. This is dangerous for the human race, as we could go back to a time when alarming infectious diseases that we thought we had conquered return in untreatable form. Using the synergy of the whole plant makes it difficult for bacteria and viruses to develop ways of outmaneuvering and outsmarting the medicinal preparation used to combat disease. Synergistically, their therapeutic properties enhance one another in a way that their united efforts against disease is greater than they would otherwise be if only one compound of the plant was used alone.


Active Properties of Herbs

"All Nature is like one apothecary's shop covered only with the roof of Heaven"

— Paracelsus

To understand an herb's vital energies and healing potential, some knowledge of the different qualities of each herb is useful. Knowing a little phytotherapy from the Greek words for plant, "phyto," and care, "therapy," is valuable for general home use. The potent phyto-chemicals found in plants are divided into groups that indicate an herb's qualities. Herbs are classified as alternatives, bitters, flavonoids, mucilages, saponins, phytosterols, and volatile oils and so on. A number of compounds are used in most herbal medicines as two or more elements tend to produce a greater effect, because by using the whole herb, we draw on its synergistic harmony.

Herbs should be grown in a holistic way, where plants work in harmony with animals, mineral and human kingdoms, in tune with the natural rhythms of the moon, planets and stars. These solar bodies influence the best times to sow, cultivate and harvest herbs.

Herbalists who were in tune with natural rhythms observed that the lunar cycle influenced the life processes of plants. It was noticed that there were times when plant sap was high and at other times low. Traditionally it was thought the sap rose up into plants at full moon and at the new moon the water content of the plant was minimal. Harvesting also took place during the right lunar cycle, and this is still done today in biodynamic farming, which was developed by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Plants and herbs vary with seasonality, weather, growing conditions and other factors. The effectiveness of the plants and herbs differs from year to year. According to Nish Joshi, "biodynamic farming is the oldest non-chemical agricultural movement"


Excerpted from Herbs by Marlene Houghton. Copyright © 2017 Marlene Houghton. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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Table of Contents

Introduction iv

Part 1 Herbs and Health

1 A History of Herbalism 3

2 Herbal Healing 11

3 Active Properties of Herbs 17

4 A Green Pharmacy 27

Part 2 Herbs for Different Body Systems

5 Using Herbs to Heal the Body 35

6 The Immune System 39

7 The Heart and Circulatory System 49

8 The Digestive System 57

9 The Endocrine System 65

10 The Lymphatic System 75

11 The Muscular System 81

12 The Nervous System 87

13 The Respiratory System 97

14 The Reproductive System 105

15 The Skeletal System 113

16 The Skin and Eyes 121

17 The Urinary System 127

Part 3 Herbs for Everyday Use

18 Herbal First Aid Kit 133

19 Health from the Hive 137

20 Herbal Elixirs 147

21 Anti-Aging and Tonic Herbs 151

22 Aromatic Herbal Baths 159

23 Herbal Teas 165

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