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Ten things you might not know about herbal medicine

17/04/2013
The exquisite saffron flower

The exquisite saffron flower

Last night I enjoyed an evening with Mills and Bone. You might be thinking it went a bit like this…

On truly seeing Charelle’s beauty shine in the candlelight Roger was so glad the middle eastern chef had laced the meal with the most expensive spice in the world, saffron. He knew that this would be a night when he would be grateful for his ginkgo herbal tonic…

Actually, it was nothing like that at all. Mills and Bone, not Mills and Boon. (And I think I’ll call it quits on the romance writing.) The great herbalists Simon Mills and Kerry Bone launched the latest edition of their brilliant text Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy to Brisbane’s herbalists. The launch involved a discussion of several key herbs ranging from their fascinating traditional uses to the latest research findings gained from high quality randomised controlled trials.

Here are ten herbal points of interest from the evening:

  1. Barberry, a classic bitter herb, has excellent properties for managing blood sugar in Diabetes Type II patients.
  2. Cinnamon is one of the great warming herbs and can easily be used in the diet for people who run cold. Grind the quills yourself as you need them to have fresh powder which will maintain its potency better than when you buy it already ground. Most studies are on the Chinese cinnamon, Cinnomomum cassia.
  3. Bitter receptors are found in more places than just on your tongue. Researchers have found them throughout the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs and even on the cells that produce sperm. The herb gentian stimulates seven of the twenty five bitter receptors that we know of, a great many more receptors than most other bitters.
  4. There is thought that ginkgo may be useful in mitigating the effects of radiation and some research supports this. There are some notable ginkgo trees in Japan (still alive today) which were in close proximity to and survived the Hiroshima nuclear blasts without any apparent decline in their health.
  5. Gotu kola is known as the healing herb particularly due to its ability to improve micro-circulation. Other at home remedies include high quality dark chocolate (85%), berries, garlic and green tea.
  6. Meadowsweet is a gentle bitter which combines well with slippery elm powder to reduce gastro-oesophageal reflux. The trick is the combination needs to be taken straight after meals and before bed for the best effect.
  7. For inflammation in the mouth and throat you can’t go past Myrrh. This resin can make a fast-acting gargle and mouth wash.
  8. There is a Arabic proverb for the highly prized tonic herb Nigella that describes it as “the medicine for every disease except death”. In the Middle East it is the number one herb used for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia.
  9. If you need to improve your cognitive function (eg. memory response time, etc.) look no further than the culinary herb rosemary. Rosemary has been shown to improve cognitive function in research studies. It was also compared to cold tomato juice which had a negative impact on cognitive function – so no cold tomato juice at exam time!
  10. Like Roger told you at the top, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice due to the time intensive process of harvesting only the three crimson stigma from this flower. Interestingly, saffron has performed well in clinical trials on depression, and in contrast to St John’s wort, saffron appears not to have the same herb-drug interactions. The research has shown that it can improve sexual function in men and women taking SSRI anti-depressants, which may be a side effect of taking these medications.

Just remember that herbal preparations should be treated with respect like any other medicine. Seek advice from your health practitioner to get best results rather than self-prescribing.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 17/04/2013 8:19 pm

    You funny lady… I was getting quite into that story. How grateful WILL Roger be for his gingko tonic?? 🙂 Great list xx

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