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Plant Knowhow

A herbal is a book about plants and herbs, especially those that are useful to humans, and used in herbal medicine.

Grass and other plants can grow up through cement. Use them in your own body . . .

Plants or parts of plants can be used:

  • to prevent a bad cold;
  • to accelerate the healing process;
  • as body tonics and helpers of various kinds;
  • or for the sake of balancing in a somewhat offensive environment.

Any of these approaches may work favourably and some others too. It depends on causes, symptoms and the medical values of the herb parts involved.

Skilled Plant Uses

Fig. 1: The uses of plants, plant parts and plant products.

  1. Food and drink: There are particulars involved in foods we eat, even at daily meals. Vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and much else.
  2. Herbs and spices: The biodynamic agriculture movement holds that apart from the physical substances in plants, they have formative powers too, and vitality that may be ours by chewing, steaming and perhaps preparing items a bit further.
  3. Herbal treatment: Both fresh and dried parts of plants may be used. Some plants and plant parts are poisonous. Even a common potato will become a bit poisonous if exposed to so much light that it becomes green. And potato "apples" above the ground are even worse. Apart from the specific chemical value of a herb there is a brighter side to it, according to some treatment avenues we will not go into here.
  4. Specialist treatment: Bach flower remedies. Homeopathic treatment. Baths with herbal oils - In part aroma therapy. The two former are "derived" from the subtler essence of plants and plant parts. That is the theory.
  5. Strolling around among them: Francis Bacon said a garden is the purest of human pleasures [Ratcliffe 2000 163]. One may imbibe or get soaked in the influence of trees, bushes, shrubs and other plants by strolling around in nature or one's garden. This influence may be called magma, from the Greek 'thick unguent' (used figuratively here). 'Magma' also suggests being "mixed together by contact, without loss of individual existence" - go for a garden walk and let it happen . . . To try to derive benefit or increase it, one should let the influence be steady, much regular and much frequent. A suggestion: three times a day, five minutes each time. More often will not harm anyone, will it?

    The kiss of the sun for pardon,
    The song of the birds for mirth,
    One is nearer God's Heart in a garden
    Than anywhere else on earth.

    - Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932)

There is overlapping among the five sectors. Avoid hazards.

Uses of Herbs in History

Herbalism is about use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy. People have tried and used plants for treatment of ailments since prehistoric times. In the written record, the study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years.

  • The Sumerians described medicinal uses for such plants as laurel, caraway, and thyme. Ancient Egyptian medicine is known to have used garlic, opium, castor oil, coriander, mint, indigo, and other herbs for medicine.
  • Indian Ayurveda medicine has been using herbs such as turmeric and curcumin possibly as early as 1900 BCE.
  • The first Chinese herbal book, the Shennong Bencao Jing, possibly dating back to 2700 BCE, lists 365 medicinal plants and their uses.
  • Greek and Roman medicinal practices provided the patterns for later western medicine.
  • In the early Middle Ages in Europe the uses of plants for medicine and other purposes changed little. Many Greek and Roman writings on medicine were preserved by hand copying of manuscripts in monasteries.
  • In the 1400s, 1500s, and 1600s herbals became available for the first time in English and other languages rather than Latin or Greek.
  • The practice of herbal medicine at the end of the twentieth century draws on such as: (a) The herbal medicine system, based on Greek and Roman sources; (b) The Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine systems from various South Asian Countries; (c) Chinese herbal medicine (Chinese herbology)

A herbal is a book about plants especially with reference to their medicinal properties. A herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities. A herbalist ("herb doctor") is one who practices healing by the use of herbs and/or collects or grows herbs.

Now, plants are in part ingenious "factories of many chemicals". There are some unknown to men today as well. Some are good for us, like those in a cabbage. Others have poisonous effects, at least if given in too large doses, or too long. Hence, plants are containers of chemical substances that demand that we get a good, broad enough picture of things and what is at stake. In addition to general competence, very much varies with the individuals. Such factors as size of inner organs and how effectively they may work in an individual need to be taken into account. Some vital organs get less effective with age as well. (Allport 1960, chap. 1)

With these and other cautions well in mind, one may get going to restore, maintain or build better well-being that should be free from side-effects.


Herbal remedies are very common in Europe. Herbalists tend to use extracts from parts of plants. The use of medicinal plants can be informal as, for example in the form of a herbal tea or supplement, although the sale of certain herbs considered dangerous is often restricted to the public. Some herbalists, both professional and amateur, often grow or "wildcraft" their own herbs.

Herbalists are not likely to believe that herbal synergism can be duplicated with synthetic chemicals.

In Germany, herbal medications are dispensed by apothecaries (eg., Apotheke). Prescription drugs are sold alongside essential oils, herbal extracts, or herbal teas. Herbal remedies are seen by some as a treatment to be preferred to chemical medications which have been industrially produced.

In the United Kingdom, the training of medical herbalists is done by state funded Universities.

A US survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), what was used, and why it was used. The survey was limited to adults, aged 18 years and over during 2002, living in the United States. According to this survey, herbal therapy, or use of natural products other than vitamins and minerals, was the most commonly used CAM therapy (18.9%).

Many traditional African remedies have performed well in initial laboratory tests to ensure they are not toxic and in tests on animals.

Forms of herbal aids

  • Tinctures (alcoholic extracts of herbs - a completed tincture has a ethanol percentage of at least 40-60%.

  • Herbal wine and elixirs; these are alcoholic extract of herbs; usually with an ethanol percentage of 12-38%. Herbal wine is a maceration of herbs in wine, while an elixir is a maceration of herbs in spirits (eg vodka)

  • Tisanes (hot-water extracts of herb, such as chamomile)

  • Decoctions (long-term boiled extract of usually roots or bark)

  • Macerates (cold infusion of plants with high mucilage-content, as sage, thyme - Plants are chopped and added to cold water. They are then left to stand for 7 to 12 hours (depending on herb used). For most macerates 10 hours is used.

  • Vinegars (prepared at the same way as tinctures)

  • Topicals - Diluting essential oils-application of essential oil extracts, in olive oil or another food grade oil can allow these to be used safely as a topical.

  • Salves, oils, balms, creams and lotions - Most topical applications are oil extractions of herbs. Taking a food grade oil and soaking herbs in it for weeks to months allows certain phytochemicals to be extracted into the oil. This oil can then be used as an oil for topical application, or worked into a salve. Many massage oils, antibacterial salves and wound healing compounds are made this way.

  • Poultices and compresses - One can also make a poultice or compress using whole herb (or the appropriate part of the plant) usually crushed or dried and re-hydrated with a small amount of water and then applied directly in a bandage, cloth or just as is.
  • Whole herb consumption. This can occur in either dried form (herbal powder, or fresh (juice, fresh leaves and other plant parts.) Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are phytochemicals that we are accessing through our diet. Some whole herbs consumed that are more powerful than others. Shiitake mushrooms boost the immune system and are also tasty, so they are enjoyed in soups or other food preparations for the cold and flu season. Garlic lowers cholesterol, improves blood flow, fights bacteria, viruses and yeast.

  • Extracts: include liquid extracts, dry extracts and extracts made by freeze-drying. Liquid extracts are liquids with a lower ethanol percentage than tinctures. They are usually made by vacuum distilling tinctures. Dry extracts are extracts of plant material which are evaporated into a dry mass. They can then be further refined to a capsule or tablet.

A few examples of plants used as medicine

Ayurveda seeks to help the organism by preventing illnesses, mainly by seeking to redress inner imbalances. In addition, there are herbs that are taken to prevent a lot of disturbances by harmonising influences. The edible fruit Amla (Indian gooseberry) is classified as that sort of fruit. It is taught it can enliven well, and sustain one's intellect, for example. At this point it is best to point out that it is good to discern between traditional uses (they differ among nations), and research findings (that may be missing, inconclusive, or ample). In short, what they are used for or against, and how they may possibly work, are two different things. In the "grey area" between old traditional uses, and botanical research findings, there may be leeway to "try and see" with expert help, or great care. (WP, "Phyllanthus emblica")

Valerian root can be used against insomnia.

Effects - if any - depend on suitable dose, fit species, time of harvesting and the target groups. Herbal medicines taken in whole form cannot generally guarantee a consistent dosage or drug quality, since certain samples may contain more or less of a given active ingredient.

Practical Herbalism

Competent herbalism:
  • Tells of commonly used herbs, describes their properties and explains major uses on top of herbal lore (tradition) and more recent medical research;
  • Can be used to favour 'family self-help', if one is careful;
  • Has easy-to-follow instructions showing how to prepare herbal tinctures, describes the actions infusions and decocts may have on a body;
  • Goes into such as holistic treatment of specific conditions and problems; and tries to place herbal lore in a wider context and shows plants in their relationship to healing and wider concerns.
  • Is usually furnished with a therapeutic index indicates which herbs might be useful for particular diseases;
  • Offers sound advice on how and when and where to harvest and store.

The Relation between Drugs and Herbs

Many plants synthesize substances that help humans maintain health. Many of the herbs and spices used by humans to season food yield useful medicinal compounds. All plants produce chemical compounds as part of their normal metabolic activities. Plants synthesise a great variety of phytochemicals.

The use of drugs and dietary supplements derived from plants have accelerated in recent years. Pharmacologists, microbiologists, botanists, and natural-products chemists are combing the Earth for phytochemicals and leads that could be developed for treatment of various diseases.

According to WHO, the World Health Organisation, about one fourth of modern drugs used in the United States have been derived from plants.

Three quarters of plants that provide active ingredients for prescription drugs came to the attention of researchers because of their use in traditional medicine.

At least 7,000 medical compounds in the modern pharmacopoeia are derived from plants.

Among the 120 active compounds currently isolated from the higher plants and widely used in modern medicine today, 80 percent show a positive correlation between their modern therapeutic use and the traditional use of the plants from which they are derived.

Individuals Have Individual Needs

The gift of herbal knowhow is summarised:

"This diversity and abundance of healing plants is at once both the gift of herbalism and the frustration of every student of herbs!"

- David Hoffmann, President of the American Herbalist Guild and Director of the California School of Herbal Studies, premier centre of herbal education in the USA. [Tih 14]

Things depend in part on where on the globe you live, under what conditions you are. We have some "built-in", very needed cautions below; select cautiously:
  1. Do not let your self-help gentle plant treatment interfere in any harmful way with diagnosis and/or treatment by competent medical personell. It can be dangerous.
  2. Try to get competent persons select plants, fair and fit dosages, ways of intake and length of 'plant uses' for you. That could work better than if you try it on your own for a year and half.
  3. Do not overdo it. Get rest from plant intakes at intervals. Such intervals may vary. Know how long you may or ought to persevere in using certain plants.
  4. Do not think your medical doctor is a herbal expert, necessarily. Some have acquired a fair knowledge of herbs and herb uses. Most medical doctors may lack it.

Considerations like these can be vital to health and well-being. You have to know much for extended and all-round herbal handling.

Herbal products, herb lore, medical properties of some plants and herbs, Herb knowhow, Herbal, herbs, plant parts, Literature  

Allport, Gordon. Pattern and Growth in Personality. 1961. New York: Holt, 1961.

Barnes, Joanne, Linda A. Anderson, J. David Phillipson. 2007. Herbal Medicines. 3rd ed. London: Pharmaceutical Press.

Chevallier, Andrew. 2016. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants: A Practical Reference Guide to over 550 Key Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses. 3rd ed. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Hoffmann, David: The Complete Illustrated Herbal: A Safe and Practial Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Bath: Mustard/Parragon, 1999.

Khalsa, Karta Purkh Singh, and Michael Tierra. The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs: A Contemporary Introduction and Useful Manual for the World's Oldest Healing System. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2008.

Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda. The Science of Self-Healing: A Practical Guide. Reprint ed. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2009.

McIntyre, Anne. The Complete Herbal Tutor: The Ideal Companion for Study and Practice. London: Gaia, 2010.

Ortiz, Elisabeth Lambert, ed. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, and Flavorings. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Ratcliffe, Susan, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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