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You want to know what I love and find unique about herbs and herbal medicine?

What I find unique about herbal medicine is that herbs can be used for both symptom management and for helping to restore the health of an organ or system. For example, milk thistle can be protective to liver cells and help restore and promote regeneration of healthy cells. Hawthorn can be strengthening to the heart and circulatory system and help prevent heart-related issues. Marshmallow root is healing and soothing to the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract and can help with recovery after an inflammatory issue, such as heartburn, gastritis, or leaky gut. Ashwaganda can help us feel more calm and get more restful sleep. Cherry bark can calm a cough and thin mucus.

Within this topic, I also find it important for people to understand the difference between taking an herb for a certain symptom (or symptoms) and taking an herb to support the underlying system. For example, when someone is dealing with a viral infection, such as the flu, there are certainly herbs that might be able to make you more comfortable. Where herbs really stand out, however, is how they can help support your immune system in combating the virus. I think of it as the herbs mobilizing the immune system to keep fighting the invaders or infection. Many of the herbs commonly used to stimulate the immune system have been shown to help shorten the duration and severity of a cold or flu virus. Think: elderberry, olive leaf, oregano. This means you have to keep taking them, even once the symptoms are in full force, and they can really shorten how long you are sick.

Another thing people may not understand, is that you need to take these herbs in copious amounts, frequently, to really have a notable effect for an acute situation such as this. These same herbs are often very effective at keeping you from getting sick in the first place, if you take them frequently when you first feel any sign you might be getting something.

Then there are other immune support herbs that can help you from getting sick in the first place, by taking them on a daily basis or taking them several times a day when around people who are sick. Think: astragalus root, certain medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and shiitake, olive leaf, elderberry. These are used more as preventive medicine (notice there is some overlap) and can help someone get sick less frequently and recover more quickly when they do.

I view herbal medicine as a “tool in the toolkit” of health, and it exists best in a holistic lifestyle of health. This holistic lifestyle includes the things most of us know we “should” be doing, including beneficial nutrition/diet, pure water, sufficient sleep, and exercise, which are essential for care of the body. And yet, there is much more that contributes to a healthy life, including our mental and emotional health, our stress management techniques, the health and quality of our relationships, time in nature, and our general sense of our purpose and place in our communities and in the world. Then there are the various healing modalities we can choose from to help support our health, including massage, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, nutrition consults, life coaching, therapy, energy work, chiropractic, etc.

Taking herbs alone is not going to solve all of our health problems. But, let me tell you, I am grateful for their many benefits and the healing they have supported in my body and in countless others I have had the pleasure of guiding in their selection and use of herbs for their own healing.

Immune Power Balls
Adapted from “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar
Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons Astragalus root powder
1 Tablespoon Maca root powder
1 Tablespoon Reishi mushroom powder
½ Tablespoon Spirulina, Blue-Green Algae, or Chlorella powder (optional)
1 cup sesame butter (tahini) or peanut butter
½ cup honey (or more to taste)
½ cup crushed almonds
Your choice of shredded coconut, cocoa or carob powder, raisins or goji berries, chocolate or carob chips, and granola for flavor
Instructions:
Combine the powdered herbs and mix well.
Combine the sesame or peanut butter and honey, mixing to form a paste.
Add enough of the powdered herbs to thicken, and add the almonds and the other optional components to your liking.  Thicken to consistency with carob or cocoa powder.  Roll into walnut or teaspoon size balls and eat two per day.  Store in the refrigerator or in a sealed glass jar and eat within a week.
The herbs in this recipe:
Astragalus root is from the Chinese system of medicine, as a long-term, supportive immune system tonic, antioxidant, liver protectant, antitumor, and adaptogen (stress/adrenal support).
Maca root is from high in the Andes and is eaten as a food, as a nourishing root vegetable high in B vitamins, protein, and carbohydrates.  This food and herb has been used to support a healthy immune system, increase energy levels, and enhance libido.
Reishi mushroom is used as an immune tonic for strengthening the immune syste and supporting the body’s ability to fight viral infections.
Spirulina/Chlorella/Blue-green algae are superfoods, high in chlorophyll, beta-carotene, and many trace minerals, and are detoxifying.

Astragalus root – A medicinal plant whose use comes to us from Chinese medicine, its Latin name is Astragalus membranaceus and it is a member of the Fabaceae family, also known as the legume/pea family.  The root is the part that is used, and it is considered a quintessential immune tonic or immune modulator.  This means it can help with immune system weakness, when someone regularly gets sick with viral or bacterial infections or takes a long time to recover, or immune hyperactivity, when someone has an autoimmune illness such as rheumatoid arthritis.  In Chinese medicine, it is considered a tonic herb that can increase vitality and longevity.
Its primary actions that have been borne out in traditional use, clinical practice, and/or laboratory research are that astragalus is: immune modulating, adaptogenic, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypotensive, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, cancer preventive, tissue regenerative, and protective against drops in white blood cell count during chemotherapy or radiation.
Based on the above actions, this herb is used in cases of immune weakness due to chronic stress, because it has a protective effect on the adrenal glands, heart, liver, and kidneys and can help decrease chances of immune weakness when under stress.  It can act as a prophylactic against the common cold, upper respiratory tract infections, and other viral infections.  It is also potentially protective against a compromised immune system during cancer treatment, and because of its antitumor, heart & liver protective effects, and its antioxidant properties, astragalus is often useful for someone diagnosed with or at risk for cancer, improving chances for recovery and longevity.  Astragalus may also be useful as a hypotensive, because of its heart tonic and diuretic actions.
Astragalus is used medicinally in a decoction, meaning that the root is cooked/simmered in water or broth for a certain length of time, usually a minimum of 20 minutes; as a tincture, or powdered in capsules.  Traditionally, the root slices were added to soups/stews in fall and winter and cooked in the broth, then removed and the soup and broth consumed.  This is a great way to get the health benefits of astragalus root into your diet.  At Herban Wellness, I sell astragalus root in shredded form for decoctions/teas and the root slices (they look like tongue depressors) for decocting or adding to soups/stews.  I also sell the powder that can be added to food.  Generally speaking, you need to consume this herb regularly for several weeks to help strengthen a weak or debilitated immune system.  The general dose is 1 Tbls or so of herb/12 oz or so of water.  Add 3-4 root slices to a pot of soup.
Because this herb seems to strengthen and tonify the immune system over time, it is generally not taken or recommended for acute infections.  It is mostly used for chronic immune and adrenal weakness and to strengthen and protect organ systems over time.