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Using and Understanding How Herbs Work

The use of herbs is a science as well as an art. In ancient times, it was known as the “Art of Simpling”. Herbs were called 'simples’ because one herb could be used to treat a multitude of afflictions. For example, ginger tea might help an individual overcome a cold, alleviate a migraine as well as help with a bad indigestion at the same time.


My herbal teacher, Michael Tierra, once replied to the question, what herb should I take when very weak and suffering from many illnesses: “Any herb”.

The world of herbalism is vast and one can get lost in the details. There is a place for this complexity to match the complexity of our bodies, but anyone can start with the three principles of Simpling:

  • Use herbs that grow locally. Illnesses in a particular area are typically dependent on environmental factors. The herbs that grow there possess the characteristics of that environment and are especially useful for the ailments associated with the area’s conditions and climate.

  • Use mild herbs. Local herbs that are mild can be taken freely. They provide a general effect on the body and can assist in the healing of various afflictions.

  • Use large doses of mild herbs. Beverage teas and medicinal teas differ. Some believe that a bag of tea in a cup of boiling water will help with their ailments. In fact, one needs a larger amount to produce a change. A medicinal tea is prepared by boiling or steeping one ounce of dried herb in a pint of water. It is usually consumed one cup, three or more times per day depending on the need and for an extended period of time.

Herbs for acute versus chronic conditions

In terms of herbs for acute versus chronic conditions, the use of single herbs is most beneficial for acute conditions because it requires a lower dose to take repeatedly. For instance, when somebody has a cold, a flu or an infection, it is best to take herbs every two to four waking hours to feel a difference. If after three days there is no improvement then one should change the herbs. In another example, such as a migraine one should take the herbs every 30 minutes until the headache subsides.

For chronic conditions, a combination of herbs is most beneficial; and to obtain faster results it may be necessary to look for herbs in other areas for the same purpose. This means combining several herbs in a balanced formula that can be taken long-term at a dose of two or three cups per day. It is important to note that most chronic conditions develop over a long period of time, so it will take time for herbs to work and to see results. One could expect slight or some changes within two weeks, but for real change to occur, it takes about one month for each year the person was developing the condition.

When to take herbs

Our bodies, like everything else in nature, works in cycles. If one is to undergo a long-term herbal therapy, it is important to take periodic breaks so the body can reap the maximum benefits and the herbs can work more effectively. In general, it is best practice to rest one day a week or five to seven days a month. For gynecological concerns, the period of the menses itself is usually the resting period.

There is also an ideal time to take herbs. For ailments of the stomach and those situated above it such as in the lungs, heart, and the head, herbs are best taken after meals. Conversely, for ailments situated below the stomach such as in the liver, large intestine, kidneys, and bladder, herbs are best taken on an empty stomach before meals. And in the event the herbs are too strong for the stomach, they should be taken with food on a full stomach. If this does not ameliorate symptoms, the herbs should be discontinued or changed to prevent damaging the stomach. In other instances, if herbs are used for insomnia, it is best to take them close to bedtime. But rather than being concerned about the timing, the next best time to take herbs is when one remembers. It is better this way than to not take the herbs at all.

The difference between herbs and pharmaceuticals

Herbs are made of organic chemicals that act on the various pathways of our organism, producing general physiological changes. Herbs are not purified molecules like pharmaceuticals, which act on individual molecular bonding sites. Consequently, herbs have a more general effect in our body versus an isolated one. Furthermore, herbs are not just a compound of chemicals, they also possess an innate intelligence, just as other living beings. In other words, herbs are considered to have a holistic identity.

Herbal medicine applies the principle the “sum is greater than the parts”. In holistic herbalism we aim to understand the organism as a whole and the parts within it. By doing so, we are able to locate the disease or pattern, its depth, extent, and limitations. In this same approach we attempt to understand herbs by their organ affinity, properties, and the diseases they have historically resolved. Conventional science, in comparison, emphasizes molecules, the smallest parts of the organism. Therefore, they define disease based on their molecular and chemical changes in isolated parts of the organism, and treatment uses purified substances or drugs.

Would you like to receive customized herbal recommendations for your specific needs? Contact us to schedule a new client consultation. We will be happy to help!

Phone: 239-688-4585 (Call/Text)


The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra L.A.c, O.M.D

The Earthwise Herbal Volume I, Matthew Wood

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