Greetings good people. In recent months, I have noticed an increase in the number of requests I have been receiving for what I call “street advice”. Common questions, like: What should I use for headaches? What is _____ good for? What can I use for insomnia? Are there any herbs for cramps? I have trouble with _____? Is black cohosh good for ______? What is ginger used for?…and so on.
Usually, these questions are asked in passing, social gatherings and on social media. The difficulty of answering these questions in these settings is the missing variables and the time to relieve any plant’s appropriate application. I have to contain my enthusiasm when people ask, but take a conservative approach, especially if the question is about an individual’s specific health concern.
There are a multitude of uses for any given plant – physiological and energetic. Some of their applications are nuanced and their effects can be influenced by lifestyle factors and other therapies. Furthermore, not everyone responds the same way to all plants. What may work for one person’s constitution may be ineffective for another.
Consider Valerian Root;
a plant widely recommended for sleep concerns, for good reason as it is a powerful nervine, antispasmodic, sedative, muscle & tension relaxant and pain reliever. However, Valerian does have a short-term stimulant effect on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. For some people this stimulation is lasting, resulting in the opposite of the desired sedative effect. More often than not, most people will purchase a bottle of capsules from the supplement aisle of their grocer. This is problematic in a few ways:
1) Multiple investigations have concluded that major supplement producers are filling capsules with filler material and very little (if any), poor quality plant material. This interferes with effective dosing.
2) When individuals self-treat, there is an inclination to dose more than is necessary. In the case of Valerian, large doses of the dried root (as is used in capsules) can result in a melancholic or depressed disposition.
3) If you are taking other sedatives, Valerian can potentiate the effects of some medications.
4) Valerian can be useful for a time, but to resolve your sleep concerns, there may be many other plants and life-style modifications that will have a lasting effect (which is what I focus on in my practice).
You can see how this would create a dilemma for a responsible herbalist to give recommendations to someone regarding their condition or one plant, in passing (…or observe others giving armchair recommendations).
So, when it comes to street advice, take it with a grain of salt and consult with a professional herbalist. I, of course, come highly recommend.