As I have enjoyed my studies into herbalism, I have come to grow very fond of several herbs as I’ve experimented with them on myself and seen their medicinal effect on others! It’s hard to say I have any “favorite” herbs, since as a crazy plant lady it’s fair to say ALL herbs are my favorite… However for the purpose of this article I will share some of my tried and true plant friends, and how you can implement them into your daily life.
My top 5 favorite herbs:
Red Raspberry Leaf
Red raspberry leaf comes in as one of my favorite, and most used herbs. One of it’s best known uses is as a pregnancy tonic. Truthfully red raspberry leaf is a superior herb for women, in any phase of life. It is deeply nourishing, as it is high in almost every nutrient… making it an exceptional addition to healthy eating habits. It helps to balance the hormones, support healthy digestion, improve mood, clear up the skin, reduce cramping, regulate menstrual flow, and more. This makes it a great herb to take for a young girl coming into puberty, a woman seeking for a more balanced menstruation, a pregnant mother, a lactating mother, or a menopausal woman.
Another use for red raspberry leaf is as a nutritive while combating any communicable ailment such as the cold or flu. Because it is so high in nutrients and naturally occurring electrolytes, it can help combat the dehydration that often accompanies vomiting or loose stools. It is also helpful in combating nausea, upset stomach, or other digestive problems.
How to use it: Red raspberry leaf is great as a tonic, meaning taken each day. My favorite preparation is a simple tea or infusion! Simply pour 1 c of boiling water over 1 tsp of herb (in a tea bag or infuser ball) and allow to steep for 20 minutes. You can also prepare an infusion by filling a quart sized jar 1/4 full with the herb… then pouring boiling water over it until the jar is full. Twist the lid on tight and leave over night, straining in the morning. Add some ice and enjoy a nice iced tea to enjoy through the day! My son loves this tea with a little added raw honey.
For pregnancy: There is often a misconception that red raspberry leaf tea is unsafe during the earlier stages of pregnancy. This is simply untrue. Unlike some other herbs, red raspberry leaf will not stimulate labor before it is due. In fact, it is the best nutritive herb you can consume during your pregnancy as it is natures pre-natal vitamin! I recommend drinking 1 cup per day for the first trimester, 2 cups per day the second trimester, and a quart per day (4 cups) for the last trimester (see how to make an “infusion” above). This will help to provide vital nutrients to your baby as well as tone your uterus for a more comfortable birthing experience.
Echinacea has made my favorites list because of it’s highly potent and fast-acting medicinal qualities. Echinacea was first discovered in the mid 20th century and was often “marketed” for it’s ability to prevent someone from dying from a poisonous snake bite. These peddlers would gather groups of people and have a snake bite them, only to then take a large dose of echinacea and be in perfect health – whereas one left without the herb would surely be dead!
In lay-mans terms, the way this works is that echinacea “tricks” the body into believing it has been poisoned. This kicks the body into high gear, providing antibodies in large amounts to resolve an oncoming illness or threat of infection. This makes echinacea my favorite remedy for treating any communicable illness or bacterial/viral infection as well as ill effects of chronic illness that leaves the immune system low functioning. When taken right at the onset of an illness, echinacea will work so quickly that the sickness rarely fully develops, and if it does it is resolved quickly by the body. This herb works well to support the body’s natural immune response, which makes it superior to conventional medicines which suppress the bodies response and masks the symptoms, prolonging the issue.
Because of echinaceas unique response in the body, it is best used only at the onset or duration of an illness and not as a preventative. Long-term use of this herb can make it less effective, once the body realizes it hasn’t been “poisoned” after all, but is only consuming a sweet little flower. For the best results, only use for 5-6 days at a time, taking a few days break in between before continuing.
How to use: My favorite preparation of echinacea is tincture form. A tincture is simply a preparation of the herb by which it has been soaked in a liquid base (usually of alcohol, vinegar or vegetable glycerin) and then strained out, leaving a concentrated liquid “extract” so to speak. To use the tincture, take 15-30 drops at the onset of illness, every 1-2 hours until it subsides. You can also take it as a tea, using 1 tsp of herb to 1 c boiling water. Drink 1 cup of tea every 1-2 hours for best results. I have found echinacea to be especially effective for my toddler. When I see a runny nose I give him the tincture through the day and it never progresses and is gone by morning! This herb is very safe for children.
Although Reishi is technically considered a fungus, it is one of my absolute favorite herbs to feed my body. I have a long standing relationship with reishi. It has helped to reduce my anxiety, improve my sleep, calm my autoimmune disease, and give me an overall peaceful disposition. Reishi is known as an “adaptogenic” herb. This means that it is intelligent, and has the ability to adapt to the needs of the body and the immune system. This makes it especially helpful in the case of autoimmune conditions (over-active immune system), where it is able to determine how to calm the hyped-action of the immune system while simultaneously being aware of when it needs to boost the immune system to warn of impending illness. This also makes it a great tonic herb (to take daily over a long period of time), to build strength to the immune system.
Reishi also contains a small amount of psilocybins, which is a constituent found in high concentrates in psychedelic mushrooms. Although reishi isn’t considered a psychedelic herb, it is known as the “chill out” mushroom for a reason… helping you to have more restful sleep and reduce anxiousness. Studies are currently being done on the effects of psilocybins on treating mental illness and disorders. I believe it to be a very effective aid in such, from my personal experience.
How to use: Mushrooms require a unique preparation that includes drying or low heating over a long period of time. Because of this, I have found it to be the easiest for beginners to buy reishi in a powdered form or tincture. I prefer using it in powdered form! I typically blend it up with some almond milk, cacao, and raw honey for a delicious “mushroom hot cocoa”. You can find this and more recipes in my book, here.
Ashwagandha is another herb that I have used for a long time, and love dearly. It is a root derived from India, whose name means “like a horse”. This herb is able to strengthen the body in many ways! Another adaptogenic herb, it is capable of assisting the body in balancing hormones, increasing libido, improving thyroid function, supporting adrenals, improving energy, reducing depression and anxiety, and improve autoimmune conditions just to name a few. It is also a great tonic for strengthening the immune system, and is great to use in small doses for a short period of time to improve immune system function.
I have successfully used ashwagandha to resolve my hypothyroid (low functioning thyroid), as well as combat post partum depression and anxiety. There is little information on the safety of ashwagandha while nursing, so discuss the use of this herb while nursing with your naturopathic physician. Do NOT use ashwagandha during pregnancy. Because of it’s effects of hormones, it can cause dangerous or unwanted side effects for some pregnant women.
How to use: Ashwagandha stays true to it’s name “like a horse” and tastes a little like you scooped it from the floor of a barn. Because of that, I think it is taken easiest as a powder masked in something, or as a tincture. I personally use it as a powder and blend 1 tsp of it into my hot cocoa recipe I mentioned above or into a smoothie.
Garlic is one of the most underrated, highly medicinal herb in our culture… and it can be found in almost every household. Garlic is extremely anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. This makes it natures “anti-biotic”. However, it also supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and throughout the body… Antibiotic means “anti-life” or in essence, death. Conventional broad spectrum antibiotics such as penicillin which is over-used extensively in western medicine kills our healthy bacteria and severely disrupts our bodies delicate flora. This lends itself to the creation of “super bugs” (bacteria that cannot be treated and therefore is deadly), candida/yeast overgrowth, poor digestion, and a myriad of other problems. That, and antibiotics do not treat viral or fungal infections. Antibiotics are often over-prescribed for conditions that are not bacterial and so therefore are not only ineffective, but damaging. This makes garlic a superior alternative… As it is able to not only treat pathogens, viruses and funguses of all types while also leaving the healthy flora intact. I would use garlic over antibiotics in a heartbeat for simple conditions such as a cold, cough, and flu… and even more serious communicable diseases. In fact, when England was in the depths of the “black plague”, few came out unscathed. Interestingly, among those who were not affected by this disease were robbers who were pillaging, stealing garlic and eating it raw as their sustenance. We could learn a thing or two from these intuitive trouble makers.
Garlic is most medicinal when it is raw – this leaves one of it’s most powerful constituents allicin in tact. It is most potent right after being crushed/cut. This powerful antioxidant has the capacity to combat serious chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer. It is also capable of aiding in the healing process from any chronic or autoimmune condition when taken each day over a period of time. Enjoy it in salads, soups, stir fries, and baking. If cooking, crush and allow to sit for 10 minutes before heating to retain as much of it’s medicinal qualities as possible.
How to use: One of my favorite preparations of garlic other than eating it for medicinal purposes is homemade garlic oil. You can see my recipe as well as how to use it, here.
Herbs are a simple, effective way to build strong lasting health by just implementing them each day. As I write this article my mind is flooded with even more herbs that I love, such as ginger, cinnamon, and elderberries! To see a simple way to implement these herbs daily, visit my homemade elderberry syrup recipe, here.
Bob Marley once said, “for every ailment in the body there is an herb to treat it”. I believe this whole-heartedly, and have first hand seen the beauty and vitality that herbs bring. I hope this article can help you get started on your journey to using herbs! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, or let me know your favorite herbs!
**disclaimer: this information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any illnesses. It is also not intended to replace competent medical care. If you or a loved one has a serious health condition, please consult your naturopathic physician before making any lifestyle or diet changes.