3 Herbs

Big exam coming up this weekend on herbs. I need to know by heart 42 different herbs, including Latin and common names, actions (the effect the herb exerts on the body) and indications (conditions or symptoms the herb would typically be prescribed for). Generally if you know the actions, you can surmise the indications. It’s harder to do it the other way around- a herb might be good for reflux, but is it lowering acid, protecting membranes or preventing gastric juices from rising into the oesophagus? Anyway, I’ve got all the names down pat and most of the actions and indications. All but three. It’s like my brain has reached capacity. I’ve read these three more than any others but they just won’t stick! Perhaps you can remember them for me:

1. Euphorbia hirta: Euphorbium is the only herb on my list that is antiprotozoal, meaning it may be able to treat amoebic dysentery. It’s also useful for other gastrointestinal infections as well as upper respiratory infection
2. Baptisia tinctoria: Wild Indigo is used for infections and as a depurative- Depuratives gently cleanse the body usually through a mild laxative action. They a re not as harsh as a detoxifying action and are usually used for skin conditions or gentle, long term cleansing.
3. Albizia lebbek: known simply as Albizia, this is a herb I should remember well as its anti allergic, and I get terrible hayfever! It’s used for coughing and asthma- more for pollen initiated springtime coughs than chronic infection or the like

Apart from my exam, I have other exciting news- my practical week starts Monday! I’m going to be studying under a wonderful naturopath whom I have never met, but heard many good stories about. I’m told she’s very easy to get along with and more importantly, is a very experienced, respected practitioner. I’m nervous as anything! I’m terrified of making a bad impression, looking like an idiot, not being invited back…. Or worse, somehow failing the clinic. I think have to seriously stuff up for that though, and I intend to do an amazing job and learn as much as I can while there.

The stress factor is really grabbing hold this week. I hate not knowing or having a really specific plan and I really haven’t finalised a few details of my clinic, like finishing time and how on earth I’ll cram my 35 hours into a single week when my supervisor doesn’t work Fridays! Toppe with exam jitters, the pile of work stuff to complete today, the upcoming EOFY workload… I started taking Kava today, which really settles my nerves and also numbs my tongue for a while after taking it. I’m also popping ginseng (a great little formula by Ethical Nutrients called Ginseng 5) for the next few days to keep my energy up, as I haven’t been sleeping (not insomnia, just a coughing hubby and a frequently waking toddler).

My plan for this weekend:
1. Fill my whiteboard with repetitive monographs on my three troublesome herbs, as well as list all the herbs by constituents (namely tannins, saponins, alkaloids) and actions (particularly immune, stress, GI and liver)
2. Do my exam!!!
3. Print out and look over alllll the paperwork I’ll need to complete during my clinic- logbooks, client consult forms etc
4. Hopefully organise some video assignments that should have been done weeks ago!
5. Watch a movie, probably tonight to give my poor brain a short holiday before embarking on my insanely stressful week
6. Drink a lot of coffee ūüôā

Calendula

Often included in teas for the visual aesthetics, calendula is an easily taken, versatile herb. Taken internally, it may assist gastric ulcers, dyspepsia, enlarged lymph nodes, acne or dysmenorrhea and other cramping pains. Dosage is usually 2-5g of dry herb steeped in boiling water and taken as a tea.

Externally, calendula is used for its vulnerary (wound healing), styptic (stops bleeding) and antimicrobial properties. It can be used in various bases for burns, wounds, fungal or bacterial infections of the skin, chronic inflammatory conditions like eczema or psoriasis or acne and sebaceous cysts. It can also be garbled for periodontal inflammation.

This gentle, soothing herb can be used in a wash (use the same directions for tea and cool) or in an ointment or cream base.

It’s easily sourced from health food stores as a tea and is in many commercial preparations sold for skin healing.

Calendula: think inflamed, infected, irritated.

Should not be used by those with known allergy to the Compositae family of plants.

Memorising Herbs

Wow, busy couple of weeks there! So far I’ve had two of four exams for Herbal Fundamentals. These exams aren’t huge (though the last one will be) but because- as in any good exam- we don’t know what the questions will be, there is an awful lot of stuff we have to memorise. He’s what got me through:

– Know the topics. My tutor had a list of herbs, broken down by weekly block, that would feature on the exam. She gave us this so we didn’t have to memorise every single herb (the 20+ she gave us were enough!). She also listed grouping we’d need to know, in this case actions like demulcent or constituents like mucilage. For these, we’d need to know definitions and applications as well as the list of herbs in the classification.
– Organise your Notes. Know what you need for each topic or subheading and lay it out. I made a spreadsheet for the herbs, listing the info I needed: Latin name, common name, actions, constituents, indications and parts used. I also broke down the other headings on paper.
– Know yourself. Are you a visual learner? I am, so I made flashcards by printing my excel sheets and played ‘memory’ with them. I also made bright, colourful lists, grouping my herbs any which way I could (body systems, constituents, actions etc). I have in the past also made voice memos to listen to and wall charts (great for things like chemistry). Get creative, and figure out what makes it stick for you.
– Clarify if you need to. I wasn’t sure if, for example, we needed to learn dosage. I could have risked it and ignored it, or tried to memorise it and cram unneeded info in. I emailed my lecturer and she was more than happy to tell me it wasn’t needed.
– Pick your time. If you are doing exams online, don’t do them when you’re tired, stressed out, in a hurry or unwell. If you don’t have that flexibility, try to take it easy the day before and plan your exam day so you aren’t rushing, or adding unnecessary stress.
– Open book? Plan for it! Open book exams sounds easy but they’re bloody hard! Organise your notes so you can find what you need in a BIG hurry. Use post-it’s to separate sections in notebooks or mark relevant parts of your textbooks and print out typed notes if that’s easier. Make lists (like ‘digestive herbs’ and ‘herbs with sapnonins’) and have them readily accessible.

My results? 100% for exam one and 93.3% for exam two. Hopefully using these tips again means the next couple go well too!

Constituents of Herbs

What makes herbs work? ¬†A vast array of chemicals that act together in ways that, for the most part, are too complex to understand. ¬†Science has however pinned down a few groups of chemicals, some of which have varied actions and other that are a bit more uniform. ¬†Here’s a quick rundown:

Tannins¬†are what give strong black tea it’s mouth-puckering quality. ¬†They precipitate proteins- that is, they affect the proteins in your mucous membranes so they become stronger and more resistant to damage. ¬†Their functions are mainly along these lines- they stop bleeding and secretions, strengthen gastric and oral mucosa, they are anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. ¬†Two herbs high in¬†tannins¬†are¬†Geranium maculatum (American cranesbill) and Hamamelis virginia (witch hazel)

Alkaloids have wider ranging actions, from hallucinogens to cholagogues and anti-microbials. ¬†Some you may have heard of include Berberine (from Barberry), Morphine (Poppy), Cocaine (Coco leaf) and Mescaline, the stuff the gives Peyote Cactus it’s reputation.

Resins are sticky solids that usually have a localised effect. They stimulate phagocytes in the area they are applied, are antispectic, healing and protective making them great for wounds and ulcers.  Calendula officinalis is a great example of this.

Volatile Oils are also present in Calendula and are more commonly known as Essential Oils.  They have a vast range of therapeutic benefits but are very potent and need to be used with care.

Mucilage in herbs consists of complex carbohydrates.  They only affect what they touch and act as a fibre when taken in large doses.  In smaller doses they are used for coating and lubricating the mucous membranes or skin to protect and sooth.  Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm) and Althaea officinalis radix (Marshmallow Root) are two of these herbs.

Flavonoids are mostly water soluble and increase tissue and capillary integrity, are anti inflammatory and stabilize cell membranes.  Silybum marianum and Achillea millefolium (Milk thistle and Yarrow, respectively) fall into this group.

Saponins are soapy- they foam when mixed with water and agitated.  They potentiate other herbs (increase the actions) but can irritate the GI tract in large doses, so use with care.  Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice) and Dioscorea villosa (Wild Yam) contain saponins.

Anthraquinones are the laxative constituents of herbs, present in commonly used herbs like Senna and Cascara.