I have been studying herbs and herbal medicine for several years now, with special focus on historical use of medicinal herbs. A great many of our everyday medicines are descended from simple herbal remedies that we have forgotten or laid aside in the interest of commercially prepared and synthetic drugs. For example, willow bark tea, frequently used for headache relief, contains Salicylic Acid from which we now get Aspirin (Thompson). Digitalis, for treating heart conditions, comes from the Foxglove and Quinine, for treating malaria, is from Cinchona, also known as Jesuit's Bark or Peruvian Bark (Thompson). Clove oil was, and still is, used for toothaches. Many of the spices we use in the kitchen including ginger, cloves and cinnamon are antiseptic. The heavy use of spices in food in the days before refrigeration was not so much because the meat was bad at the time of preparation, but because these spices helped fend off spoilage for a time.
I have always preferred to use natural materials for my ailments and needs as much as possible. I have grown my own herbs and used teas, tisanes and spices commonly available from the local store. As I further develop my own medicinal herb garden, adding new plants every year and learning how to prepare them myself, I am moving away from commercially prepared products with their additives and preservatives. My own herbal medicine experiences have been somewhat limited to common ailments such as digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, kidney stones, and herbal treatment for an ill goat. Below I will identify what herbs I have used for these problems and how effective they have been for me.
In researching herbal medicine, it almost seems as though nearly every herb that grows has some application for digestive problems. I have used Anise and Cloves for gas and bloating, Chamomile and Peppermint teas for upset stomach, bloating and diarrhea, and Oxymel with Chamomile for general stomach upset.
To prepare a tea for bloating, take about a teaspoon or two of dried Anise seeds, which you can purchase in the spice section of your local grocery store, and a whole Clove or two and crush in a mortar. You can also add Cinnamon Bark if you like. Put the crushed seeds and cloves in a mug, add about a tablespoon of honey, add boiling water and stir. Put a cover over the tea to minimize the escape of the volatile oils and let it sit until it is cool enough to drink. I usually don't strain the tea, most of the material will settle to the bottom as it cools and I like the seeds. If you don't want to strain seeds through your teeth, you can strain the liquid through a cheesecloth or tea basket. It has a nice taste, somewhat like licorice. I find it works well for eliminating gas and bloat and my husband agrees.
For general upset stomach, nausea, bloating and diarrhea, try brewing up some Peppermint or Chamomile tea. Peppermint tea in particular is great for nausea and can be drunk as a hot or cold tea. Some people find that Peppermint can cause griping of the stomach, but I have not had that reaction myself. Chamomile tea is a gentler tea with a somewhat sweet scent like apples. I usually don't add sweetener to my herbal teas, but you can add honey to Chamomile and sugar or Stevia (an herbal sweetener) to Peppermint. Regular black "China" tea is astringent and can help tighten the bowels when suffering from diarrhea.
Sometimes, if I have a generally "icky" feeling, I will drink some Oxymel. Oxymel is a drink made of apple cider vinegar, honey and boiling water. I make Oxymel with Chamomile Tea in place of the boiling water and it works fairly quickly to settle the stomach. Some recipes call for one part Vinegar to two or even five parts of Honey in a cup of hot water. I usually just add one tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, one tablespoon of Honey and a mug of hot Chamomile tea. My husband doesn't care for the vinegar taste, and it does take some getting used to. Oxymel in a syrup form was historically used as a means to disguise bitter flavored medicinal herbs. Hippocrates commented that Oxymel promoted good expectoration (coughing to remove phlegm) and freedom of breathing. (www.naturalherbalism.com)
Ginger is an old standby for nausea, including motion sickness and morning sickness. I find that some crystallized ginger candy does help with nausea and upset stomach. It makes the breath sweet as well.
Peppermint Tea and other mint teas do wonders for headaches. I also have used a peppermint headache ointment that is placed on the temples as an aromatherapy treatment. It works wonders and is very calming. I have on occasion used a hot compress made with peppermint tea over my eyes when suffering from one of those lovely "exploding eyeball" headaches. The warmth of the compress and the scent of the peppermint help alleviate the pain. Lavender oils or a lavender pillow are also good aromatherapy treatments for headaches that have worked for me.
Chamomile Tea is a well known sleep aid that has been used for centuries for its calming and relaxing effects. Drink hot and sweeten with honey. I am a big fan of Celestial Seasonings teas and often drink Sleepytime Tea by Celestial Seasonings in the evenings to help me to unwind. Some other commercial teas designed to help you sleep include such herbs as valerian and skullcap, which do work, but should be used sparingly. I also find that a warm Lavender bath and lavender oils are helpful when trying to unwind and relax for a restful sleep.
For kidney stones, the historical books on herbal medicine include a number of treatments to break the stone. Most of the herbs used to help with kidney stones are diuretics that help to increase urine flow and hopefully dissolve the stone. Parsley is an easy additive to soups and even teas to increase urine flow. Apple Juice, Lemon Juice, Oxymel, and other acidic drinks also help to break up the stone. Grapes are also said to have a positive effect on the Kidneys. I often combine these remedies with some of the teas and remedies for nausea and upset stomach with some success.
My husband and I treated a goat that had some sort of eye ailment that was causing her to go blind. While we did not use only herbal treatments, the vet gave us some shots that we faithfully administered. However, we also turned to a book we have titled "Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable" by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. In the book we found guidance for herbs and vegetables that support eye health such as Fennel, Carrots, Parsley, and others. We fed these items to our goat along with the vets prescribed medication and she fully recovered. Whether or not the herbs helped the medicine is up for debate, but we wanted to do everything possible to help her to recover. We also try to encourage the animals to eat natural Anthelmintics (a.k.a. deworming medicines) such as garlic, but we haven't had much success with that yet, possibly because of quantity.
I look forward to cultivating additional herbal remedies in my new herb garden that I will be establishing this summer. The nice thing about growing your own herbs is you have more control over the quality and prevent introduction of toxic substances such as pesticides. Growing your own herbs means that you may have fewer adulterants in the way of other plants, some of which may be toxic in certain doses. Before gathering wild herbs, it is important to become familiar with the way a particular herb grows, looks and smells, which can be easily done if you start off by growing your own. Many wild plants look similar and it would be easy to pick up some toxic plants along with your desired herbs if you are not careful and knowledgeable. I have been growing Echinacea and plan to make tea with it to ward off seasonal colds. I will be experimenting with Calendula, Lavender, Mints and Bee Balm to make a variety of home remedies including salves, teas and tinctures. I also look forward to growing my own seasoning herbs and salad herbs and vegetables to support our overall health and wellness.