top of page

Introduction to Herbs

Herbs have been the "green medicines" of the Earth since time began. Their gentle ways are easy for us to absorb into our body, mind, and spirit. When we take herbs internally, they nourish us deep inside.

When we become familiar with herbs, a rapport is felt and they become like old friends. As you begin your herbal journey, start with a few herbs and experience the herb's taste, smell, and growing habits. When you invoke all your senses in learning about herbs, they will awaken memories of a time when humankind was in tune with the healing ways of the plant kingdom. Try some herbs you are already familiar with, such as chamomile or rosemary. 

Herbs function in gentle and holistic ways. Herbs can help us by:

  • Providing many nutrients that are easily absorbed such as vitamins, minerals, and proteins

  • Helping the body do the work of healing

  • Not suppressing the symptoms

  • Not accumulating in the body like most petrochemical medicines

  • Healing gently from the inside out leaving the body stronger


Herbs are not a replacement for pharmaceutical drugs. If you are unfamiliar with how to use an herb, ask you herbalist or healthcare professional before using the herb.



(Ocymum basilium)

Basil belongs to the same family as mints and possesses the same square (quadrangular) stem that is so common to the mint family. The leaves are dotted with dark oil cells and when gently bruised, release a delightful aroma. There are several varieties differing in size, shape, odor, and color of the leaves such as sweet basil, opal basil, cinnamon basil, and anise basil.

Basil is a familiar herb to most people. Used as a culinary herb in many styles of cooking, basil imparts a sweet, pungent aroma to food that is unmistakable. The derivation of the name Basil is uncertain but some authorities think it comes from the Greek basileus, which means king, because it is so excellent that it is fit for a king's house.
         In India the basil plant, known as tulsi, is sacred to both Krishna and Vishnu and cherished in the Hindu household. In villages in Greece, it is not uncommon to see a sprig of basil resting behind a person's ear to confer its protecting spirit on the wearer.

Added to foods, basil helps with the digestion because of its essential oils and its warming and pungent properties. Warming and pungent actions in spices helps the digestion by releasing gas from the colon and increasing the absorption of nutrients.

Basil helps with respiratory complaints by removing mucous and congestion from the lungs and nasal passages. For fungus infections, insect bites and sores, place the fresh crushed leaves directly on the afflicted area and secure it with some gauze. You can add honey to the leaves for its natural anti-biotic, anti-septic, and anti-microbial properties. For those afflicted with nervous exhaustion, make a tea to help lift the spirits.


Calendula's character can be described as slightly bitter, pungent, drying and neither too cooling nor warming but neutral. The part used most often is the yellow or orange petals however; you can utilize the whole flower head.

Calendula's golden flowers are a favorite amongst herbalist and gardeners alike. In a 12th century materia medica, it states that by simply looking at the plant it will improve eyesight, clear the head, and encourage cheerfulness. In the 16th century herbal by Culpepper, he states that calendula will "strengthen the heart." We don't know if any of this is true, but calendula's bright continence certainly does bring a sense of cheerfulness to the spirit which may in turn affect our heart, head and eyes.

Calendula's herbal actions are many. It is astringent, which means that it will tighten the skin and organs so that they heal better. It is antiseptic and anti-fungal so you can use it on wounds to keep them clean and heal properly. It can be used as a vulnerary. A vulnerary helps promote tissue rejuvenation where there have been operations, accidents and other causes of wounds.

You can use calendula for a wide range of skin problems and inflammations such as dry skin, wounds, dry eczema, scalds, and sunburn. Many commercial beauty products are available such as calendula soap, creams, and salves to help with these skin conditions.

Calendula is known to help ease chicken pox and measles. For this purpose, make a strong infusion by steeping about two ounces of calendula flowers in two quarts of boiling water for 15 minutes. Strain it and then pour the "herbal tea" in the bath water. The ill person can then soak in the healing waters as often as needed.


Chaste Tree & Motherwort

(Leonurus cardiaca)

Women many times are confused as to what herbs they should take for maintaining good health.  It is important that we attempt to educate ourselves with healthy therapies so that we can know how to go through our various growths and changes with greater ease.  I have dedicated this article to two herbs that I use on a regular basis and which have become my good friend.  We grow them in our gardens and I have seen them going through the seasons year after year.

The herb chaste berry, also know as vitex, has a colorful history associated with it. During the time of the Holy Roman Empire, the monks in hundreds of monasteries throughout Europe took chaste berries to help them come to terms with their sexual drives.  A common name for this herb was Monk's pepper or cloister pepper as it was apparently a standard spice used on foods by the celibate clergy.  It is also said that the celebrate priestesses of the goddess Demeter used chaste berries as well and were said to have followed a 1 1 chaste', lifestyle.  Thus, the berries were seen as symbols of virginity.  In ancient Greece the leaves were worn during rituals to invoke the Goddess Ceres.

However, we do not have to dress ourselves with leaves or be virgins to enjoy the health benefits of chaste berries.
Chaste berry is used to regulate the menstrual cycle in women.  It helps to relieve the symptoms of PMS and eases women through the transition of menopause.  This special herb has the unique property of stimulating the pituitary and normalizing the estrogen and progesterone cycle.  For those who are ceasing to use the birth control pill, chaste berry will help the body regain its natural hormonal balance.

For teenage women and men, chaste berry is used to regulate'their hormones and thus help with clearing up skin eruptions.  It may be taken with ginseng for the boys and dong quai for the girls.

I use chaste berry regularly and it seems to give me an ease as I go through each months cycle.  I have spoken with other women who use it and they have experienced the same results.

Remember, if you are having a difficulty with your cycle, then you have to look at your diet, stress, and lifestyle and make changes were they seem necessary.  When you go on an herbal program to handle the monthly cycle it may take 3 or 4 months to see a result so keep at it, eat the proper foods, keep away from the junk and create greater peace within.  You can take chaste berries as a tincture or in capsules.  Two capsules or one dropper full of the tincture one to three times as day.

Cautions: Chaste berries should not be used by women who are on the pill as it will counter-act the pills suppression of hormone production.  Pregnant women should not use it either as it is a uterine stimulant.

The other herb that I would like to discuss is Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).  This herb is not a well known plant to the current general public.  Yet it has been used for centuries and I feel that it should get the recognition it deserves as a plant for healing.  As can be seen the term Motherwort" shows its relevance to menstrual and uterine conditions while its Latin name cardiacal indicates its use in heart and circulation treatment.  Its taste is bitter and slightly spicy.


(Cinnamomum zeylanicum)


​Common cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of shoots from the cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), a member of the laurel family. The majority of Cinnamon trees grow in the tropics of Sri Lanka and Sumatra.

The Chinese, who have used cinnamon for centuries, covet the premium grades, which are large whole pieces up to a foot long that form a tube several inches in diameter. This high quality Chinese cinnamon is sweeter and of greater medicinal use than common cinnamon. However, for purposes of folk medicine, the common type of cinnamon is ideal.

Most of us are familiar with cinnamon and add it to desserts, tea and foods. But most people have no idea about its origins and history. After reading a book on the history of medicine, you will discover the amazing colorful past of spices.


On the famous Spice route from the exotic lands of the East, cinnamon was one of the main spices imported by the Arabs. In ancient Greece and Arabia, cinnamon oil was used for wound healing as well as other aromatic oils. The ancient people knew from observed experience that the spices worked. Science has now proven that many spices are antiseptic and antibacterial.

Cinnamon strengthens and harmonizes the circulation. Cinnamon is an excellent expectorant (helps you cough up mucus), warms the kidneys, and promotes strong digestion. As a diaphoretic (induces sweat ), cinnamon helps sweat out a cold or flu. Use the following formula: Combine 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon licorice. Gently simmer in two cups of water for 10 minutes. Drink one cup every three hours. As a digestive aid, use it alone or mix with equal amounts of cardamom and ginger powders. Use 1/4 teaspoon of this combination in hot water and add honey if desired.

Large doses of cinnamon are not recommended for pregnant women ( sprinkled on food is fine). Individuals with wasting diseases (accompanied by weight loss, and emaciation), or people with excessive dryness or heat should use cinnamon in small amounts only.



(Corydalis yanhusuo)

Humor:  -V, - P( plus P if taken alone or in excess), - K
Tissues / Organs:  Plasma, blood mover, promotes movement of chi, nerves, Stomach, Heart, liver, lung
Thermal Nature / Taste:  Bitter, acrid warm
Herbal Properties:  emmenagogue, blood mover, analgesic (pain reliever) 

Corydalis is a must for the herbal pharmacy. It is probably the strongest pain reliever available in the plant kingdom that does not require a prescription.  The powered rhizome is a very strong analgesic, approximately 1% the strength of opium. The alcohol and acetic acid extractions (using vinegar as the medium for extraction)  are the most potent. The combined alkaloids are 40% as effective as morphine.  The strongest component is a chemical called corydaline.

Corydalis invigorate the blood and alleviates pain. This can include pain due to blood stasis and traumatic injury. It is especially useful for dysmenorrhea.

It promotes the movement of chi and alleviates pain especially for stagnant chi that manifests with such symptoms as chest pain, abdominal pain, menstrual pain, hernial disorders, and especially epigastric pain.

Mixed with California poppy it is effective for many different pains. I usually blend it 50/50.  I take this blend and then add other herbs as indicated by the symptom complex. For menstruation pain add dong quai and cramp bark or cyperus rhizome (for opening up the liver energy and releasing stuck emotions.)  For headache add wood betony, feverfew, skullcap and valerian.  It can be mixed with fennel, skullcap and licorice root for stomach, colon discomforts.

You can make your own blend with the corydalis as the main herb in the formula. If taken in large doses it can make one sleepy and have a rather hypnotic quality.

This herb should not be given to pregnant women due to the emmenagogue properties. I would not give large doses of the herb if a person needed to drive or operate equipment or work at a job that needed a lot of one’s attention.

For headaches, I usually give one or two droppers full in a little warm water every 20 minutes or so. The person should try to rest while taking it for this.

For other pains just start with one or two droppers full and then see how it is going. Give more as needed.




Echinacea Echinacea comes from the Greed word for "sea urchin" or "hedgehog", which is an apt description of its deep pink prickly domed flower. The root is generally used for medicine, but you can use the leaves, flowers, and stems of the Purpurea variety. You can use many varieties of Echinacea for medicine. One that is easiest to find in the nurseries is Purpurea.

Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, was used by Native Americans to treat blood disorders, snakebites, and other venomous bites. Until the 1930s, Echinacea was the best and most often used antibiotic.

For general infection, take 1 to 2 droppers full every 2 hours. For acute stages of flues, coughs or colds, take 3 to 4 capsules every 2 hours. Echinacea has no contra-indications. It is safe for all age groups and for pregnant women.

Echinacea can help:


  • Stimulate the production of white blood cells to fight infection

  • Enhance the body's ability to dispose of bacteria, infected and damaged cells, and harmful chemicals

  • Protect cells during infection by preventing pathogens, bacteria, and viruses from entering the body

  • Work as a mild antibiotic

  • Stimulate the growth of healthy new tissue

  • Help reduce soreness, redness and other symptoms of infection

  • Help the body control and prevent infections

  • Fight Candida.



(Foeniculum vulgaris)

Fennel plants are very common around the United States. You can easily recognize their feathery fresh green leaves and strong, pleasant, anise like aroma. The aroma acts upon the mind to promote mental clarity and alertness.

Most people think of fennel as "licorice", however licorice is another type of plant. The confusion started when someone created a "black licorice candy" and flavored it with anise and fennel.


The Romans believed that serpents sucked the juice of the plant to improve their eyesight. The Greeks used Fennel as a "slimming" aid. In Medieval times, chewing the seeds was a favorite way to stop gastric rumbling during many long hours of church sermons.

Fennel, used as a spice, has strong warming properties; however, fennel seeds are a gentle warming spice. It combines well with cumin and coriander in cooking and is a good spice combination for the summer.

The seeds of fennel are among the best digestive aids. They help stop abdominal pains and spasms, increase peristalsis of the stomach and intestines, and bring up phlegm from the lungs. If you have gas, bloating, or burping, take some fennel seeds or fennel extract for quick relief. Fennel can stop cramping, dispel gas, and calms the nerves. Fennel is excellent for digestive weakness in children and the elderly.


For urinary problems, fennel seeds combine well with coriander. Put a tablespoon of each herb into a cup of boiling water and drink three cups per day until the urinary problem clears up. Nursing mothers and babies will benefit from fennel seeds as well. The seeds promote milk flow, and the herb helps the baby from developing colic. Fennel seeds are safe to use and have no counter-indications.


(Panax spp.)


Ginseng has a mystique about it that has grown over the last few decades in the West. It has been called an "adaptogen", which is a word coined by Russian researchers to refer to any herb or other agent that increases the ability to adapt. Ginseng helps one to physically and emotionally adapt to the stress of the environment such as air pollution, noise, chemicals, and emotional duress.

There are different types of Ginseng, however two of the most common types are American and Chinese ginseng:

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is bitter, sweet and moistening with a cooling quality. It affects the lungs, stomach and kidney and is a mild chi (building vital energy) tonic.

 It is classified in Chinese medicine as a "yin" tonic. Yin refers to the vital essence or all the fluid aspects of the body: lymph, muscles, connective tissues, reproductive secretions, lubricating secretions of the mucous membranes, skin and joints, and hormonal secretions. American ginseng is well suited to the stressed, overworked, and overactive Americans who have injured their vital essences.


Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng) is heating to the system and can be over bearing to a weak person who may feel more nervous and agitated after taking it. On the other hand, it may over activate and heat up a person who is already physically outward and very warm. Take Chinese ginseng in small doses with meals during the winter months.

Ginseng restores normality and increases the nonspecific resistance of bodies to diseases and other "changes" away from normal health.


Ginseng helps in the following ways:

  • Enhances immunity

  • Regulates blood pressure

  • Normalizes the flow of blood

  • Neutralizes free radicals

  • Strengthens the heart

  • Stimulates recovery from surgery and debilitating infectious diseases


Lavendar & Rose Petals for the Heart

(Lavendula spp)



I think everyone is familiar with the smell of lavender and has at some time encountered it in various cosmetic and oil blends.  The word "lavender" comes from the Latin lavere, meaning "to wash."  It was one of the favorite aromatics used by the Romans for their bathing activities.  They may have introduced the plant to England, and it has been a favorite herb there for centuries.

Lavender (Lavendula spp.), a member of the mint family, is generally regarded as the most useful and versatile essence for therapeutic purposes.  It has a sedative and tonic action on the heart and has been used in treatment of hysteria, nervous tension, heart palpitations, and for lowering high blood pressure.  It calms the mind and nerves and helps to ease depression, insomnia, and migraine headaches.  Add a few drops to bath water to soothe nerves and clear the mind.  It also eases sore muscles, rheumatism, dermatitis, and many other inflammatory conditions.

A few drops of lavender oil may also be added to foot baths in order to relieve fatigue and exhaustion, or rub some on your temples to relieve nervous headaches.

Place a small sachet of lavender flowers in a drawer to keep moths and insects away from clothing.  It will make your clothing smell quite wonderful, as well.  Lavender flowers and tops -- as opposed to the oil -- can also be made into tea, which can help with emotional upsets, nervous depression and anxiety.  Mix the flowers with equal parts of lemon balm, skullcap, chamomile, a half part of licorice root, and a pinch of ginger.  Let a tablespoon of the mixture steep in hot water, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.  Drink one to three cups daily.

•     Do not use the essential oils internally, as large doses can be toxic.  Please consult with an aroma therapist for safe internal dosage of the oils.
•     Adding 5 to 10 drops of the essential oil of lavender to the bath is usually sufficient for a relaxing soak.
•     For a massage oil, add a few drops of lavender oil to a base such as almond oil, and use this for massaging the body.

Rose Petals

There is an old saying that roses are good for the "skin and the soul." When most people think of roses they immediately think of  how they symbolize love and affection.  Having roses given someone is always a pleasant surprise. 

There are many parts of the rose that are used for medicine. The rose hips are  used as an astringent and taken for colds and flu and help staunch diarrhea. They are very high in vitamin c and help the immune system to do its job.  The essential oil of rose, which is very expensive, is used for opening the heart and easing upset and emotional trauma. Some people substitute rose geranium essential oil because it is much less expensive and very pleasant. It, too, help to ease the heart of emotional upsets. 

Rose petals can be use as well which is the least expensive way of obtaining the qualities of rose. Rose is anti-depressant , anti-spasmodic, calming, and nurturing. 

If you have roses in your garden that are not sprayed with pesticides and have a strong pleasant odor, you can gather the petals throughout the summer and let them dry on towels in a darkened area. They can then be used  in sachet as mentioned above with lavender or made into a tea in combination with other herbs for the nerves.

Rose  water can also be part of your medicine chest, also.  It is excellent as a wash on cuts and scrapes as it has antiseptic qualities.  It can be use on the face to help tighten the skin and pores. 

I hope you will try some of these herbs for the heart and the emotions. They are gentle and effective ways to ease the troubles away.

Saint John's Wort

(Hypericum perforatum or Klamath weed)


St.Johns wort is a cooling, slightly bitter and aromatic herb. The tincture tastes like a field of sweet wild flower. You can extract the herb in either alcohol or organic olive oil.

St. John's wort is promoted as an aid to alleviating mild depression. However, it is essential to expand your understanding of this wonderful herb. It is important not to jump on the bandwagon of "miracle cures" and see that St. John's wort has many applications.


Life style considerations must also be taken into account when using this herb. A fast food diet, coffee, sugar and too much mass media influences cannot be cured by taking St. John's wort. Simply, herbs are not replacements for an unhealthy lifestyle nor do they take the place of pharmaceuticals. There is a completely different theory and paradigm that herbal medicine follows; a very different model from the current medical model.


When treating depression and similar psychological conditions, a persons lifestyle and diet must be evaluated first. Organic foods, regular eating times, deep rest and relaxation, and time away from the computer and TV are the stepping-stones to good health.

It is important to educate ourselves on the uses of herbs before we jump on a bandwagon. We must do our best to make an educated decision about using herbs for our health and consult books or health care practitioners when possible. St. John's wort can help in the following ways


  • St. John's wort is used for all kinds of pain and inflammation including external skin trauma such as burns, cuts, scrapes and abrasions. It also helps with muscular and nerve injuries such as strains, sprains, and pinched nerves. Use the oil, cream, or salve.

  • Researchers have found that extracts of St. John's wort can suppress the immune response to lower excessive inflammation, reducing pain and swelling. Use the tincture, capsules or tea.

  • St. John's wort is a powerful antioxidant, more potent than many other well known tonics and protecting herbs such as Siberian or Chinese ginseng. Use as capsules, tea or tincture.

  • First degree burns and mild to moderate second-degree burns respond well to St. John's wort oil, cream, or salve. The herb speeds the healing and eases the pain. Other herbs can be combined such as plantain, comfrey, and calendula.

  • For mood swings associated with menopause or PMS, take the tincture or capsules two times a day for at least three months to see if it helps and then stay on the herb for at least a year.

  • Use St. John's wort oil to treat symptoms of ulcers, arthritis, and stiffness. Take internally one teaspoon, three times a day.

  • Combine equal parts of St. John's wort with California poppy for anxiety. Take as a tincture or in capsules since this combination does not taste good as a tea.



St. John's Wort by Christopher Hobbs. Covers all the uses of St. John's wort that are listed here and much more.

bottom of page