Your Own Herbal Expert - Part 1
an article by Susun S. Weed
medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple,
safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors knew how
to use an enormous variety of plants for health
and well-being. Our neighbors around the world continue
to use local plants for healing and health maintenance.
You can too.
on herbs and their uses has been passed down to
us in many ways: through stories, in books, set
to music, and incorporated into our everyday speech.
Learning about herbs is fun, fascinating, and easy
to do no matter where you live or what your circumstances.
It is an adventure that makes use of all of your
senses. Reading about herbal medicine is fascinating,
and a great way to learn how others have used plants.
But the real authorities are the plants themselves.
They speak to us through their smells, tastes, forms,
Anyone who is willing to take the time to get to
know the plants around them will discover a wealth
of health-promoting green allies. What stops us?
Fear. We fear that we will use the wrong plant.
We fear poisoning ourselves. We fear the plants
These fears are wise. But they need not keep us
from using the abundant remedies of nature. A few
simple guidelines can protect you and help you make
sense of herbal medicine. This series of short articles
will offer you easy-to-remember rules for using
herbs simply and safely. When you have completed
all eight parts of this series, you will be using
herbs confidently and successfully to keep yourself
and your loved ones whole/healthy/holy.
is a Matter of Taste
all plants contain poisons. After all, they don't
want to be eaten! Because we have evolved eating
plants, we have the capacity to neutralize or remove
(through preparation or digestion) their poisons.
Not all poisons kill, and even poisons that are
deadly often need to be taken in quantities far
larger than can easily be obtained from foods. (Apple
seeds contain a lethal poison but it takes a quart
of them to cause death.)
Our senses of taste and smell are registered in
the part of the brain that maintains respiration
and circulation - in other words, the survival center.
Plants (but not mushrooms) advertise their poisons
by tasting bad or smelling foul. Of the four primary
kinds of poisons found in plants - alkaloids, glycosides,
resins, and essential oils - the first two always
taste bitter or cause a variety of noxious reactions
on the oral tissues, and the last two usually do,
especially when removed from the plant or concentrated.
Sometimes the taste of the poison in a plant is
hidden by large amounts of sweet-tasting starch.
Fortunately, human saliva contains an enzyme that
breaks down these carbohydrates, exposing the nasty
taste of the poison. Since even tiny amounts of
some poisons can have large effects, for safety
sake, take your time when tasting.
our sense of taste protects us against poisonous
plants, it is always best to take herbs in a form
that allows one to taste them. Consuming just one
plant at a time, with as little preparation as possible,
gives us the greatest opportunity to taste poisons
and is therefore the safest way to use herbs.
One herb at a time is a "simple." When
we ingest a simple herb - raw, cooked as a vegetable,
brewed fresh or dried in water as a tea or infusion,
steeped in vinegar or honey, dried and used as a
condiment - we bring into play several million years
of plant wisdom collected in our genes. When we
ingest many plants together, or concentrate their
natural poisons by tincturing, distilling, or standardizing,
we increase the possibility of harm. Powdering herbs
and putting them in capsules is one of the most
dangerous ways to use them, especially those containing
poisons. For ultimate risk, play with essential
oils; they are far removed from the plant, very
concentrated, and as little as one-quarter ounce
the next installments we will continue to learn
how to use herbs simply and safely. We will explore
nourishing and tonifying herbs, the difference between
fixing disease and promoting health, how to apply
the three traditions of healing, and how to take
charge of your own health care with the six steps
will need the following plants, all of which contain
poisons that you can taste: a head of lettuce (taste
the leaves and the core separately), some black
or green tea (unbrewed), a fresh dandelion leaf,
strong chamomile tea (steep it overnight), a can
of asparagus, some fresh mint, a spoonful of mustard
seeds, and a bottle of vanilla extract.
Approach tasting a plant as you would tasting a
wine. Begin by inhaling the aroma. Release the bouquet
by squeezing the plant until your fingers are moist
(or chew briefly and spit into your hand). Do you
feel enticed, repelled, or neutral? Does your mouth
water? Does your throat clench? Observe how you
react to the smell. Does it sting your eyes? Irritate
your nasal tissues? Do you want to taste it?
We do not gulp our wine, nor do we merely wet our
tongues; for best effect, taste and smell a reasonably
large piece, but don't stuff your mouth. As you
chew, move the plant material around in your mouth.
Roll it around with your tongue. Make contact with
it for a full minute but DO NOT SWALLOW. No, no,
spit it upon the ground, or into your hand, or the
sink, or wherever you can, but do not swallow. SPIT
What do you feel now? In your stomach? Your throat?
Your head and nose? What is your gut feeling? What
sensations accompany the taste of this plant?
It is best to wait until the previous taste is completely
gone before going on to the next plant. If you are
doing advanced work with wild plants, wait at least
a day before you use or consume the plant in case
you have a delayed reaction to some component.
as in experiment one, but use these inedible (poisonous)
parts of common foods: lemon inner rind, apple seeds,
rhubarb leaves, lettuce root, the inner soft pit
of a peach.
as in experiment one, these poisonous plants (fresh
or dried): wormwood leaf, goldenseal root, yellow
dock root, Echinacea root, eucalyptus leaf, motherwort
Experiment Number Four
plants are rich in essential oils. We often use
them to season and preserve food. In small quantity,
these oils are not harmful, but concentrated, they
threaten the liver, kidneys, and life itself. Smell
and taste, as in experiment one, as many aromatic
plants as you can: thyme, rosemary, oregano, lavender,
sage, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. Brew
strong teas (steep overnight) of these plants and
taste. Can you see, smell, or taste more essential
oils? Smell or taste one drop of the extracted essential
oil of any of these plants.
What is an alkaloid? Medicinal plants often contain
groups of alkaloids. Name seven plants rich in alkaloids
(specify the part); then name at least three of
the alkaloids in each plant.
2. What are glycosides? Name at least four glycosides
and describe the effect each has. Name seven plants
rich in glycosides; specify the part of the plant
and the kind of glycoside.
3. What are resins? Name four or more plants (specify
part) rich in resins.
4. What are essential oils? Name a dozen or more
plants rich in essential oils (specify part).
5. What is the difference between a poison and a
medicine? Are all drugs poisons?
the botanical name (genus and species) for each
plant you named in the further study section.
Taste a variety of plants that grow around you.
Warning: It is possible to experience uncomfortable
or harmful effects from this experiment. A book
on poisonous plants can reassure you that the plants
you taste will not kill you. It is best not to put
plants such as poison ivy or poison oak in your
mouth. DO NOT TASTE HOUSEPLANTS.
This is part 1 in an 8 part series by Susun S. Weed. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part
3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part
6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | *
Disclaimer: This content is not intended
to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions
made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose,
treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or
symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided
by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare
practitioner with a specific formula for you. All
material on this website/email is provided for general
information purposes only and should not be considered
medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable
healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical
care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second
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Susun Weed at: www.susunweed.com and www.ashtreepublishing.com
For permission to reprint this article, contact
and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international
reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings,
and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges
conventional medical approaches with humor, insight,
and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine.
Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic
lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.
Susun is one
of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine
and natural approaches to women's health. Her four
best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists
and well-known physicians and are used and cherished
by millions of women around the world. Learn more
article is © copyright Susun
S. Weed 2006 - Republished here with kind permission.