These healing herbal teachings are to be educational, help inspire everyone to have an herbal apothecary and promote expanding both personal & community kitchens.
Western Herbalism is the use of plants and plant parts such as roots, bark, and seeds to prevent and treat illness.
Plants have been used daily by people as spices, teas, infusions, oils, tinctures, honey and herbal vinegar’s to maintain and enliven our bodies.
Learning to integrate botanicals into our lives is the tricky part. For families, it can be good to have yummy tasting botanicals such as honey and syrups around. Also, starting children early with teas can be a wonderful way to get more nutrients and healing helpers in them. For the busy modern life, tinctures may be the best way to go until you can slow down enough to have a nice hot cup of tea or make an overnight infusion.
Lately, I’ve been sharing knowledge of herbs that can help us with stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress (PTSD).
As a western herbalist, I describe more herbs that are common in the west. I always recommend local, organic herbs whenever possible so please use the resources provided to find herbals you resonate with. If you can’t grow your own, buy quality herbs that smell and look good from trusted sources. I’m always happy to give a thumbs up or down on a brand before you buy it (I never buy Nature’s Way).
The first two types of herbs I’m sharing in this post help support our nervous system. One type is called a nervine which supports the nervous system. The other type is called a hypnotic and helps induce sleep. I’ll also talk about adaptogens which help balance and harmonize out our overall body system.
Below are four favorite herbal helpers for the nervous system (three nervines and one hypnotic).
Oats are rich in calcium, a nervine and wonderful for everyone who isn’t gluten intolerant. The seeds and whole plant are used, and it should retain some green when dried (often referred to as oatstraw). If not, return it.
The easiest way to use oatstraw is to buy it in bulk and add it to your tea. I also recommend using it in an infusion (1-2 tsp. of dried herb per cup of water left for longer than 30 minutes to steep, I leave mine overnight).
Oats are a tonic to nervous tissue and helpful for panic, anger and emotional outbursts when used over time. It helps keep free calcium ions in the bloodstream so it is great for menopause and growing children. Really though, it is great for most everyone.
Steel Cut Oats can also be eaten for breakfast to feed the belly and nervous system!
Lemon Balm improves the effect of other herbs that help the nervous system so it is great to add a little to your oatstraw tea. It helps lift the spirits and cools the thyroid. Lemon Balm is rather easy to grow (if I can grow it I know you can!) and has a lovely smell. If you are hypothyroid, it is generally best to use Lemon Balm minimally or not at all.
Passion Flower is best used for supporting deep sleep and treating insomnia (not something usually taken first thing in the morning). In this way, it is generally referred to as a hypnotic. Passion Flower is also helpful as an anti-spasmodic for Parkinson’s disease and seizures. And, it may be used to ease pain from neuralgia and shingles.
I recommend adding Passion Flower to your homemade evening sleepy time tea or taking it as a tincture for spasms and nerve pain. Passion Flower is included in a good quality Herb Pharm formula called Anxiety Soother.
While Oats can be used daily, Skullcap is a relaxant and best used during times of stress and anxiety. As a nervine, it relaxes nervous tension and renews the central nervous system making it a useful helper in hysteria, seizures, epilepsy and pre-menstrual syndrome. Skullcap is a wonderful support for a stressful day (rather than coffee) and can be added to an oatstraw infusion, tea blend or taken as a tincture.
People have always used certain herbs to support the overall health of the body. In western herbalism, a modern term for these herbs is adaptogens because they help the body adapt. Most adaptogens work by supporting the endocrine system, particularly the adrenals and hypothalamus, as well as the immune and nervous systems. They modulate stress through the Hypothalamic/Pituitary/Adrenal (HPA) axis and the Sympathoadrenal System (SAS). I highly recommend including adaptogens in your life!
Here are a few herbs that can be really helpful in adapting gracefully to stress or change:
Ashwagandha is a central nervous system tonic and the best herb to try first for PTSD. It is a calming adaptogen and has traditionally been used for anxiety and nervous exhaustion. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can be helpful for treating fibromyalgia (with Kava and Scullcap) and rheumatoid arthritis. Ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family so take care if you know you are sensitive to nightshades.
Ashwagandha stimulates thyroid function. So, when taken for PTSD (increased T3 production is common), it is best combined with herbs that help suppress the thyroid for balance (Bugleweed, Lemonbalm, Motherwort, Reishii). You can also read more about Thyroid Herbals.
This is one of my favorite northwest native plants and herbal helper for maintaining balance. Devil’s Club contains glycosides found in other adaptogens like Ginseng. It supports the adrenal cortex around the perimeter of the adrenals. This is where cholesterol is synthesized into the hormones aldosterone and cortisol. Many other hormones are produced in the adrenal cortex.
Devil’s Club can stimulate the lungs, help with eczema, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Devil’s Club can decrease sugar cravings and can be used to treat adult-onset diabetes. A good quality Devil’s Club Extract is available through Herb Pharm.
“In general, Devil’s Club seems to be an aid in times of body/mind stress and a means of increasing one’s feeling of well-being.” (5)
American Ginseng is an excellent tonic and adaptogen for general depletion from a busy life. It is generally a wonderful herb for helping to balance your energy levels. In modern culture, it is a great adaptogen to consider if you experience fatigue or anxiety from the stress of life. It is less warming than Panax ginseng and therefore great for younger men and women.
American Ginseng supports the endocrine system, helping the adrenal cortex whether it is over or under functioning due to stress. It also helps moderate the pituitary/hypothalamus with stress and drug abuse. American Ginseng can be helpful during the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis, for jet lag, immune system depletion, and general adrenal deficiency.
Since American Ginseng is an endangered plant, please consider your source of it consciously. Herb Pharm grows American Ginseng organically, hand-harvests the roots in the fall and shade-dries them.
In shamanic cultures, it is common for most people to have knowledge around how to use plants as medicine. Some people have a little more knowledge and may be called the local medicine person, herbalist or shaman.
If you are pregnant, taking any medications or working with multiple concerns you will want to consult with one of these people, a naturopath or other medical professional you are comfortable with before trying a new herbal medicine.
Generally, it is good for everyone to have a few herbs in your pantry or medicine cabinet for stress.
A yeastlike fungus, by the name of Candida (Monilia) albicans, commonly causing vaginal yeast infections and infant thrush.
The continual presence of Candida (Candidiasis) is becoming widespread as sugar imbalances, poor diets and extended drug treatments become more common throwing off the normal body balances. Additional contributing factors can be emotional stress, general physical weakness, hormonal changes (menopause, pregnancy), birth control pills and hormone pills.
If possible check your urine pH in the morning with a pH Test Strips. Urine pH should be under 7.0 and above 6.0 (acidic). If your urine is often alkaline (above 7.0) you can often change your diet to restore the acid/alkaline balance.
Below are suggestions for working with Candida using botanical medicine.
A yeastlike fungus, by the name of Candida (Monilia) albicans, commonly causing In the United States use Chamerion (previously Epilobium) angustifolium, (commonly called Fireweed) leaves and flower
In Hawaii try using Terminalia catappa and Cyperus rotundus (Nutgrass)
In the Southwest United States try using the desert plant Chilopsis (Desert Willow)
For emotional stress and to help balance blood sugar use Oplopanax (Devil’s Club) tincture. Herb Pharm sells a high-quality Devil’s Club 4 oz Tincture.
If you don’t have access to the herbs listed above you can use Pau D’arco (woods grown and organic only!). Traditional Medicinals sells a good Pau D’Arco Herbal Tea, and Herb Pharm sells a high-quality Pau D’ Arco 1 Ounce Tincture.
If your urine pH is alkaline the following diet changes may assist you in restoring balance:
Osteoporosis is a loss of calcium, collagen and protein content in the bones
Osteoporosis, or bone loss, is common during menopause. Usually, in her 40s a woman will start to lose calcium, collagen and protein content in the bones at a rate of 1-2% per year. This is usually a faster rate than new bone can be built up. The total bone loss can reach 30-50% by post-menopause. Obviously, this kind of bone loss can cause the skeletal system to be weakened, brittle and easily fractured. Herbs, nutrition, supplements and routine body care can help the body slow down bone loss as well as maintain calcium and other important nutrients in the bloodstream to ensure they are available for bone growth.
Maintaining usable calcium in the bloodstream helps the body to minimize the release of calcium from the bones. Working with bone loss requires more than taking calcium supplements. Other nutrients, estrogen levels, stress and exercise can all impact loss of calcium content from the bones, intestinal absorption and bone growth.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) – Effective in assisting the body with maintaining calcium bone content; anti-rheumatic and can help reduce pain in the joints and muscles if taken soon enough, rich in calcium and other trace minerals
Chasteberry (Vitex) – Helps the body to balance progesterone levels; Progesterone stimulates new bone growth
Dandelion root (Traxacum officinalis) – Assist the body with digestion if taken 15 minutes prior to eating, supportive to the liver and hormone balancing
Don Quai (Angelica sinensis) – Root is estrogenic in function and commonly used during menopause to support healthy bones and balance estrogen levels; best taken in a formula 2-3 times per day for 1-2 weeks per month (during the first phase of your monthly cycle if still menstruating)
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) – 60 mg daily; Effective in assisting the body with maintaining calcium bone content; anti-rheumatic; support for the thyroid; contains Silica which is needed for collagen; rich in calcium and other trace minerals, acts synergistically to support calcium metabolism
Nettle – 150 mg daily; Rich in calcium and other trace minerals; support for the thyroid; acts synergistically to support calcium metabolism and contains Vitamin D
Oat straw (Avena sativa) – Effective in assisting the body with maintaining usable calcium and nutrients in the bloodstream; support for the thyroid
Bioflavenoids – 250-500 mg daily; red and blue berries contain “anthocyanadins” that help stabilize the collagen structures; available in blackberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries
Boron (Glycinate) –3-5 mg daily maximum; stimulates higher estrogen levels and increases bone density; present in green leafy vegetables; helps regulate calcium, magnesium and phosphorus metabolism
Calcium– 1,000 mg before menopause; 1,500-2,000 mg during and after menopause; ensure that your calcium supplement has Magnesium aspartate available at a 1:2 ratio as it helps regulate calcium metabolism (500 mg before menopause; 750 mg-1,000 mg after); the body absorbs calcium best as hydroxyapatite and citrate; it is best to take small doses more frequently for building healthy bones
Choline – aids the adrenal and pituitary gland function
Cobalamin (B12)/Vitamin B.sub.12 – 50-100 mcg daily; required by bone-building cells to maintain optimum functioning
Copper (Amino Acid Chelate) – 1.5-3 mg daily; essential for bone integrity, provides hormone support, aids in bone formation, present in green leafy vegetables
Essential Fatty Acids (omega-3s and omega 6s) – 2 Tbsp daily; helps with bone structure and development
Estrogen – slows down the breaking down of the bones; helps maintain levels of active Vitamin D and decreases Calcium excretion
Folic Acid – 400 mcg daily; detoxifies homocysteine, a substance that can contribute to osteoporosis
Inositol – aids the adrenal and pituitary gland function
Lysine – amino acid from which protein molecules are synthesized; available in spirulina
Manganese (Citrate) – 2.5 – 15 mg daily; needed for bone integrity, cartilage and collagen; available in greens
Panthothenic acid (B5) – 250 mg daily; aids the adrenal and pituitary gland functions
Phosphorous – 800-1000 mg daily at a 1:1 ratio with calcium to form essential bone mineral salts; Available in eggs and greens
Prescription Drugs – corticosteroids, anticonvulsants, antacids with aluminum and diuretics are known to interfere with calcium absorption
Progesterone – Natural progesterone stimulates bone growth so it is important for preventing and treating osteoporosis. It may be taken orally, as a suppository or as a skin cream. Have your progesterone levels checked periodically.
Pyridoxine (B6) /Vitamin B.sub.6– 2-25 mg daily; hormone balancing and support
Silica – 20-30 mg daily; needed for collagen; available in Horsetail
Vitamin A – 4000-5000 IU daily; assists with increasing osteoblasts, the bone building cells
Vitamin B6 – maintain hormone balance
Vitamin C – 1,000 mg daily; maintain hormone balance and assist with creating collagen fibers that bone calcium attaches to
Vitamin D2 – 400-1000 I.U.; available through sunshine, alfalfa, watercress, nettles; reduced estrogen leads to decreased levels of active Vitamin D which is necessary for calcium absorption; Vitamin D2 is the only truly vegetarian source of vitamin D; Vitamin D3 is derived from sheep’s lanolin but sometimes you will see it mislabeled as vegetarian
Vitamin E – 800-1000 IUs daily; support for balancing hormones
Vitamin K – 40-500 mcg daily; necessary for manufacturing the bone protein matrix
Zinc – 12-15 mg daily; maintain hormone balance, essential for bone integrity, needed for osteoblast and osteoclast formation, helps create the collagen matrix that holds the bones together, present in green leafy vegetables
Exercise – regular exercise, even for 15 minutes per day will assist the body in maintaining proper body weight and increase calcium absorption
Smoking and Caffeine – minimize to avoid blocking calcium absorption and increasing calcium bone content loss
Stress – chronic stress depletes the calcium available in the bloodstream and any stored levels of calcium
In general, try to minimize and balance eating foods that are higher in phosphorus than calcium (meat, nuts, seeds, boneless seafood, whole grains) with foods that are higher in calcium such as milk products, eggs and green leafy vegetables. Don’t drink too much liquid with your food in order to support adequate stomach acid levels for proper digestion. Additionally, drinking room temperature lemon water 20 minutes before each meal will support digestion and alkalize the blood.
Berries – Anthocyanadins, dark blue and red pigments found in berries, help stabilize collagen
Garbanzo Beans (cooked) – High in calcium
Greens – Collard greens and kale are high in calcium
Protein – 45-80 grams recommended daily (1 egg = 6 grams); spirulina, quinoa, sesame seeds, sardines; protein helps build bones and is needed to absorb calcium
Seaweeds – Kelp and bladderwrack can help support a healthy thyroid
Sugar – Complex carbohydrates contribute to less calcium absorption and more calcium in the urine
High Phosphate Drinks – Avoid! If there is one thing you can do to help yourself age more gracefully it is to stop drinking soda pop. The phosphates compete with calcium absorption by cells.
Quinoa – High in amino acids
Water – Ensure you drink enough water to keep the body hydrated
The thyroid is a large endocrine gland located in the neck below the “Adam’s apple”. This gland regulates how we utilize energy and respond to hormones in the body, creates proteins as well as produces important hormones.
This article is intended to give you basic information, personal experience, and links to trusted resources on how to support the thyroid. We live in a time where the body faces ongoing environmental contamination including radiation, where we often don’t get the nutrients we need and sometimes get too much of one thing, throwing the body off balance. Hence the need for awareness around our thyroid and thyroid herbals.
For deeper knowledge and connections I recommend diving into Ryan Drum’s online articles. He is also an excellent person to buy seaweed from!
Hyperthyroidism is when too much thyroid hormone is produced sometimes causing sudden weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating or irritability.
The root cause may be too much iodine intake through the diet or environment. Removing iodized salt and foods with iodine in them is suggested.
Foods such as seafood, milk and dairy products (cow udders are often washed with a strong iodine solution), flour and flour products that aren’t labeled iodine-free as well as red meats can be sources of unlabeled iodine and thyroid hormones in your diet.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones sometimes causing obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease over time.
An Awakening Dragon student, Jarrod, has shared his journey with hypothyroidism and how he learned to regulate his thyroid imbalance naturally:
When I was about 13, a psychiatrist put me on lithium to help regulate my expressions of anger. My parents were unable to address the familial roots of my pain in a more holistic way and thus began a long, long trip on the dark road of the pharmaceutical paradigm. Within a couple of years, I had developed a severe thyroid condition. I had gained weight, my skin was itchy and flaky, my body was cold all the time, I felt mentally foggy, and I was very sleepy. I finally got my basic thyroid levels checked for the first time after falling asleep while driving and almost running into a tree! Soon after, the psychiatrist smilingly suggested that, rather than discontinue the lithium, I should consider myself lucky that I could just “cure” the problem by taking another little pill every morning . . . for the rest of my life.
About 15 years later, having taken that little pill diligently every day, I decided to make a change. Despite simultaneously being medicated for nearly 20 years with a variety of antidepressant drugs, I still didn’t feel well. All the symptoms I associated with my thyroid were still there, if a bit less pronounced. But I also noticed that the medicine itself (a synthetic version of the thyroid storage hormone called T4, commonly distributed as Synthroid or Levoxyl in the States) was making me tired. About 30-40 minutes after taking it in the morning, I would experience a drugged feeling of sluggishness and reduced productivity. Perhaps I had masked it for years with caffeine and had taken some time off of that stimulant, which is why I began to notice this phenomenon at the time.
I began to investigate alternative treatments. And this is where things got frustrating quickly.
It’s important to mention that there are many causes of hypothyroidism (low-functioning thyroid). Mine was not caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or any other diagnosed autoimmune disease, nor was it caused by thyroidectomy (having the thyroid removed). It was caused by lithium’s natural action of suppressing thyroid function. It is important to consider what could be causing your thyroid symptoms when choosing a course of action. It’s also important to mention that I am a male since most thyroid patients are female, and since thyroid symptoms can sometimes be related to the reproductive cycle in women and affect women differently.
Unfortunately, as many “thyroid patients” know, modern allopathic doctors are often more concerned with current symptoms than root causes, and are almost always reluctant to prescribe anything other than synthetic hormone replacement for those with hypothyroidism. I ended up finding a patient advocacy site, stopthethyroidmadness.com, which had a ton of information about the history and current state of affairs in diagnosing and treating thyroid disease and other related conditions. They also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StoptheThyroidMadness.
Sifting through a lot of the information there, I decided to try to find a doctor to prescribe me with desiccated thyroid gland. This is commonly distributed as Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid in the States. It is supposed to be made from the entire thyroid gland from an animal source, so it contains all the hormones the thyroid normally produces, such as T3, rather than just T4. It was one of the older treatments for people with thyroid symptoms before the era of pills came to prominence in the middle of the last century in the States.
It was a challenge first to find a doctor who would order tests other than a simple TSH (a measurement of the body’s thyroid stimulating hormone, which goes up as the thyroid function goes down). The further challenge, again, was finding a doctor who would prescribe the desiccated thyroid gland medicine. I persisted, visiting three doctors before I found one who was somewhat open-minded about the issue. I asked him for Nature-Throid, since there were rumblings on the STTM boards that suggested Armour’s quality had declined over the years.
After taking this medicine for a few months, and experiencing some relief from the metabolic lullaby I had been experiencing from taking Levoxyl, I still wasn’t satisfied.
That’s when I reached out to Jewelie, who thankfully connected me with Dr. Ryan Drum, a very knowledgeable herbalist from the Pacific Northwest. He and I only ever corresponded over email, but those brief conversations and the resources on his website were sufficient to help me achieve my goal of resolving my thyroid symptoms without having to take pills. Reviewing his site recently, even after a couple of years now of being pill-free, I realize that there’s probably more for me to learn and do to optimize my endocrine health. But for those suffering from symptoms of thyroid disease, and especially for people who have been taking medicine for it and still having symptoms, Dr. Drum’s website is a great resource.
Through Dr. Drum’s writing, I learned that people like me, who had an intact though low-functioning thyroid, could take high doses of iodine-rich seaweed in lieu of pills. Many people who did this experienced relief from thyroid symptoms that persisted even after their TSH results showed “normalization” after taking synthetic T4 and other marketed medicines. And that certainly was the case for me, as I gradually weaned off the Nature-Throid and weaned onto seaweed. Dr. Drum harvests the seaweed himself and offers it for sale on his website in a variety of forms. I started with five grams of the dried and powdered fucus gardineri variety, which I mixed with honey since I didn’t like the taste. For the past couple of years, I’ve continued to take five grams a day with my first meal, mixing it in a cup of warm water. Commercial seaweeds are also available for purchase online, but these may be dried at high heat, potentially degrading some of the active constituents.
If you are looking for more information about treating your thyroid symptoms naturally, I would recommend starting by checking out the STTM website and then finding (if you aren’t already fortunate enough to be working with one) an open-minded doctor who is willing to run an appropriate battery of tests. In some cases, it might be useful to do extensive tests involving other organs like the kidneys, adrenals, and the pituitary gland. And, if you don’t know the cause of your thyroid symptoms, it’s important to check for thyroid antibodies also, to see if there could be an autoimmune component. But at the very least, a full thyroid panel including T3 should be standard. Especially if you are experiencing residual symptoms while taking thyroid replacement hormone, a simple TSH test is, in my opinion, not sufficient. So, do your best to find a compassionate and well-informed endocrine specialist willing to work with you to your satisfaction.
Then, check out Dr. Drum’s site: www.ryandrum.com. Read carefully, and email him with questions you might have. Hopefully, you will be able to heal yourself of symptoms that are bothering you, while learning more about this very important part of your body’s hormonal system, which is more complex than most doctors are willing to admit.
Seaweeds: Kelps and brown seaweeds are rich in iodine, an essential element for thyroid hormones. Icelandic and Norwegian kelps have the highest iodine content at 8,000 to 4,000 ppm. Atlantic & Pacific kelps, Fucus spp. and Wakame have lower iodine content at 2,000 to 50 ppm.
Be sure to consume naturally dried (at a low heat), unrinsed organic seaweed. I like to sprinkle kelp powder over my eggs and potatoes like salt. Ryan Drum recommends 3 to 5 grams of dried seaweed daily for optimum thyroid health.
The Herb Pharm Thyroid Lifter Tincture is a good blend of Bladderwrack thallus (Fucus spp.), Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and three other herbal helpers in organic alcohol.
Fucus contains diiodotyrosine (DIT), the basic building block of T4.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): A thyroid stimulating and adaptogenic herb, Eleuthero root can help by directly stimulating and supporting thyroid function.
You can also buy wildcrafted seaweed directly from Ryan Drum.
Remove fluoridated, chlorinated and bromated water from regular use, both internally and externally, as fluorine, chlorine and bromine can get in the way of normal iodine uptake in the body.
Thyroid hormones are made from an amino acid called Tyrosine. Eating foods that contain tyrosine such as mustard greens (cooked), oats, spinach, sesame seeds, chives, cabbage, pumpkin seeds and butternut squash can help support thyroid function. Avoid soy products and uncooked cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale) containing goitrogens, substances that block iodine utilization and thereby suppress thyroid function. Additional foods that contain goitrogens include turnips, peanuts, pine nuts, millet, brussel sprouts and radishes.
Minimize adrenal stimulating exercise such as running.
Here is a list of Herbal Resources for trusted quality herbal products and brands we use and recommend.
1. Herb Pharm tinctures http://www.herb-pharm.com/
2. Hoffman, David. The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism
3. Mase, Guido. Adaptogenic Tonics: An Approach Unique to Herbal Medicine.
4. Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest.
5. Moore, Michael. Specific Indications for Herbs in General Use, second edition.
6. Mountain Rose Herbs https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/
7. Winston, David. Harmony Remedies: An Overview of Adaptogens.
Personal herbal consultations are one way for a person to learn more about the health of their whole being – body, heart, and mind. As a herbalist, Julie shows how plants can be used to support general health and well-being. Her process is one of education and applying plant information as appropriate to each person’s health topic of interest. Through education, sharing of information, experience, and ideas, this is a dialogue about you, health and how plants can be integrated to improve one’s lifestyle.
Plants can be integrated into our lives as friends in a pot in the kitchen window, dried or fresh for tea, cooked in food, powdered in capsules or tinctured in alcohol. Common uses for herbs are to keep the body strong through the winter to avoid colds and flu, to help support the body in getting rid of bacteria, viruses and fungus as well as and helping the body-mind-spirit to relax. Imbalances in one’s life can often be resolved with one or two plants.
Larrea tridenta (photo above) is one of my favorite desert plants. I love using the salve to help the body fight off fungi such as athlete’s foot, haoli rot, and ringworm. And, Casey uses the salve as a general sunscreen!
Disclaimer: All information provided on this site is intended as educational.