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Nature's pharmacy


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POSTED: Sunday, May 03, 2009

Instead of running to the doctor's office when she's ailing, Laura Shiels heads to her garden first. Many conditions that do not require a pill or surgery, such as common colds, flu, indigestion and chronic pain, can benefit from herbal remedies, said the herbalist and ethnobotanist.

“;Food and lifestyle equals medicine,”; Shiels said. “;Everything you put in and on your body and do with your body contributes to or detracts from the state of balance and health. Taking charge of your own health is a healing process on its own.”;

When her doctor's advice to combat flu consisted of nothing more than cough syrup and drinking plenty of fluids, Shiels took matters into her own hands.

“;Instead of feeling helpless, I felt empowered because I knew ways to help myself. I took herbal remedies that eased my coughing and congestion, helped me rest, soothed my achy body and stimulated and strengthened my immune system,”; she said.

“;While using prescription antibiotics contributes to microbial resistance, this has not been demonstrated in herbal remedies. There are some ailments for which antibiotics are the way to go, but they are often taken unnecessarily.”;

Even so, herbal remedies fall under the category of alternative or folk medicines that may or may not work. Anyone considering using such remedies should consult a physician regarding their specific condition and in light of other medications being taken.

Although not all the claims have been scientifically proven, herbs are believed to work by balancing or ridding the body of excess chemicals, such as lactic acid, or providing minerals and vitamins missing from one's diet.

AMONG USEFUL herbs that thrive here are aloe, kava, basil, bidens, cinnamon, comfrey, dandelion, ginger, lavender, lemon balm, noni, turmeric, gotu kola, and sweet potato, according to Shiels, who recently hosted a class at The Green House, demonstrating how to make herbal tinctures and infusions, and how to use the infused oils to create salves and more to relieve common ailments.

Preparing your own herbal medicine can cost a fraction of the price paid in the stores, but takes time, involving tending to a garden, harvesting and bottling.

“;If you enjoy the process, then the cost of time is well worth it,”; Shiels said. “;The beauty of making your own medicine is that you decide what goes inside.”;

That includes knowledge of the plant origins, whether it is raised organically or ethically, as well as how it is processed.

“;I've always been fascinated and intrigued by the relationships people can have with plants. Our co-evolution seems magical at times. Plants provide all of our basic needs. They produce our air, clean our water and give us food, medicine and material and shelter,”; Shiels said. “;I feel that if we lose our connection with the earth, we fall out of balance with the ecosystem and with our own humanity.”;

Some useful plants

» Wild tobacco: Can be used as an insecticide.

» Lilikoi: The vine produces tasty fruit, as well as flowers and leaves that reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and its calming properties aid sleep. Fights strep throat. Use with care if you have low blood pressure.

» Marigold (calendula): Acts as an anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic, detoxifier that helps to reduce muscle spasms. Heals minor skin conditions such as sunburn, fungal infections, cuts, scrapes, acne and diaper rash. Take internally to detoxify and to treat chronic fungal infections, excema, and to reduce menstrual cramps and regulate menstrual bleeding.

» Bidens: Commonly grows as a weed. It has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties and can be used as a general health tonic.

» Comfrey: Restorative to cells inside and out because of the allantoin it contains. Good for dealing with sprains, burns, acne and other skin conditions.

» Non-native Ilima: General health tonic to relieve symptoms of colds, flu and inflammatory conditions. Also used to cleanse the kidneys and liver. Acts as a mild diuretic.

» 'Uala (sweet potato): All parts of the plant are edible and have immune-system boosting properties. Drought-tolerant plant.

» Uhaloa (Waltheria indica): Native Hawaiian plant found in dry areas. Useful for stimulating the immune system and for treatment of colds, flu and inflammatory conditions. The root bark is used for sore throats.

» Lipstick Plant: Can be used as a natural dye and also has medicinal properties.

» Turmeric (Olena): It is an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant and analgesic spice used for treating ringworm and rheumatism. It stimulates production of bile and the stomach's protective mucus. Contradiction: Blood thinning properties can be hazardous to some.

» Pohe kula (gotu kola): Likes to grow in moist soil. Taken internally, it aids mental processes through increasing blood circulation to the brain. Externally, its antibacterial properties provides relief from bug bites and helps to heal cuts and other skin ailments. It's also used for anxiety and as a diuretic.

» Ginger: Good for treating nausea. Can be cooked with food, brewed into a tea or chewed on raw. It has cholesterol-lowering properties and can decrease joint pain from arthritis.

» Basil: This herb prefers hot, dry conditions and well drained soil. It is best used fresh or added to cooked dishes at the last minute to preserve flavor. It aids digestion and combats gas. It's considered an antibacterial that also helps calm the nervous system.

Facial treatment

2 tablespoons oil infused with lavendar and laukahi
2 tablespoons aloe gel
2 tablsespoons clay
2 tablespoons of oats (ground in a blender or food processor)

Mix oil, aloe gel, clay and oats together. Blend well and apply to face in a circular motion with a bit of lemon water (lemon juice squeezed into water). Wear for at least 10 minutes, making sure to smile while it dries. Wash off for radiant, detoxified and lightly exfoliated skin.

Herbal remedies

Some conditions that may be relieved with herbal remedies:
» Anxiety: Lemon grass, lavender, awa, lilikoi flowers and/or leaves
» Arthritis: Bidens, olena parsley, green papaya fruit or papaya leaf tea
» Burns/sunburn: Aloe gel, lavender, comfrey applied to the wound as poultice
» Cold/flu: Uhuloa, bidens, Ilima, cinnamon bark, turmeric, thyme and lemon grass
» Cough/bronchitis: Basil, aloe gel, uhuloa
» Cuts/scrapes: Aloe gel, comfrey and/or laukahi applied to the wound; chili pepper (will sting)
» Depressions/irritability: Basil
» Diuretic/cleanse for kidneys and liver: Dandelion leaf and flower juice or tea; parsley leaf or seed as food or tea.
» Fresh breath: Mint, coriander, cinnamon
» Gas/flatulence: Mint, ginger, cilantro leaves, coriander seeds, cinnamon bark
» High blood pressure: Lilikoi juice or tea made with flowers and leaves
» Immune situation: 'Uala leaf, aloe gel, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon bark
» Indigestion: Green papaya fruit or pineapple fruit for protein-induced stomach ache; mint leaves, ginger, lemon grass, cinnamon and/or lavender for a stomach ache after eating; aloe gel before eating to stimulate digestive juices.
» Insect bites or stings: Pohe kula and/or laukahi chewed and applied to the affected area as a poultice
» Insomnia: Lemon grass, lavender, lilikoi flowers or leaves
» Memory retention: Rosemary leaves, pohe kula leaves
» Parasites: Papaya seeds; rue tea
» PMS: Rue tea; lavender tea; dandelion (whole plant) fresh or in tea (to reduce bloating); basil
» Skin problems: Aloe, comfrey, laukahi applied externally
» Sore muscles: Awa
» Sore throat: Uhuloa, turmeric, Ilima flower, aloe gel
» Sprains/strains: Noni leaf. Comfrey leaf. Warm the leaf and keep on the site with bandages or ti leaves.
» Tooth ache: Cinnamon