Dozens of modern medications are derived from plants and herbs, so it’s not surprising that using certain herbs in day-to-day life can be beneficial. Teas are a popular way to use the natural properties of herbs, but there are lots of other ways to utilize healing herbs, too.
Adding healing herbs to food can make meals more interesting, in addition to making them healthier.
One of the spices used in curries, turmeric, contains a natural anti-inflammatory that works similarly to a class of drugs called Cox-2 inhibitors, which block the formation of an enzyme that encourages inflammation. Adding turmeric to recipes might help lessen pain from inflammation, such as the pain from arthritis. Tumeric can also be taken in a supplement form.
Ginger is perhaps best-known for its ability to lessen nausea. In fact, in some studies, it’s been found to be more effective than Dramamine at reducing motion sickness. This might make ginger a good choice for those who take pain medications that cause nausea. Additionally, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that make it effective at reducing pain. Ginger can be added to meals, used in supplement form, or taken as a tea.
Another plant that can help make life easier is holy basil, which is a variation of the type of basil often used in cooking. Holy basil extract is known to reduce stress and might also alleviate headaches. It can also be prepared as a tea.
If you’re thinking of adding healing herbs or supplements to your diet, do a little research first to make sure it’s safe.
Talk to a physician or pharmacists before taking any herbs or supplements, especially if you’re taking any other medications. Healing herbs might interact with other medications, or they might have side effects that worsen existing conditions. Discuss dosing with your physician, too, and make sure you don’t take more than the dosing instructions on herbal supplements.
Additionally, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements, herbs aren’t regulated by the FDA at all. This makes it very important to buy herbs from trusted sources. Look for a seal or certification notating that the herbs have been inspected by a reputable group, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP).
Also check out the Office of Dietary Supplements and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). These websites provide a fact sheet for different dietary supplements and herbs, detailing the main ingredient, what forms it’s available in, what the science says about its effectiveness, and potential side effects and cautions.
Some healing herbs are more effective when used as essential oils, instead of being consumed. For pain management, some of the best ways to use essential oils include:
- Facial steam
Facial steams utilizing healing herbs can reduce headaches.
To do a facial steam, put one to five drops of essential oil in a pot of hot water – but not so hot that the steam is uncomfortably warm to the skin. Lean over the water and drape a towel over your head so it forms a tent. Inhaling the steam through the nose can open up the sinuses and reduce headaches. Eucalyptus, tea tree, or peppermint oil can work well for this purpose. Esoteric Oils lists oils that might be beneficial for other conditions when used during a facial steam.
However, prolonged use of facial steams can cause or worsen headaches, in addition to causing nausea, vertigo, lethargy, or dizziness. For this reason, it might be a good idea to start with just one or two drops of oil in the water for just a minute or two.
A compress, bath, or massage utilizing essential oils from healing herbs can alleviate all kinds of aches and pain.
Compresses are typically used to treat minor pain. Adding an essential oil can complement the pain-relieving effects. For muscle pain, cramps, or arthritis pain, a hot compress is best. Add four drops of oil to a pint of hot water, soak a cloth in it, and then wrap the cloth around the painful area. A cold compress will work better for fevers, headaches, or any injury that might be accompanied by swelling, such as a sprain. To prepare a cold compress, follow the same steps as a hot compress, using cold or refrigerated water instead.
To use essential oils in a bath, mix the oil with something else first. Milk or sesame oil act as emulsifiers to help disperse the essential oil. Salt can also help disperse the oil in bathwater. Add about five to ten drops of essential oil to about one cup of milk, sesame oil, or salt, mix it together, and add the mix to the bath.
Using essential oils from healing herbs can make a massage more pain-relieving, too. The oil must be diluted with a carrier oil first, though. Pre-made blends can be purchased, or you can mix your own. Add about 12 drops of essential oil to one ounce of carrier oil, such as almond, calendula, or grape seed oil. A massage with a blend of essential oil can reduce pain from sore muscles or joints.
Several of the same essential oils can be effective for compresses, baths, and massages. Peppermint, lavender, or rosemary might be particularly effective for pain relief. However, there are some essential oils that are too harsh to be used on skin, even when diluted. Research essential oils and look for mentions of toxicity or irritants before using.
Also, when first using an essential oil, consider using a very diluted solution and building up to make sure it doesn’t cause a reaction. Perhaps use diluted essential oils for a compress or foot soak to start out, rather than jumping right into a bath. Always dilute essential oils before use, and never use them internally. Only healing herbs and supplements should be used internally, after discussion with a physician.
Have you used any healing herbs for pain relief?
Image by Stephen Jackson via Flickr