There are 4 categories of herbs: pot herbs, tonic herbs, therapeutic herbs, and drastic herbs. Understanding these categories is the first step to learning how to use herbal remedies, and knowing how to use them can make an enormous difference to the benefit you get from them.

Pot herbs are what are more commonly called “vegetables” -- broccoli, kale, cauliflower, carrots and so on. Like all herbs, they contain chemical compounds called phytochemicals that can have health-producing effects. The phytochemical content of pot herbs is around 1%. It is not a lot, but it is enough to make eating plenty of vegetables a really good idea, especially when you consider the volume of pot herbs that we consume in a serving compared with the serving sizes of other types of herbs.

Next come tonic herbs. They have a phytochemical content of about 8%. These are herbs like chamomile, valerian, lemon verbena, and hops. They are the herbs you would typically use in tea. They are known for effects such as calming or relaxing or energizing and they are very popular. Some are used as herbal digestive aids, or as stress reducers or as remedies for similar conditions. It is important not to confuse them with the next category of herbs, known as therapeutic herbs.

For the most part, herbal remedies are formulated from the third class of herbs, therapeutic herbs. The phytochemical content of therapeutic herbs is about 50%. They are a lot more potent than tonic herbs and it is important to know how to use herbal remedies if you are in the habit of treating yourself with therapeutic herbs. Examples of therapeutic herbs are milk thistle, dandelion root, lobelia, fenugreek, goldenrod and horsetail. I have formulated several compounds of therapeutic herbs into tinctures for use by my patients, and I make a point of teaching my patients how to use herbal remedies when I dispense them. The knowledge makes an important difference in how much they are able to benefit from them.

And then finally we have drastic herbs. Drastic herbs have a phytochemical content of around 86%. They overwhelm the body. You don’t want to use drastic herbs. Poison ivy, poison oak, hemlock are examples of drastic herbs. They are not herbal remedies. They are unhealthy for us. So we concentrate of pot herbs, tonic herbs, and therapeutic herbs.

The best way to use pot herbs is to eat organic fruits and vegetables that are in season in your location. The fresher they are the better. Ideally they should be eaten raw rather than cooked. Of course, most of us don’t do that. Who wants to eat broccoli every day! We eat whatever produce we feel like, and it is shipped to us from all over the world. Just make sure you vary the pot herbs that you eat. Usually, this is no problem at all. Just understand that variety is best. Here is why, and it is at the core of how to use herbal remedies.

Our bodies react to the phytochemicals in herbs. That reaction is what gives rise to the therapeutic benefit we get from them. If you continuously stimulate your body with the same phytochemical, the body tends to get used to it and stops reacting as strongly, causing a decline in the therapeutic benefit. That is why, even with pot herbs, it is a good idea to switch the phytochemical reaction by varying your diet – and that is apart from the goodness that comes from different vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in the fruits and vegetables that you eat (for now, we are just looking at pot herbs as herbal remedies).

The same thing happens if you consume a tonic or a therapeutic herb every day without interruption. After a while, it will lose its effect.

Starting with tonic herbs: if you like to drink, say, chamomile tea in the evening to help you relax, you will get a better effect if you switch between chamomile one night, and other relaxing herbs, such as valerian or passion flower, on other nights. If you preferred, you could drink one tea for a week, then another the next week, and rotate them in that way, rather than drinking the same tonic herb every day, month in, month out. I find that the health benefit diminishes after about 30 days. So that is the marker to watch for.

This gets to be even more important when we use therapeutic herbs. That is why I recommend to my patients that they take my therapeutic herbal tinctures such as Milk Thistle & Dandelion Root or Lobelia & Fenugreek for 27 days, then take a few days off before resuming another round of treatment. They are advised, very specifically, to avoid continuous use of any therapeutic herb, for the simple reason that using them continuously causes their effect to diminish. The size of the bottle I use for my tinctures is expressly designed with this in mind. It contains enough tincture for a 27-day course of treatment. After that, a short break clears the body’s memory of the therapeutic phytochemicals so they will be able to have their full effect in the next round of treatment, if indicated.

Prolonged use of therapeutic herbs should be done with professional guidance. They are potent and not to be treated lightly. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and people with difficult health conditions should consult with their medical advisor before taking the class of herbs defined above as “therapeutic”. And you should only use herbs that are either organically grown or wild-harvested and that have been cured properly. Otherwise, the phytochemical content will not be there for you.

Actually, I began producing my own herbal remedies after I was disappointed with the results my patients were getting from store-bought herbs. When I had them analyzed, I found that herbs sold as “organic” turned out to contain pesticide residue and other contaminants, and I lost confidence in them. That was about 30 years ago, and I am happy to say that there are now several high-quality providers of herbal remedies that you can rely on. I have continued to produce my own remedies because they are tailor-made to support my natural healing protocols.

I teach all of my patients this basic outline of how to use herbal remedies. Used properly, they are among nature’s greatest blessings and can play a central role in restoring us to the radiant health that is our birthright.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Chappell's Natural Cure Products page contains information about the herbal remedies he uses in his natural cures practice.