5 Reasons Herbal Medicine Doesn't Work for You
"Herbs don't really work." "That's just placebo." "I tried this tea and it didn't work for me." "Herbs don't actually cure things." Etc etc etc.
I hear these things from people all the time, and it can be super frustrating because the problem isn't that the herbs don't work. It's that people are largely uninformed about how to use herbs in ways that are helpful.
1. You don't know how to prepare them properly.
To make tea: cover the cup while it's steeping. This prevents the volatile oils (which contain medicinal benefits) from evaporating (aka leaving your drink, and not entering your body.) For flowers and leaves, steep for 15-20 minutes. For roots, you need to create a decoction, which means you need to simmer them in water, covered, on the stove for 20 minutes.
Teas (technically infusions) and tinctures are most effective. Herbs in capsules are least effective (and sometimes, those capsules you're buying don't even contain the herbs you think they do, because they're not very regulated..)
2. You aren't consistent.
Herbs are not drugs. Let me repeat that: herbs are not drugs. You cannot treat them like drugs. You cannot drink one cup of tea one time and think that that will help you. Try to think of a plant as a type of energy, a living being, as opposed to a drug. The plant will help you if you work with it in the way that is best. Generally, in an acute situation (think stomachache, cold, moodiness, cramps), it's best to take a small amount of the herb very frequently until symptoms disappear. So 4-8 oz of tea every 2-3 hours. Or taking the proper amount of tincture every 2-3 hours (varies by herb.) For a chronic condition (anxiety/depression that's been there for months/years, chronic pain, etc), it's usually better to take a smaller amount less frequently but for a longer period of time. So for depression, taking St. John's Wort tincture every day, and not expecting it to work for a few months. For hormonal issues, taking Chaste Tree Berry the same way. Herbal medicine may not always be immediately effective, especially if it's treating a condition that's been there for a long time.
3. You are using bad quality herbs or information.
Herbs that come in a tea bag you buy in a grocery store might be so old or treated in such a way that they have lost most of their effective properties. Get your herbs from trusted sources. I love Mountain Rose Herbs.
Good information about herbal medicine is also difficult to find, because there is so much conflicting information out there. I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around this when I first started learning about herbal medicine. Googling things was impossible, because I didn't know what I could trust and what I couldn't, and I didn't understand why there couldn't just be one herb that worked for one thing.
My advice is this: only take information from people who have experience. You can google well-known herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar or Susun Weed. Susun Weed in particular has a ton of free information online — I've had awesome luck with googling "susun weed anxiety," for example (substitute the word "anxiety" with any issue you're having.) She also has a free radio show every Tuesday night where you can call and get her advice.
Also, again, think of herbs more as people. You don't expect a person to have just one quality that you can use for one specific thing. Herbs have personalities. Don't be frustrated by the fact that you can look for herbs that will support your liver and come up with 15 different options. Instead, learn more about each herb and what else it's used for. That can help you decide which one might help your body best. For example, burdock, dandelion, and yellow dock all help the liver. But burdock also helps the respiratory system and skin issues. Dandelion helps the kidneys and gallbladder. Yellow dock supports healthy blood.
4. You are using too many herbs at once.
A typical tea blend you buy at a store might combine 10 different plants in one tiny little tea bag! You aren't getting enough of any one herb for it to really be all that effective. Plus, you probably don't even need most of those plants — it's just a matter of finding the one that will fit your body best. I don't suggest using more than three. I like using two even more. Just haphazardly using a bunch of things every so often probably isn't going to work.
5. You don't really believe that they'll work.
Your mind is a powerful thing. Think of this as a placebo effect in kind of an opposite way. If you don't think it's going to help you, it's probably not going to help you.
This won't be true for all herbs - if you take something poisonous, obviously it's going to be poisonous whether you believe it is or not. Some herbs are stronger/more dangerous than others. Some have also been proven by numerous studies to work regardless. But in general, it is just really not helpful to not believe in the medicine you're taking.
PS — if this all sounds interesting but overwhelming and you don't know where to begin, work with me. I'll teach you all the basics of herbalism in 2 one-on-one, online sessions, spaced a few weeks apart.
You'll learn about 10+ of the most common/my favorite plants, and you'll choose a plant (with my guidance) to connect more deeply with during the time we are working together. You will learn basic herbal preparations, including how to make infusions, oils, tinctures, vinegars, salves, oxymels, and syrups. We'll also talk about forming a relationship with plants, how that works, and how you can incorporate them into your life. (ps I am mostly against essential oils, so that won't be a topic we discuss here).