Medicinal Herbs 101

What You Want to Know About Herbs

Frequently Asked Questions From Beginning Herb Students

“If you have a question, go ahead and ask! Other students are probably wondering the same thing.” That’s what I always say in the first class. Here are some of the questions that have followed.

What is an herb, actually?

The quick answer is, “An herb is a plant that has been found to be useful.” (and a “weed” is a plant whose use has not yet been found!)

“Herb” is from the Latin word meaning green blade of grass. These days, the word herb refers to grasses, bushy plants, flowers, trees, any useful plant growing outside or in a pot.

We can categorize herbs as medicinal - having a positive effect on the physical heath of the body, culinary - used in cooking for their good taste, or cosmetic – improving the appearance. But in fact, all three provide benefits to health.

Herbs have been used in every culture since ancient times to maintain health and treat illness. European countries have used herbs as an integral part of their health care for hundreds of years, and they are currently available as standard care.

Can herbs be used at the same time as medical treatments?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Many herbs are mild and can be safely used at the same time as allopathic (standard) pharmaceuticals. Some herbs and supplements actually improve the outcome of medical treatments and reduce their potential side effects, including chemotherapy and radiation.

I describe this in my book, Life on a Mountain Farm:

"John, the husband of one of my students, came to see me for some help when he was diagnosed with cancer. I shared with him information about the Essiac formula, which supports the immune system. We also discussed several types of extracts and teas to reduce toxicity, cleanse the lymphatic system, increase energy, and help him sleep. John reported that throughout his medical treatments, his doctor frequently said to him, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up. I’ve never seen anyone make such good progress this fast.”

The best scenario is using herbs and healthy lifestyle to maintain good health and prevent chronic health conditions, or treat conditions in their early stages. Start with nutritive, adaptogen, and alterative herbs, all of which gently improve the functioning of the body.

Be cautious when using herbs and drugs that have the same effect, such as drugs for depression with St. John’s Wort, or for high blood pressure with Hawthorn. Monitor your condition with your physician. Your condition may improve and your doctor may reduce the drug dosage.

How can I be sure the herbs I’m taking are safe for me in particular?

The most important part of the answer is start with a diagnosis from your doctor if your condition is serious. Also:

  • Become your own health advocate. Before taking an herb, research the legitimate scientific information available on sites such as
  • Start by taking half a dose the first day and see how your body responds.
  • If you are taking prescription drugs, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is advisable to combine these with particular herbs.
  • Find an Herbalist or Natural Health practitioner in your area for individual advice.

Herbs have been used safely for thousands of years in every civilization. The fact is, herbs are a natural life form that the body recognizes. Research shows that taking herbs is infinitely safer than taking prescription drugs. Be informed and stay positive!