Healing with herbs is a natural medical art that was used by all ancient societies to heal illness and bring back the body’s state to homeostasis – or wellness. Herbal medicine was humankind’s primary means of healing illness.
Over time, by studying sick animals that grazed on fields on specific herbs and how certain herbs interacted with the body, the village healers gathered their knowledge through observation and experimentation.
In all parts of the world, herbs grow wild and according to the conditions of their environment, which also dictate the types of ailments that are the most common within those natural conditions. Most herbs either grow as common weeds or proliferate wildly on mountain prairies.
Indeed, similarly to the types of native fruits that grow in a geographical region which changes according to the seasons, the nutritional and healing elements of herbs align with the bodily needs of the population that inhabits that specific environment.
Mother nature is wise and as part of nature, we can become wise by observing her and living according to her cycles!
Ancient Cultures and Herbal Remedies
The use and healing with herbs can be traced as far back as 50,000 years ago, when our Neanderthal ancestors roamed the plains for vegetables, fruits, roots, and herbs. Unlike the conventional story that paints Neanderthals as meat-eating and cannibalistic humanoids, new evidence suggests that they ate a variety of plants and self-medicated, which means they were more intelligent and aligned to their natural surroundings than previously thought. Instead, they were more oriented toward vegetarianism in their diets than meat!
According to Karen Hardy, an archaeologist who worked on the investigative project, found that Neanderthals preferred veggies over steaks and that they were highly knowledgeable about medicinal plants.
Undoubtedly, the Paleolithic diets of our ancestors were more diverse than the mainstream consensus and included edible herbs and diverse plants. In fact, modern research suggests that they had a profound knowledge of the plants and herbs growing in their environment and used them for their healing properties.
We can also find herbs mentioned and celebrated for their healing properties in religious texts and cultural myths. For example, the Bible includes many verses about herbs, all resonating with our spiritual connection to nature and our food source. Here are just two that paint an important picture of the importance of herbs as a primary food source given to humanity by the divine:
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you” (Genesis 1:29).
“By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).
In Quran, there are also many acknowledgments of healing illness and finding cures in spiritual work and medicinal healing: “There is no disease that God Almighty has created, except that He also has created his treatment” (Quran, 26:80).
The Torah also includes many verses about herbs and plants and their significance as gifts from God to humanity:
“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God” (Hebrews 6:7).
Even outside of religious texts, herbs were seen by most cultures as divinely created by nature for the healing of the animal kingdom. In many indigenous cultures, plants and herbs were revered to hold the consciousness that aligns to the cell receptors of our bodies.
They all served a particular “rebalancing” task that was either purgative, toning, heating, cooling, hydrating, or dehydrating, among many other states. And depending on the particular disease, the right type of herbal remedy would be selected that corresponded to the “nature” of the illness and which had the capacity to bring it to a state of homeostasis.
Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and Native American tribes all had a profound relationship with herbs and had incorporated many spiritual traditions with herbal healing known today as folk medicine.
And even today, in most poverty-ridden regions of the world, the reach of modern medicine is limited and herbs are the only option for many people’s healthcare needs. In fact, approximately 80% of the world’s population relies on herbs as their primary source of healthcare, as folk herbal remedies are integral to many cultures and practices.
The Western world is also slowly moving toward a more human-centered and holistic approach to medicine that fuses traditional herbal medical knowledge with the understanding of modern emergency medicine practices.
This “alternative” medical practice is known as functional, naturopathic, and integrative medicine, whose understanding of health and wellness resonates with that of our ancestors – that the human body and nature are the source of all healing.
Healing Herbs in the Greek Tradition
Medicinal plants have a long tradition in ancient Greece. In fact, modern medicine has much to owe to its understanding of medicine to ancient Greek healers, particularly Hippocrates. Known as the father of medicine, Hippocrates (460-377 BC), had written a number of treatises about the human body, disease, and how to cure them naturally. He is also known to have standardized ethics in medical practice, known today as the “Hippocratic Oath,” which all medical physicians take in the West before practicing medicine.
Hippocrates was known to have categorized approximately 400 of the most common herbs in use in Greece during his lifetime and was known to have used herbs according to their constituencies – either “warming” or “cooling” – according to which humours they helped treat.
His designation of humours – or body liquids – included the blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. By understanding which liquid was compromised, Hippocrates advised a herbal and lifestyle protocol that helped his patients correct certain imbalances in the body.
Hippocrates revived the ancient pagan understanding of health as stemming from personal dietary and lifestyle choices that either aligned or deviated from natural law, as opposed to the Classical Greek view that people of that time prescribed – that disease was a punishment for the transgression against the Gods.
Another influential Greek physician who lived in the first century A.D., Pedanius Dioscarides, wrote the well-known book, De Materia Medica, in which he documented many properties of medicinal plants. This book, like Hippocrates’s knowledge, is still considered one of the most significant herbal books to this day.
Healing Herbs in the Ayurvedic Medicine Tradition
Ayurveda – also known as the “science of life” – is an ancient alternative medicine system that incorporates the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas with the ancient knowledge of the body and natural law. It is one of the most herb-oriented medical practices of ancient times. Ayurveda is based on the wisdom that all disease is caused by toxic obstructions in the body that need to be removed through detoxification in order for the body to self-heal.
The detoxification of Ama, or toxins, occurs through healing plants, purgative methods, and fasting. By utilizing the laws of nature and the universal elements of air, water, fire, and earth, Ayurveda looks at a patient’s particular constitution and advises on detoxification methods that correspond to his or her bodily needs.
Herbs are mostly used for detoxification, regeneration, digestive support, and for circulation massage. The most popular herbs in the Ayurvedic tradition include turmeric, cumin, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and fennel – all of which have anti-inflammatory properties; however, some of the most detoxifying healing herbs for cleaning of the body include manjistha, kutki, and neem.
Healing Herbs in the Traditional Chinese Medicine Tradition
China has some of the oldest comprehensive systems of herbal medicine. Mirroring Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine fuses the ancient spiritual Taoist philosophy of balance between yin and yang energies with the power of the herbal kingdom.
Indeed, The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Herbalism, is a 3rd Century AD text without a known writer that has been passed down orally for over 2,000 years, and documents a mythical deity’s experimentation with 365 healing plant substances, their structure and nature, and the effects they had on health. Much of the knowledge is still used and practiced today.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that it connects the elements of nature to the body’s constitution and has a profound understanding of how specific emotions impact the function of corresponding organs.
One of my favorite books about Chinese herbalism comes from a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, Lesley Tierra. In her book, The Herbs of Life, she writes how Eastern and Western medical traditions diverge in the manner in which they perceive disease:
Traditional cultures which use herbs according to a theoretical system use herbs energetically. Chinese, East Indian Ayurvedic, Tibetan, Middle Eastern Unani and Native American Cherokee medicines are all founded on an energetic basis, although each system is different. To use herbs energetically, we look beyond the symptoms of the disease to alleviating the underlying imbalance which caused the disease.The Herbs of Life by Lesley Tierra, pg. 4
In fact, all major cultures with long-standing healing traditions understood that the energy that we find in herbs and foods is meant to infuse more energy into our own system, so that it can nourish and heal itself. Void of energy (or Qi), our cells start to degenerate, and we become ill. Ultimately, herbs provide the energy needed by specific tissues, organs, and systems that help to revive their function.
In essence, since we are all energetic beings, the energy of a plant, an herb, or food must make a difference to our well-being. And unlike what most of us have been taught in the West, what we consume energetically does have a profound influence on our health!
How to Heal with Herbal Medicine
Medicinal properties of herbs and plants vary from cooling, drying, warming, or moistening and can be used to offset opposite-natured conditions in order to correct the imbalances present. This is exactly why knowledge of herbs and herbal protocol is necessary – as picking and combining herbs is both an art and a science that understands disease and how it behaves in the body.
Along with an alkaline diet and a healthy lifestyle, herbs are known to treat all types of health issues, including the most common ailments such as upper respiratory infections, high blood pressure, sore throats, body’s immune system, digestive disorders, upset stomach, sore muscles, wound healing, cold symptoms, skin conditions, and nervous system issues.
And although pharmaceuticals have replaced herbs as the modern medicine cabinet for most Westerners, their chemistry and assimilation in the body couldn’t be more misaligned with our bodies’ needs and nature’s healing wisdom.
For one, pharmaceuticals include many man-made substances that are toxic and which can interfere and disrupt natural body cycles. When brought together artificially, these chemicals may also behave unpredictably, causing many adverse symptoms to emerge over time.
And one of the major reasons why pharmaceuticals are so dangerous as a method of treatment is that they only relieve symptoms temporarily, cause more damage over time (accumulated toxins in the body), and do not address the cause of the illness in the first place.
Unlike herbs that hold the wisdom of cosmic intelligence that is then assimilated into the body to treat the root cause of symptoms, prescription medications provide temporary pain and symptom relief at a higher health cost over time.
Therefore, unlike Eastern medical thinking that views the body and nature as holistic elements in themselves, Western medical thinking sees health as a sum of individual parts that must be treated separately and mechanically. The vast differences in these approaches are reflected in the divergent understanding of biology and consciousness.
Throughout centuries, herbs were used in various forms to facilitate their maximum absorption in the body. Herbal products from salves, syrups, and concoctions based on village traditions reflected the ubiquitous knowledge of folk remedies by most individuals, making medical practice more decentralized and utilized by knowledgeable laypeople.
Today, the medicinal use of healing plants comes in different forms that vary in consumption and concentration. Here are the most commonly used herbal products that you can find in most grocery stores today:
Tinctures – tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts that utilize alcohol, glycerin and vinegar as a base for extraction and a delivery solvent.
Capsules – capsules are a bit less potent than tinctures in their delivery, as they are absorbed through digestion, and are some of the most common means individuals use herbs to support healing.
Essential Oils – essential oils are volatile chemical compounds extracted from pounds of herbs into concentrated oils that are usually used externally to administer plant compounds to the body through the skin (through a carrier oil) or the nose (though a mist infuser).
Medicinal Infusions (Teas) – medicinal teas infuse a plant’s (a dried herb or a fresh herb) antioxidants and volatile compounds through the boiling of leaves, roots, flowers, barks, stems and seeds. Both the benefits of the infusion and hot water are very healing, as they eliminate toxic obstructions, nourish the tissues and help with digestion.
Body Salves – body salves utilize natural oils, essential oils, and herbs to create a skin-nourishing, soothing and anti-inflammatory moisturizer. They are very useful to treat skin irritation, treat wounds, and deliver medicinal compounds to the area of the body that is experiencing pain and illness.
Salads (consume herbs fresh or dried) – both fresh (such as weeds) and dried herbs can be used as salad greens and garnish. By combining fresh and dried herbs with olive oil and lemon, the healing capacity of all the compounds will be maximized. Salads are probably one of the most practical and delicious ways to enjoy the healing and aroma-therapeutic capacity of herbs.
The Most Common Medicinal Herbs – Weeds
Unfortunately, in our Western culture, weeds are discarded as unpleasant and cumbersome additions to our backyards. Most spend money poisoning them and time plucking at them, not realizing that they are some of the most medicinal plants on the planet! From dandelion greens and purslane to plantain and stinging nettles, the average backyard is a vast medicinal cabinet that we can use on a daily basis.
Many of these plants are bitters, which are wonderful for liver disease, inflammation, and digestive upset, and most of them are full of calcium, which helps to neutralize acidic chemistry in the body (making it more alkaline) and promote better kidney function.
Organic farming is also a great source of many nutritive weeds, which can be utilized as a part of organic farming production.
Instead of looking down on them, imagine how much more blessed would humanity be if it had more curiosity about nature and its wonderful gifts!
Here are just a handful of the most common backyard weeds and their incredible health benefits:
Dandelion – a bitter green and a plant that is known to be one of the most effective liver and kidney detoxifiers in nature
Red Clover – red clover – the flowers, especially – is a wonderful lymphatic detoxifier that helps inhibit tumor growth, contribute to female and male reproductive health, helps support brain function, and promotes skin health (red clover is very beneficial for treating eczema and psoriasis)
Purslane – this citrus-y and mucilaginous plant is surprisingly full of Omega-3s and is very effective for brain health, skin irritations and disease, reduction of overall body inflammation, and improvement of heart function
Chickweed – this tiny herb does wonders for helping to clean and strengthen the lymphatic and glandular systems and is known to be one of the best herbs for skin problems and wound healing
Stinging Nettles – nettles are known to sting, but drying them or preparing them with lemon will denature their prickly nature; in fact, stinging nettles are known to alkalize the body and replenish tissues with minerals and electrolytes; the plant a panacea for all health conditions
Shepard’s Purse – this heart-shaped leaf plant is known for its blood cleansing/circulation benefits, helping to alleviate menstrual cramps, internal bleeding issues, fibroid tumors, and more
Plantain – plantain is the best herb to use for fevers, colds, and congestion; it’s also a powerful wound cleanser and can be applied topically to acne, boils, and bites to extract toxins and promote healing
How to Detox the Body with Herbs
We are all constructed differently, and depending on our personal constitution and habits, our health and the detoxification journey will vary. Contrary to popular mainstream belief, detoxification is not a feel-good or a quick process. What it does is prime and open up all the elimination channels for toxin purge, which can feel physically and emotionally overwhelming.
This state is known as a “healing crisis,” during which healing can really feel like you’re falling ill, since the body is overwhelmed with dealing with toxins flooding the lymphatic system (the sewage system) and regenerating cells and tissues with alkaline chemistry.
However, detoxification is the only effective way in nature to cure disease and regenerate the body! By investing in the process, we undergo the rebuilding of our body – which is intimately tied to our habits, emotions, and beliefs. Detoxification is ultimately a holistic transformation of the self and requires patience, understanding, gentleness, and commitment.
Detoxification with whole foods and herbs is the most effective way to heal the body and bring it to a state of balance where it can self-heal more easily and quickly.
And as with any powerful substance, the use of herbs is a methodical process that is based on the knowledge of the body’s workings and elimination channels.
Here are my top steps on how to detoxify effectively with herbs and which organs should be prioritized first in order to minimize the effects of the healing crisis and expedite healing:
1) Concentrate on strengthening the function of the kidneys first, as healthy kidneys control the removal of water-soluble metabolic and toxic waste from the body; a two-month kidney protocol is advised to improve their function and waste filtration
2) Move your body daily by doing yoga or light exercise; this will help the lymphatic system – or the sewage system – circulate acidic waste to the kidneys faster and more efficiently
3) Clean your gut, in order to improve your gut flora (elevate your immune system function) and prepare for a liver cleanse, which will enable the liver to detoxify its non-water-soluble elements through the colon/gut
4) Clean and strengthen the liver, which will improve the function of the pancreas (digestion) and the gallbladder
5) Eat mostly organic, raw foods and consume herbs and whole food supplements (concentrated and dried fruits and veggies); move the body daily (jumping jacks are one of the best exercises for lymphatic system circulation!); continue strengthening all parts of the body, especially, the elimination organs, and fast intermittently whenever possible (what works for me is to stop eating by 6 pm and fast until 8 am the next day – that’s 14-hour break from digestion and assimilation, which saves energy for the body to self-heal instead)
Tips for Choosing the Most Quality Herbs
Unless you have access to your own organic herbs from your backyard or the mountains/woods, finding the best quality herbs may seem daunting.
In general, herbs are often sourced and processed very differently depending on the source of production and the company. The source is always important, which shows if the herbs were grown in the wild and if they are organic. The manner of processing is also highly important, since drying, storage, and transport of herbs can have a profound impact on the final levels of quality and medicinal effects of the products.
In fact, due to the rise in demand for herbal medicine in the last handful of decades, many practices of adulteration and chemical processing of herbs have skyrocketed in the industry. And most likely, the consumers are not aware of this, leaving them vulnerable to products that don’t offer healing benefits and which can even cause adverse effects.
This is why it is important to understand the quality parameters available on the market and choose herbs that meet the highest growing, harvest, sourcing, processing, and delivery standards.
Here’s what to look for in order to ensure you get the best product on the market:
1) The best medicinal plants should be wild-crafted and organically grown without any adulterants; if purchasing products in the US, look for the USDA certified label that will ensure the products are free from pesticides, additives, and chemicals
2) Ideally, plants should be harvested at their growing peak; leaves are harvested during the spring, flowers when they just open up (summer) and roots in the fall. Check with the manufacturer in order to discern the time of their harvest season
3) Purchase herbs from a reputable company with a personal passion for health and the environment (they commit to sustainable harvesting methods); many companies simply buy imported herbs from other countries in bulk (most likely to lowest quality herbs) and resell them at higher prices under an appealing branding; you can ensure a company’s standards are top-notch if its products have been independently tested by a consumer quality control regulator
4) Quality herbs should always match the plant’s aesthetics, aroma, texture, and taste; if they don’t, the plant has most likely been contaminated by chemical processing
5) Buy locally whenever possible; local production ensures freshness and greater potency, and having a closer relationship with the distributor ensures that you have more knowledge and insight over-harvesting and processing methods
And if you would like a personal recommendation, one of my favorite herbal stores is Starwest Botanicals – the oldest, largest, and all-organic herbal stores in the US! They have some of the highest quality controls with an in-house quality control laboratory and their own production space, and commit to using renewable energy, reducing waste, and recycling.
*Starwest Botanicals is the herbal store of my preference and is my affiliate partner. You won't be charged anything by purchasing herbs through the link on my website, but a small part of the proceeds of your purchase will help the growth of my small business. Thank you!
Healing with herbs is one of the oldest of human practices that connects the quality of our lives directly to nature. Human cultures throughout the world understood that alignment with the laws of nature was a strong precondition for a generous harvest, good health, and successful life.
Since the industrial revolution and the advent of tech, we had been pulled toward an artificial way of living that does not mimic the cycles and laws of nature, fostering a global health crisis of chronic disease. It is my belief that the stresses of the modern world are a big culprit alongside artificial work environments (including prolonged computer screen-time and sitting at a desk for most of the day), fast and packaged foods, chemical exposure, and EMF radiation.
To give our body the assistance it needs, we have to turn back to nature and its wisdom! In my opinion, herbs, organic whole foods, and frequent time in nature are the triad antidote to all the imbalances we are experiencing physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Detoxification is the primary step in how we can reclaim our health. By removing toxic obstructions and hydrating and strengthening cells and tissues, we become more resilient, vital, and capable to deal with and even thrive in the modern world. The journey back to health can be hard, given the extent of cleansing we require, but the gifts of the journey are worth every setback!
If you’d like to learn more about how to start with an effective body detox protocol, I wrote this helpful article about the most effective herbs you can use to detoxify and strengthen your kidneys – the elimination organs to prioritize during every cleanse. Alongside the herbs, I also advise you to incorporate watermelon and red grapes for breakfast (the best time to cleanse the body), which are the most astringent kidney cleansing foods found in nature.
And if you need more help on your detox journey, I am here for you! Please check out my service offerings on my homepage.