Originally published February 4 2008
Botanical Medicines are Competition for Inflammation Drug Options
by Kal Sellers
(NaturalNews) Since the FDA has placed a restraint on the freedom of speech for herbalists, it has become illegal to connect an herb with a medical condition (unless the herb is blamed for causing the medical condition). Therefore, the discussion of, say anti-inflammatory herbs, is one that has to be approached carefully.
For this reason, you will not currently find a product on the shelves of your favorite herb store that claims to be anti-inflammatory. About as close as you can get is a quote of a traditional use or a study that suggests that an herb is anti-inflammatory.
This restraint is a bit ironic since, as far as I can determine, every plant on the planet contains salicylates of some kind. Salicylates are the category of chemicals from which Aspirin was originally made. Every time you eat a raw plant you are getting some anti-inflammatory action and that is very securely known.
This actually may account for part of why people who eat raw food diets tend to have a significant reduction in inflammation.
There are some plants that are very high in salicylates, such as capsicum seed, meadowsweet, wintergreen and white willow. Methyl salicylate, found in moderate amounts in birch and wintergreen oils, is probably too toxic for internal use, but is found all over the place in deep-heating balms and ointments.
It is hard to understand why anyone would doubt the anti-inflammatory potential of botanical medicines.
Beyond the discussion of salicylates, however, we find many herbs that show up with a wide range of actions that could be classified as anti-inflammatory. Some of these are well known, like turmeric (Curcuma longa) and cayenne (capsicum). Others are just as potent, but not well known, such as ginger (Zingiber officinale), yucca (Yucca spp), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), marshmallow (Malva spp), Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) and evening primrose seed (Oenothera biennis).
Each of the above has been explained both clinically and chemically, but even that does not tell the whole story.
Herbalists frequently find that herbs with a nervine action (these function to feed, nourish, strengthen and rehabilitate nerve cells or nerve systems) prove to reduce inflammation, even though it is not explainable by current understanding. Examples of these would be blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolora), lobelia (Lobelia inflate), silk tassel (Garrya spp) etc.
Herbalists also find that herbs that are stimulant (a word that, to herbalists, means that vital life force is increased - this is not akin to stimulants that work via caffeine or some other strong chemical; examples of herbal stimulants include plantain [Plantago major], comfrey [Symphytum spp], wheat grass, parsley [Petroselinum crispum], etc.) and herbs that are highly nutritive (such as oat straw [Avena sativa], horsetail [Equisetum arvense], comfrey [Symphytum spp], burdock [Arctium lappa]) often reduce inflammation rapidly.
Then there is the concept of humoral medicine. This is found everywhere on the planet. This is the oldest form of clinical medicine. The idea is that if you are cold, hot, wet or dry (words vary, depending on what part of the world you are from) that an herb with the opposite action can help you.
Since inflammation is clearly heat, one can use herbs that cool to help the problem. This might explain part of why a cabbage leaf kept over an inflamed area often relieves the pain in just a few minutes.
So we find that we can approach inflammation from about five different perspectives at least.
There actually is one more way we have not discussed. In one of my recent courses, I took out my $12 automotive electricity tester. I went around the room and tested each person's finger tips on the most amplified setting on the tester for DC current. Sure enough, each person generated somewhere between 10-30, which was set to 1/2000 of a volt (e.g. 5-15/1000 of a volt was generated). Then I did a little meditation and breathing activity and my numbers went up by 8 digits, or 4/1000 of a volt. Then I took a raw collard leaf out of my refrigerator and showed that it was generating about 18 on the screen, or 9/1000 of a volt.
It is known and well exploited that electricity flowing through living tissue, if it is the right amount and kind, will bring about normal activity from sick activity and will heal any injury, scar tissue or whatever. You can look up the Myopulse and the Acuscope, or you can just go see someone selling Nikken magnets and they will do a demonstration that shows the value of electrical fields on your body.
Several theories on why electrical fields change tissue activity exist. It may have to do with the fact that minute amounts of electricity activate lymphatic ducts which drag off poisons, water and anaerobic conditions and render the cells to function properly.
It also may have to do with the impact of electricity on the ions in the blood.
Either way, we find that electrical fields do indeed help with pain and inflammation and we know that people and plants generate an electrical field.
Some leaves will actively release electricity into the body when applied to it. You can watch it happen, actually, as certain otherwise hardy leaves will turn dark green and start to fall apart in a relatively short time when placed on a sick part of the body. The body part meanwhile improves.
Thus we see that inflammation might also be reduced simply by the electrical field generated by plants!
In my practice, for inflammation, I have long used an herbal preparation that contains little or no known anti-inflammatory chemicals.
I put this on topically. I use a similar formula internally. I get reliable results from this and so I rarely try to use other anti-inflammatory herbs. When I do, I combine the sophisticated action of turmeric with the safe and natural steroidal saponin effect of yucca. I find this combination to be very effective.
For long-term, or chronic inflammation, I will use large doses (12-16 capsules daily) of ginger.
In Dr. James Duke's The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook, he discusses a study involving 56 people with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. In this study the subjects ingested 2-4 teaspoons of ginger powder daily. More than 75 % of the studies participants ended up notably free of pain.
In my private practice, I had 8 massage therapy clients who all had fibromyalgia. I recommended the large doses of ginger to each of them. Five took the recommendation and all five were unable to discover any symptoms of the disease after only two weeks. Before the administration of ginger, all five were greatly distressed by any amount of deep massage work. By the end of two weeks all five could relax through a deep massage without any jumping or complaints during or after.
The problem of inflammation is one that draws a lot of money for drugs every day in this country and yet there is reason to believe that botanical medicines might be more effective than even the best drugs. Botanical medicines tend to be curative, or at least alternative so that the person who had the problem eventually has either no need for ongoing treatment or only a need for maintenance or occasional use of the botanical medicines used.
The greatest challenge in using botanical medicines in whole plant form is realizing that it is usually a food and is not a concentrated, isolated chemical. Thus there is often a need for a high dose.
When I am really sore and achy, I take yucca stalk. I am a large man, but I take 10-12 capsules at a time. When I do this I will often get more than 12 hours of relief and sometimes the achy problem disappears completely. I would not hesitate to take that dose four times per day if there appeared to be a need, and I would not expect any side effects whatsoever.
I expect few if any side effects from whole herbs because of several factors. This will be discussed in more detail in a follow-up article. In short, we get fewer side effects from whole herbs because our bodies understand what nature provides. The unwanted chemistry is usually easy to eliminate and the active chemicals are always offset by balancing chemicals used by the plant.
This having been said, it should be noted that the steroidal effect of natural plants such as yucca is in the form of saponins. Dr. James Duke suggests that excessive quantities of saponins over an extended period of time might possibly effect the structural stability of red blood cells. My personal experience suggests that this is not really much of a concern - certainly not a concern to be compared with the dangers of the drug counterparts for inflammation.
Large studies suggest that a little more than half of those who take yucca will get my same results (12 hours of relief or complete relief). Results will vary for the remaining 40%.
The conclusions we gain from all of this discussion are:
1.That whole plant medicines are, at least, competition for drug options for inflammation
2.That there is a great variety of ways that nature might supply healing for inflammation, making it likely that there is a good treatment for just about everyone.
3.That whole plant medicines are safer to use with fewer unwanted side-effects and no long-term side effects.
About the authorKal Sellers, MH currently operates KalsSchool.com and teaches a 2-year curriculum for Natural Medicine, via live teleclasses.
Kal is a Master Herbalist and holds several other certificates and licenses for hands-on healing modalities. He maintains a current practice in the Atlanta area.
Kal and Traci have six children, the last four of which were delivered at home. They live now in Powder Springs, GA where they teach live classes on food and medicine. Kal is also a full time Chiropractic student.
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