- MA HUANG Actions: Vasodilator, hypertensive, circulatory stimulant, anti-allergic. Ma Huang has been used in China for at least 5000 years, treating a range of health problems, but especially those of the respiratory system. This ancient medicinal plant was also mentioned in the Hindu Vedas, With the discovery of the alkaloids in Ma Huang, time honored, traditional herbal wisdom has been verified, providing modern medicine with important healing tools. A range of therapeutically active alkaloids are found in Ephedra, sometimes amounting up to 2.0% of the dried herb. The alkaloids were first isolated in 1887 and came into extensive use in the 1930’s. Various species of Asian Ephedra are used as a source of the widely used alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, mainly Ephedra sinica and E. equisetina from China and E. gerardiana from India. The alkaloids present in Ephedra have apparently opposite effects on the body. The overall action however is one of balance and benefit. A brief review of the pharmacology of these alkaloids might be illuminating. Ephedrine was the first Ma Huang alkaloid to find wide use in western medicine, being hailed as a cure for asthma because of its ability to relax the airways in the lungs. Unfortunately, as is often the way with miracle cures, it soon became clear that this isolated constituent of Ephedra had unacceptable side-effects which dramatically limited it use. The problems related to the way in which ephedrine stimulates the autonomic nervous system causing, amongst other things, elevated blood pressure. When studies were done using the whole plant, only a slight blood pressure elevation was found. This led to the discovery that pseudoephedrine, another one of the alkaloids present, slightly reduces both heart rate and lowers blood pressure, thus avoiding the side-effects that often accompany the use of ephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is an effective bronchodilator, equivalent in strength to ephedrine, but having the advantage of causing less stimulation of the nervous system, and so less vaso-constriction, tachycardia (heart palpitations) and other cardiovascular symptoms. Clinical studies have found insignificant side effects with pseudoephedrine.. The efficacy and safety of pseudoephedrine are recognized by the Food and Drug Administration, who approveits use in over the counter medications as a safe and effective nasal decongestant. The naturally occuring alkaloids have been synthesized in the laboratory, however even though they have the same molecular structure they have different physical properties, the natural form rotating polarized light to the left whilst the synthetic form is optically inactive. In practice the natural form has the advantage of being better tolerated with less impact upon the heart. All of these findings lead to the confirmation of traditional uses for Ephedra sinica as an effective and safe treatment for nasal congestion and sinus pressure whether due to the common cold, allergies or sinusitis. The herb is used with great success in the treatment of asthma and associated conditions due to its power to relieve spasms in the bronchial tubes. It is thus used in bronchial asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. It also reduces allergic reactions, giving it a role in the treatment of hayfever and other allergies. It may be used in the treatment of low blood pressure and circulatory insufficiency. Combinations: Ephedra sinica is best used in conjunction with herbs that support its effects or help the body deal with the underlying health problem. An example might be with Echinacea, Hydrastis and Glycorrhiza.
- MARSHMALLOW Actions: Demulcent, emmolient, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant. Its abundance of mucilage makes Marshmallow an excellent demulcent that is indicated wherever such an action is called for. The roots have been used more for the digestive system whilst the leaves are used more for the urinary system and lungs. All inflammatory conditions of the G-I tract will benefit from its use, e.g. inflammations of the mouthgastritis, peptic ulceration, colitis etc. The leaves help in cystitis, urethritis and urinary gravel as well as bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, irritating coughs. Priest & Priest tell us that it is a “soothing demulcent indicated for inflamed and irritated states of mucous membranes. Particularly suitable for the elderly with chronic inflammatory conditions effecting the gastro-urinary tract”. They give the following specific indications: acute respiratory disease, gastro-enteritis, peptic ulcer, cystitis, urethritis, inflammation of mouth & throat, inflamed haemorrhoids, inflamed wounds, burns & scalds, bedsores, abscesses, boils, ulcers. Combinations: As one or the most effective and safest demulcents in the materia medica, it may be used in any situation where this action is appropriate.
- MEADOWSWEET Actions: Anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, antacid, anti-emetic, astringent. Meadowsweet is one of the best digestive remedies available and as such will be indicated in many conditions, if they are approached holistically. It acts to protect and soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and easing nausea. It is used in the treatment of heartburn, hyperacidity, gastritis and peptic ulceration. Its gentle astringency is useful in treating diarrhoea in children. The presence of aspirin-like chemicals explains Meadowsweet’s action in reducing fever and relieving the pain of rheumatism in muscles and joints. With Marshmallow and Chamomile it will be very soothing for a whole range of digestive problems. For musculo/skeletal conditions consider combining with Black Cohosh, Willow Bark and Celery Seed for its anti-inflammatory effects.
- MILK THISTLE Actions: Hepatic, galactogogue, demulcent, cholagogue. Milk Thistle can be used to increase the secretion and flow of bile from the liver and gall-bladder. Its traditional use as a liver tonic has been supported by research showing that it contains constituents which protect liver cells from chemical damage. It is used in a whole range of liver and gall bladder conditions including hepatitis and cirrhosis. Historically this herb has been used in Europe as a liver tonic and current phytotherpy indicates its use in a whole range of liver and gall bladder conditions including hepatitis and cirrhosis. A wealth of research done in Germany is revealing exciting data about reversal of toxic liver damage as well as protection from potential hepatotoxic agents. A number of chemical components of herb are now being shown to have this protective effect on liver cells. They are all flavones and flavo-lignins, the best studied being silymarin. Silymarin has been shown to reverse the effects of highly toxic alkaloids, such as phalloidine and amanitine from the Avenging Angel mushroom (Amanita phalloides), as well as protect liver cells from their impact. The pharmacodynamics, site and mechanism of action of silymarin are becoming well understood, providing insights into the metabolic basis of this herb’s activity.,an activity long known and used by medical herbalists. As its name implies, it promotes milk secretion and is perfectly safe to be used by all breast feeding mothers.
- MOTHERWORT Actions: Nervine, emmenagogue, anti-spasmodic, hepatic, cardiac tonic, hypotensive. The names of this plant show its range of uses. Motherwort shows its relevance to menstrual and uterine conditions whilst cardiaca indicates its use in heart and circulation treatments. It is valuable in the stimulation of delayed or surpressed menstruation, especially where there is anxiety or tension involved. It is a useful relaxing tonic for aiding in menopausal changes. It may be useful to ease false labour pains. It is an excellent tonic for the heart, strengthening without straining. It is considered to be a specific in cases of tachycardia (heart palpitations), especially when brought about by anxiety and other such causes. It may be used in all heart conditions that are associated with anxiety and tension. Chinese research referred to in Potters Cyclopedia found that it both reduced blood platelet aggregation and decreased levels of blood lipids. Combinations: May be freely commend in any prescription, especially with Hawthorn.
- MYRRH is an effective anti-microbial agent that has been shown to work in two complementary ways. Primarily it stimulates the production of white blood corpuscles (with their anti-pathogenic action) and secondarily it has a direct anti-microbial effect. Myrrh may be used in a wide range of conditions where an anti-microbial agent is needed. It finds specific use in the treatment of infections in the mouth such as mouth ulcers, gingivitis, phyorrhoea, as well as the catarrhal problems of pharyngitis and sinusitis. Combinations: It will combine well with Echinacea for infections and as a mouth wash for ulcers and similar problems. For external use it should be combined with distilled Witch Hazel.
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- NETTLE are one of the most widely applicable plants we have. They strengthen and support the whole body. Throughout Europe they are used as a spring tonic and general detoxifying remedy. In some cases of rheumatism and arthritis they can be astoundingly successful. They are a specific in cases of childhood eczema and beneficial in all the varieties of this condition, especially in nervous eczema. As an astrigent they may be used for nose bleeds or to relieve the symptoms wherever there is hemorrhage in the body, for example in uterine hemorrhage. Combinations: Nettles will combine well with Figwort and Burdock in the treatment of eczema.
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- OAT is one of the best remedies for “feeding” the nervous system, especially when under stress. It is considered a specific in cases o nervous debility and exhaustion when associated with depression. It may be used with most of the other nervines, both relaxant and stimulatory, to strengthen the whole of the nervous system. It is also used in general debility. The high levels of silicic acid in the straw will explain its use as a remedy for skin conditions, especially in external applications. Combinations: For depression it may be used with Skullcap and Mugwort.
- ORGAN MOUNTAIN CRAPE is similar in action to both Golden Seal and Barberry. It finds its main use in the treatment of chronic and scaly skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. As skin problems of the sort are due to systemic causes within the body, the tonic activity of Organ Crape on the liver and gall-balder may explain its potency. It can be used in stomach and gall-bladder conditions, especially where there is associated nausea and vomiting. As a laxative it may safely be used in chronic constipation. Combinations: For skin problems it will combine well with Burdock Root, Yellow Dock and Cleavers. For gall-bladder problems it may be used with Black Root and Fringe Tree Bark.