"Safe, easy, ordinary": Simples is a 'right' word* to describe gifts from the Plant realm for daily home health care, or 'folk medicine'. I'd add inexpensive and common. Its not hard to gain more safe ways to help look after ourselves and family, e.g. for 1st Aid, coughs, constipation, general health maintenance. Here I'm looking at the overall idea of 'simples', and offer information about using my recommendations, including Lavender oil, Horehound and Marsh Mallow for coughs, and aromatic herbs for general health care. NOTE This article is originally from 2008. Now in 2015 I have initiated Herb Network (HeN) which has its own field in Lifepower. Approx 2,500 words (*In Phytotherapy - Medical Herbalism, this term specifically means a herb that is used on its own.)
About "Simples" / Understanding holistic herbs / Be wise: be informed, and go for help when needed (resources, medical herbalists) / My 'simples' recommendations: 1st Aid / Colds & Coughs / Constipation / Aromatic power / Suppliers
NOTE For simples to have on hand for any 'inner' upset shock, anxiety and fear, grief, tantrums and so on, go to my Flower Remedies and Nature Essences field. Bach Flower Remedies have proved invaluable for the whole family, and help when we have ill physical symptoms too.
About "Simples" and reclaiming power and responsibility. This is the stuff of what we used to call 'folk medicine'. Its still alive and well in many societies around the world. Particularly in Britain, though understandably, we have come to rely too much and inappropriately on doctors for our health care physical, emotional and mental. Our family knowledge of how to care for ourselves for day to day health and sanity, without chemical drugs, has all but withered away.
I have witnessed too many people with long-time common ill conditions saying, "The doctor has tried everything". Yet they are sceptical about trying anything to help themselves, even when told that a particular 'home' remedy is safe and has been known for generations. Monty Don, British gardening presenter, visited an unusual garden in South Africa that is cultivated by the children. The organiser of the garden project commented that none of the children get coughs. If a chesty complaint begins, they take some tea of one of the garden herbs, and recover. Is there any town in Britain where we can say that yet?
For Europeans' health we don't need to import from South Africa, or anywhere else for herbs that help coughs and for many other day to day ailments and regular health care. For hundreds of years we have had plant remedies been known as "simples". I think 'simple' is a telling term for the materials of 'folk medicine'. Now that our society has come to depend on doctors and complicated, expensive drugs for health care, few people remember simples or know how to use the safe remedies that our ancestors lived with. Even more sadly, I've found too many times that when I do tell, for example, serious coughers about horehound tea, that the information is greeted with doubt and dismissal. If its so good, why aren't doctors using it? Why not indeed. With rare exception, the many who did try the horehound tea I recommended experienced quick wonderful relief from long term cough.
The health care uses for many of the simples that used to be taken for granted as remedies are now forgotten. Most people would say Angostura Bitters is for flavouring drinks (e.g. gin and tonic), ignorant that it was formulated as a 'simple'. Its Gentian is a great health aid. Or, the fluffy white balls of sugar we call marshmallows. They used to be a way of preserving and using the healing herb Marsh Mallow. Spices were not prized originally as fancy flavours for cakes or curries, rather for their excellent curative properties.
Be wise: be informed, and go for help when needed (see re medical herbalists below) If you are in doubt about trying any of the simples I recommend for Happy Health, do check out information from a variety of reliable sources. For general purposes, you need to know what is very safe, and what to use with caution. Too much of even the safest herb or drug remedy isn't helpful which applies to all foods too! Information about how to use, how much and when is important too. My list of resources is in the Herbal Network field.
There is also loads of information online, (see also note re Suppliers below) though I would advise caution because it is not as easy to verify correctness and source reliability as for a book source. And it can be easy to get swamped with overload, missing what you really need to know. So I use online when I need to find specific info, or do a very wide search as starting point..
When help is needed, I also strongly recommend visiting a medical herbalist. This means more than people who have done some herbal study (like me). Medical herbalists are doctors (thought they are prohibited from referring to themselves as so), that is they have qualified in all doctors' subjects, and often much more except the use of pharmaceuticals. Instead of pharmaceutical / synthetic medicines they prescribe herbal medicines, although they do have much knowledge of pharmeceuticals as they need to understand what their patients are taking and prescribe herbals appropriately and safely. For more information and for the UK register to find qualified medical herbalists in your UK area,
MY 'SIMPLES' RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Grow and use your own herbs when you can.
Five Flower Remedy. The is the combination formula that Dr. Bach made of the Flower Remedies he developed. Its also labelled as Trauma or 1st Aid formula. It comes as a liquid, and also as a cream with added cleanser Remedy Crab Apple. Sadly, the one labelled and trademarked as "Rescue Remedy", made by Nelsons and advertised as 'The Original' is no longer made according to Dr. Bach's instructions. I suggest avoiding it as so many people have confirmed that it does not work as well as the proper formula (if at all), and beause it is actually a homoeopathic, and very diluted remedy, rather than vibrational essence 'stock'. There are whole books written about this combination, plus my own pages about using Flower Remedies, so for here, just to remind you that the proper formula is safe and easy, and to urge you to keep a bottle handy wherever you are.
Comfrey ointment, external for bumps & bruises, burns, general healing salve. Lots of people find arnica invaluable, yet I generally find my body responds better to this herb. Such a common plant, and ointments are fairly easy to make so that you could try your own. I use the one from Henry Doubleday's research, available from the Organic Catalogue.
Elderberry for colds. If your cold (and resultant cough) is a result of a viral cold infection, reach for the beloved elderberry. The elder tree is so helpful a plant that its been known for ages as the People's Medicine Chest. Herbal research has shown that the berry (distinct from using flowers) disables the cold virus. When I'm just at the edge of the chorus of symptoms that warns me 'virus cold!', I get out my trusty trio of Echinacea tincture, Vitamin C high dose, and my home made elder syrup (1-2 tablespoons in warm water 4 x daily or more). The bud is duly nipped, and I feel its the chorus of help , and not any one them that's done the job. Certainly I feel 'good' and comforted when I take elderberry.
COUGHS (Caution: If you are using any pharmaceutical / drug preparations for cough or any lung condition, check with your Medical Herbalist before using even safe herbs, to make sure there will be no harmful chemical interaction. However, Flower Remedies and Nature Essences are safe to use with all pharmaceutical and herbal preparations.)
Bitter. Its worth knowing and accepting that a lot of plant healers are very bitter, because of their alkaloids which are just what our body is needing.
Horehound (white) is one of those. If you've ever had Fisherman's Friend lozenges, that's the weird flavour. Like it or not, by golly the herb tea usually works amazingly well, and is listed as one of the safest herbs for promoting lung health. Don't wait until your lungs get very poorly, use it at first signs of lung problem. Full details in Herb Simples for HeN. If this one doesn't help within a few days, its a fair sign that there are other factors of health that need looking to, and/or other herbs better for you. Such as:.
Marsh Mallow. Having started to grow it in my garden, I'm excited at finding out how helpful it can be for me. Another age old known helper for lungs and more, I reckon its going to be a tastier option than horehound, though I'll probably carry on keeping both in the cupboard. Its a beautiful plant to grow, easy to harvest, chop and dry roots.
Aromatic herb mix as below.
CONSTIPATION. 1) Check your water consumption. You may need to drink more water, but not too much either. Not tea, coffee, juice. Water. Give your body your attention to know when and how much to drink. Dry lips are usually a sure sign of 'please drink now'. And please avoid trashing Earth through using 'bought' water from plastic bottles. A wicked con wasting your money and Earth's valuable resources, and polluting with resulting rubbish (even if recycled, masses of plastic bottles are not healthy for life). If you don't like your tap water, try filtering it and adding a pinch of sea / rock salt to taste (not refined table salt).
2) Psillium husk (not seed). This (or senna which I don't know personally about) is the main constituent of most over the counter constipation remedies. You can pay through the nose for branded products, which also give your body other stuff its probably better off without. Or you can find a source of the plain, unadulterated stuff (health or whole food store). I buy bulk from a whole food wholesaler. A spoonful in a cup of liquid daily. In water, juice... I mix mine with warm soy milk and a bit of malt syrup.
3) All hail the glorious prune! Prune porridge (USA: 'oatmeal') is my favourite breakfast. Oats are good gut food for most Western people (different cultural blood types digest and use different grains best). Add a few chopped prunes to the porridge before cooking.
GENERAL DAILY HEALTH CARE
Sage: I'm told its more helpful for A Blood types than O. I'm A, and find it helps keep my temperature even (after many years of hot flushes), when I have it once daily as tea (a tablespoon of rubbed leaf per mug - yes, strong).
Aromatic Mix: I love to harvest my own Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (pick Thyme when in flower more mellow!). As well as using separately, I keep a mix of the three and use as herb tea, in dumplings and stews. Try mixing into butter for a fab spread for potatoes, oat cakes, on rice etc.
Lavender makes me feel happy. My larger bush smells so good I thought one year, "That's good enough to eat!" Which led me to figuring out how to make lavender jam. The ttrick to its excellence is to simmer a small handful of flower heads in a big pot of roughly chopped apples, until apples are mush. It must then sit overnight - it takes a while for the lavender to infuse into the apple mash. The strain and prepare jam as usual.
See also my information on Tissue Salts and Bach Flower Remedies (running through several of my Flower Essence pages). Both are inexpensive, safe, easy and SIMPLE!
SUPPLIERS 1. Beware! Information and shopping online for herbs can be a quagmire. You need to be sure you will get what you have asked for. Do you know, for instance, what Horehound smells like, and the difference between white and black? Between psillium husk and seed? We need to be able to trust not only that the supplier knows their stuff, and that what they send you will be correct, also that it will be fresh and of high quality. For example, if you receive Elder flower that is brown rather than creamy white, and vaguely scented rather than in-your-face polleny fragrance, send it back as its neither high quality nor fresh. Even the best dried materials cannot keep forever. Having worked for a herb wholesaler importing from around the world, I became aware of the many issues involved.
Here I am offering details of three UK based suppliers (this page is already long enough! And I want to keep this as simple as possible...), who I have had excellent service from for several years. Each offers different service and products.
BOTTOM LINE FOR SUPPLY Grow you own! However, as its not only silly but unlikely that everyone will groweverything in their own garden (if they have one!), I have initiated the idea of local Herb Networks. I am certain that for family health support and common household maladies it is not so much the strength of a herb or its preparation as the resonance it has to your body. Part of what I am, in a literal physical sense, is where I live. The same is so for a plant.
All recommendations and instructions are given intending to support and not replace medical care. Please use "Happy Health" and all other Lifepower teaching responsibly, and seek medical help as appropriate.
With thanks to Sally Horrobin, Naturopath, for checking my details
Cynthia Alves, copyright 2008