What to Expect When First Taking Herbs

When I first became curious about herbs, I would browse the health food store aisles, pick up something that I had read about in a nutrition magazine, and give it a try. After several bottles of different herbs with no dramatic results or any noticeable changes, I came to my own conclusion: Herbs don't work!

On the other side of the coin, however, I have met a few people who have abandoned the use of herbs completely because they had very strong reactions that they didn't expect and that caused them to come to the conclusion that all herbs are bad or poisonous.

Wait! Before you make any erroneous conclusions or actions, read this post. It will provide you some background on why some people believe both of these misinformed extremes. More important, it will help you use herbs safely and with good results.

Herbs work in three different ways: to activate, build, and cleanse the body. (You can remember this best by remembering you ABCs to using herbs.) We'll talk about each about of these separately so that you can assess the type of results you are looking for in using herbs.

Activating Properties

Herbs have activating qualities to them, also known as stimulation. This activation may be needed when an organ of the body is functioning sluggishly or under par. Some herbs have tonifying properties, meaning that they tone the glands or functioning of the body, much like exercise tone your muscles. Some herbs can actually stimulate and support your body to help it do its job better.

Activating herbs have a stimulating effects of the body organs and can give you a jump-start on health. This effect might be compared to the feeling of suddenly being pushed into an icy cold pool on a hot summer day. These activating herbs are not necessarily used long-term, but they can be a catalyst to helping you recover.


The herbs you use to build the body can also be used in smaller doses to maintain your results. You can use the herbs as food and nourishment to build and maintain your immune system so that you keep yourself from getting ill in the first place. When you're weak and need nourishment, you'll need more nutrients than when you are just maintaining your health.

Be ready to take a lot of herbs until you reach that level. Using herbs as nutrition will help build up and maintain you body and will help protect you from being vulnerable to disease. Most herbs considered building or nutritive herbs will be salty to the taste, which means they have a high mineral content.

Minerals helo build strong bones, skin, and teeth. Usually you will build up with herbs after you go through a cleansing stage. Once the body has rid itself of the toxins and irritants that were making you feel sick, you are in a much better position to be able to use herbs as foods to nourish your body and maintain your health and vibrancy. So let's talk about cleansing our those pipes!


Herbs can have what herbalists call a cleansing effect on the body. Herbs that cleanse are herbs that help the body to eliminate built-up waste materials−some people refer to these waste products as toxins. When toxins build up in the body, they can be the cause of many irritating and depleting ailments.

Many times, by just cleansing the body, the ailment you were suffering from disappears. Remember when we talked about detoxing the body in previous? This basically what a cleanse is. When we cleanse, the toxins will exit the body faster than normal. Therefore, you might expect some extra activity at your body's exits!

These exits are the four elimination channels, which carry off waste products:

  1. The bowel
  2. The lungs
  3. The kidneys
  4. The skin

The skin eliminates uric acid waste products through the pores of the skin; the urinary tract carries off liquid waste products; the respiratory system (lung and sinuses) carry off gaseous wastes and excess mucus; and the bowel eliminates solid waste matter.

This natural elimination process not only speeds up through an herbal cleansing, but it also speeds up naturally if the body is trying to rid itself of a foreign invader, such as cold virus, bacteria, or a parasite. The process of cleansing, eliminating, or detoxing may include a variety of symptoms, including a runny nose, a rash, or diarrhea.

The mistake that many people make is to stop this natural process with a medication designed to stop or surpress these annoying symptoms. By medicating the symptoms, however, you are actually plugging up the elimination channel and allowing the bug that caused your body the problem to stay inside your body.

This can allow the toxins to settle back into your body tissue and cause another problem sometime later. I see this constantly with people who experience recurring sinus infections. When you help the body eliminate its invader, you will help put a stop to this vicious cycle.

Many times a cleanse offers a breath of fresh air to organs that have been suffocated with mucus build-up. The colon, for instance, can harbor wastes that can faster in the body for years−and sometimes even decades. Most people who are in general good health can benefit from an herbal cleansing before starting on a nutritional/herbal program.

Cleansing the bowel and digestive tract periodically will help ensure that nutritients will be more efficiently absorbed and properly utilized by the body. Natural cleansing can consist of a three-day cleanse or several weeks, depending on the type of cleanse and how toxic your body tissue are.

The act of cleasing first and then building is like cleaning out your refrigerator before going shopping for more food. Ridding yourself of old, moldy cucumbers and cleaning the bins before you put new, fresh foods back in is a good idea for your body, too. Many cleansing herbs will be bitter to the taste and are best taken in a pill form.

Sometimes you will hear about an herb's energetic effects on the body, or you will hear an herbalist say that a combination of herbs works synergistically together. What's all this about?

Energetics describes the personality, energy, and general characteristics of herbs. It's also used to categorized how an herb or a food reacts to our body when we taste, smell, and ingest it. Synergy is a term used to describe how herbs work together. We can have a synergetic relationship with our friends, but not our enemies!

Working synergistically together is basically working in harmony to enhance the effects of each other. Energetics is an interesting and complex approach to herbology, but once you get the hang of it, it can be fun and very effective in choosing the right herbal remedy for your body.

Using in this context, energetics is considered the energy, the nature, or the personality of an herb and the effect it has on you when you take it. When you assess the nature of your illness, you can choose a herb with a more balancing or complementary energy.

For instance, if you don't take into account the energetics of a cough, then you might assume that a cherry bark cough syrup is what you need. After all, cherry bark has been used successfully by many to tame coughing. However, if you have a dry cough and you take cherry bark, your cough will worsen because cherry bark has a very drying effects on the tissue.

It works great for those with a loose, phelgmy cough, but you are better off with a different remedy for a dry cough−you might try slippery elm or licorice root, which soothe dry, irritated tissue. Energetics is a very deep subjects that just briefly introduced so that you can understand why no just one herb works for everyone's cough.

This quote, by Leonardo da Vinci, explains quite eloquently the holistic view of an energetic approach to healing:

"You know that medicines when well used restore health to the sick: they will be well used when the doctor together with his understanding of their nature shall understand also what man is, what life is, and what constitution and health are. Know these well and you will know their opposites; and when this is the case you will know well how to devise a remedy."

Why is that one herb doesn't seem to help change how you feel, but there or four in combination can change your life? This is called synergy. Synergy is the effect you get when everything is working complementary with one another. You may require the benefits of the synergist effects of more than one herb to help your body get back into shape.

Many herbs work synergistically with each other just like a nice wine goes with a certain meal. On the contrary, some herbs can actually cancel each other out because they have opposite effects on each other. (Kind of like onions and ice cream!)

Unfortunately, there is no such things as the magic herb, although sometimes an herb added to a few other herbs can serve as a catalyst that helps boost the effects of the others.

Some herbs just make good teams together; for instance, capsicum is an activating herb that works synergistically with many herbs to enhance the effect of the other. Herbal companies who know this will add a pinch of capsicum to their herbal formulas for this synergistic and enhancing effect.