In many cases, herbal medicine is a safer alternative to the prescriptions of Western medicine. But just because it comes directly from the ground rather than an RX pill bottle, it doesn't mean there aren't safety cautions to take into consideration.
As herbalist Crystal Aneira writes on her blog Herbal Riot, "herbs are powerful, some more than others, and when used inappropriately can cause problems."
In her blog post "Herbal Medicine Safety Considerations," Aneira goes on to outline a number of safety basics for using herbs that address a variety of contexts, including safety precautions for children, the elderly, and pregnant women, along with assessing the quality of herbs, and skin sensitivities.
On the topic of testing your body's reaction to herbs, Aneira writes:
To use herbs safely, there are a few things to consider. First please be aware that any plant or substance can cause irritation and even dangerous reactions in certain individuals. As Rosemary Gladstar points out, “Strawberries are sweet nectar to some and noxious to others. This doesn’t make the berry toxic; it’s just a poor choice for that particular individual”
When starting with a new herb or formula try it in a small dose first to see how your body reacts and then go from there. If you are unsure about using a botanical you might consider doing a scratch test before ingestion the herb.
The Scratch Test
If you are a very sensitive individual, doing a scratch test before taking any new herbs can help you find out if the herb you are considering ingesting or putting on your skin will cause an undesired reaction. To do a scratch test, take a small bit of the medicinal and rub it on the roof of your mouth or on your inner arm. Wait 24 hours. If there is no sign of an allergic reaction, proceed with taking the herb(s). If you are unsure, please consult a qualified herbalist and as always listen to your body.
On making sure your herbs are of top quality, she says:
The quality of the herbs of herbs you use is of the utmost importance! The best ingredients make the best medicine. Most herbalists feel that wildcrafted and homegrown herbs offer the best medicine. We are lucky to have many companies that sell high quality herbs when we can’t harvest them ourselves.
When buying dried bulk herbs to make your creations there are a few important guidelines to follow. Look at the plant material, it should have a vivid, bright and appropriate color. It should not appear faded and it should be fragrant. Over time, with experience, making these observations will become easy and enjoyable.
Make sure you are buying the correct botanical. It is important to identify the plant material you are purchasing by it’s Latin name because so many plants have the same or similar folk names. Every herb has it’s own unique Latin name. For example, if you are searching for nettles, you can verify that you are getting nettles by looking for it’s Latin name Urtica dioica. Of course whenever possible, buy organic or ethically wildcrafted herbs for the best quality and to support a healthy planet.
Read the full blog over at Herbal Riot.