Phytotherapy Work

aphrk at aphrk at
Thu Sep 2 14:44:08 EST 1993

Stephen (of University of Guelph):

Yes, phytotherapy does consider possible negative side effects.  Every
substance carries with it a risk of overdose.  People have even died from
ingesting too much water.  However, once you start researching how potentially
dangerous plants (and all plant medicines) are used within the context of
holistic healing, then you can see how they are "safely" used.  I say "safely"
because anything we ingest carries a risk to it.  Some folks have unusual
reactions to the most benign of substances.  Herbalists, like any professional
must have appropriate training including clinical experience under the tutelage
of more experienced teachers.  Since practicing phytotherapy without a license
is illegal in this country, many herbalists like myself choose the education
writing, and research route.  

Toxicity has to do with dose.  That is, the dose makes the poison.  Many herbs
must be used in combination, not singly and in the correct dose for that
particular person.  I could go on, but...

Some herbalists seek out Native American folks, some do not.  It is a very 
sensitive topic.  I do not share information given me by my Blackfeet friends.
Besides, they use their plants in a very specific way, usually in ceremonial
context.  They probably wouldn't work for me if I used them in another context.
Still, we can learn a lot.  We just need to be sensitive to the political and
cultural issues.

Many of my colleagues are only now beginning to see the value in seeking 
information from "the other side".  However, there is a great split between
vitalistic (using the herb in the whole form as in tea or tincture) and
mechanistic (taking out an active ingredient or concentrating an active 
ingredient within the whole form - called "standardized potency").  I am a
vitalist, but feel that pharmacognosy (the chemistry end of things) can be
very valuable.  Many physicians are now prescribing herbs like garlic and
echinacea (purple coneflower) to their patients.  Many physicians refer their
patients to herbalists and naturapathic doctors.  Therefore, many herbalists
are becoming more respectful of physicians.  Most, in fact, realize the 
limitations to herbal therapy and know when to refer their patients to
physicians and other specialists.

The whole Foxglove thing could take me pages to explain.  Suffice it to say
that herbalists in this country do not use foxglove.  It is NOT sold over
the counter in herb stores.  However, the toxicity of dried foxglove leaf is
far less than that of digoxin, the synthetic drug made from foxglove.  That
is, a German herbalist would know that when his/her patient started feeling
nauseous to cut down on the dosage.  There is a big difference between this
dosage (causing nausea) and that causing death.  Not so with digoxin.  In
any case, the FDA is not playing fair, and is in fact, looking to dissaude
the public from using herbal products.  They will publish information which
is not complete.  The herbal product industry has willingly complied with them
when possible toxic reactions have occurred.  They have willingly taken several
products off the market including comfrey and now, chaparral.  These are both
under investigation by both sides until they can be proven "safe" to use.

Senate Bill 784 would give the American citizen access to herbal products and
dietary supplements.  But, if this bill is not passed, the public will have 
to go to physicians to get a prescription for peppermint tea!  The FDA treats
herbal products as if they are either a food or a drug.  There is no category
for herb.  Thus, if it has clinical activity, it is a drug and must be treated
as if it were, ie. drug testing costs 3.5 million per drug and takes 10 years
to pass.  I don't think peppermint and garlic should be considered "drugs".

By the way, according to the FDA, prunes are not laxative.  I think someone
should tell them....

Robyn Klein, Herbalist
Bozeman, MT

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