It’s easy to find and buy herbs and herbal supplements, but unless some research is done, it is also easy to choose the wrong ones. Some of this is due to hearsay and false information. There are a few popular herbs that are frequently used improperly, and some can cause serious health problems if misused.
Apricot Kernels: In shop class, some schools use the seed pits of apricots to harden metal. They contain cyanide, which is great for that purpose but not so much for humans. There have been deaths reported. Why do people take it? It is rumored to prevent cancer. As you are more likely to die of cyanide poisoning if you eat them, I suppose it is technically true.
Echinacea: This is a very valuable herb when used properly. It may help boost your immune system after you have been exposed to an illness, but it should be taken for no more than ten days to two weeks at a time. If you have an issue with your immune system, such as a transplant patient or in the case of auto-immune diseases, you should avoid echinacea, as it can cause side effects and herb/drug interactions.
Ginseng: Due to the length of time and the conditions ginseng grows under, it is a very expensive herb, selling at four hundred dollars a pound in some instances. It is often used to help improve mental function, especially for those suffering from dementia. American ginseng may also be used by some diabetics in order to keep blood sugar levels down. The problem with ginseng is that if you have bronchitis or rheumatoid arthritis, it will make the condition worse. It may also interact with medications used by diabetics.
Goldenseal: There are two problems with this herb. Most people assume it is used for immune boosting purposes, but that is not the case. It is a digestive herb and has no bearing on the immune system. The second problem is a serious herb/drug interaction. If you take a statin of any sort, don’t take goldenseal, as it can cause serious muscle damage and renal failure. Oregon grape root is a better choice if you are on a statin.
Licorice: Diabetics and people with high blood pressure would be best advised to avoid this herb. It contains a lot of sugar and raises blood pressure. DGL may be useful for diabetics, as this product has the sugars removed. Marshmallow would be a good alternative.
St. John’s Wort: Mild to moderate depression may be relieved by St. John’s Wort, though you should remain under a doctor’s care while using it. It isn’t strong enough for major depression. Those with bipolar disorder may find their condition worsened by this herb. If you take any medications, speak to your doctor or pharmacist as there are several serious herb/drug interactions.
Willow Bark: Willow isn’t used as much now that we have aspirin. Until then, if you had a headache, you took the willow. Because it is chemically similar to aspirin, if you are allergic to it, don’t use willow. Gout sufferers should also skip this herb, as it could cause a flareup.
Using herbal remedies may be the ideal solution for you, but it is important to work with your doctor, your pharmacist and preferably a qualified herbal practitioner to make sure what you use is best for you. Make sure to tell the doctor of any existing medical conditions and any medications or supplements you use.