IF YOU RUN TO THE DOCTOR or pop a pill for every stomach cramp, cough, or sniffle, you lose the ability to care for yourself,” says Rosemary Gladstar, founder of Sage Mountain Herb Center in Barre, Vt., and author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health (Storey Publishing, 2008). “We have a really good modern health care system but it’s designed for what I call ‘war fare’ not self care,” she adds. In other words, it’s more effective for treating cancer than canker sores. She follows this rule of thumb: If your grandmother could have used some poultice or kitchen cure to deal with the problem, you can, too. “We all have the ability to treat ourselves at home—if we know the remedies,” she says. In our two-part series on herbal cures, we asked Gladstar and four other herbalists for their remedies for everyday ailments. Here, we focus on digestive problems like heartburn and constipation, seasonal concerns like colds and nasal congestion, and mild aches and pains from headaches, arthritis, or muscle soreness.
Solution: TRIPHALA (Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, and Terminalia belerica)
Dose: Take two to four 500 mg tablets just before bedtime.
Proof: Triphala (“three fruits” in Sanskrit), a bowel-regulating formula in Ayurvedic medicine, is a combination of the powdered fruits of amalaki, bibhitaki, and haritaki, all of which are rich sources of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticancer, and immuneenhancing properties. “Triphala treats the entire digestive system, helping with constipation, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, indigestion, bloating, and liver detoxification,” explains Ayurvedic herbalist Will Foster, L.Ac., who trained with traditional Ayurvedic healers in India. Because it operates as a bowel tonic (helping to maintain proper function) rather than a laxative, triphala is safe to take every day.
Solution: MEADOWSWEET (Filipendula ulmaria)
Dose: Pour two teaspoons of the dried herb in one cup of hot water; steep 20 minutes and drink once a day (the slightly sweet tea has a mild almond flavor).
Proof: The Native American herb, high in salicylic acid, calms inflammation in the stomach, often working within a day or two, says Sheila Kingsbury, N.D., chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at Bastyr University. “For people on protein pump inhibitors who are desperate to get their heartburn under control without medication, I have them drink one cup of meadowsweet tea a day, and that’s all they need,” she says. “They’re always shocked that it’s so easy.”
Solution: WILD YAM ROOT (Dioscorea villosa)
Dose: Add 1/4 cup wild yam root (purchase it cut and sifted) to one pint of cool water in a saucepan; bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 15 minutes; remove from heat and steep an additional 15 minutes. Strain, cool, and pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze. Then place one ice cube in a mug, pour a cup of boiling water over it, and drink the diluted mixture while it’s still warm. Take one cube, three times a day as needed.
Proof: Wild yam root, well known as a hormone regulator because of its phytoestrogen properties, is most often used to treat symptoms of menopause. But it can also be used to balance the hormones that regulate the digestive process, says Margi Flint, author of The Practicing Herbalist (Earthsong Press, 2005). “The root is nutritious and anti-inflammatory,” she says, adding that preparing the decoction is part of the process. “It means you’re taking time to care for yourself.”
Contraindication: Don’t use this remedy if you are pregnant or taking birth control pills.
Problem: INTESTINAL GAS
Solution: FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare)
Dose: Chew a pinch (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) of whole fennel seeds after a meal.
Proof: Fennel seeds contain phytonutrients that are thought to reduce spasms in small muscle fibers like those found in the intestines, helping to reduce gassiness. The aromatic quality of the seeds will also help freshen your breath, notes Flint. “Chew as few or as many as you need. Your body will let you know—with one last burst of gas—when to stop.”