Safety Alert! Is it okay to combine herbs?
People are often exposed to the world of medicine in a varity of ways - they read an article about an herb that sounds like a good fit, see a display in a local store, a friend or practitioner recommends an herb for this or that condition and so on.
Then, one day it occurs to them that they're taking 4 or 5 different herbs and they begin to wonder "is it okay for me to be taking multiple herbs? Can herbs interact with each other?" We have received a few questions about herb - herb interactions, so, here are some tips from a professional herbalist on combining herbs:
In general, herbs are quite safe. However, like many things, they exist on a spectrum from food herbs (think garlic and cinnamon) to very potent herbs that should only be taken under the guidance of a knowledgable herbalist (for example, poke root and pulsatilla herb). Herb - drug interactions are not very common and herb - herb interactions are even less common. Also, keep in mind that responses vary widely from person to peron. Regardless, a good general precaution is to fully understand the actions and energetics of the herbs you consume. I recommend consulting with a professinal herbalist, and/or, doing your own research using reputable sources such as these books available at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Here are some important considerations:
1. Herbal pharmacology & actions: Herbs contain hundreds to thousands of constituents and we don't always know exactly how each one works from a pharmacological perspective. Also, most medical practitioners are not properly trained in herbal medicine. So, talking to your doctor and looking into the actions and pharmacology of each herb won't always provide you a lot of information. However, you will find 'actions' listed for most herbs. For example, turmeric is anti-inflammatory, black cohosh has hormone modulating and spasmolytic properties or actions, fenugreek seed is nutritive and digestive. And so on. As you learn the actions of each herb, keep in mind that you generally do not want to add in multiple herbs with overlapping actions because of their synergistic effects. A well-known example of this is taking St Johns Wort and SSRI anti-depressants, or, even riskier, adding in multiple anti-depressants as these can lead to serotonin syndrome.
As herbalists, we are essentially match makers who pair the person to the herbs that best match the individuals' physical and energetic needs at that time.
2. Herbal energetics: if you're a person who runs cold and dry and you start adding in herbs that are primarily cooling and drying then the synergistic effects of these plants may exacerbate the cold and dry issues in your tissues. For example, you run cold, have dry skin and tend to be depleted. You learn about nettles' nourishing qualities and begin enjoying the tea daily. Then, you add in peppermint because you love the taste. You learn about sage being helpful for hot flashes so you pluck it from your garden and add it into the mix. You're fighting a cold and add in echinacea and elderberry. While each of these herbs may have helpful properties or actions from a physiological perspective, they're all on the cooling and drying end of the spectrum so they may aggravate your system by moving it further into that cold and dry pattern. One way to address this is to add herbs that are the opposite of your constitutional pattern to balance your formula, in this case warming and moistening herbs such as cinnamon or marshmallow + ginger. Or, thanks to the bees, you can add some honey (be sure to obtain it from a reputable source too!).
One reader specifically asked about drinking both black cohosh and fenugreek teas. First of all, high five if you're really drinking black cohosh tea! The taste is not for the faint of heart! In my research, I found no contraindications between black cohosh and fenugreek.
In conclusion, in terms of safety, combining herbs is an important consideration, but not as serious a concern as making sure you are consuming herbs that are of high quality. It's best to consult with a professional herbalist and use herbs that have been properly identified and, if manufactured, done so by a company that adheres to the current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and screens for microbial contamination, heavy metals, pesticides and mycotoxins. I encourage you to call manufacturers and ask them what testing they conduct on their products if you have any questions or concerns.
à Votre Santé,