• Clare Gardner Nieto

Herbalism 101

How do herbs work?

Like food, herbs nourish us. They build the general health and resistance of the body through providing nutrients that stimulate healing and gently to nudge the body back into balance.



Plants are filled with various substances that have been proven to help promote health in our bodies such as bitters, antioxidants, saponins, tannins, polyphenols, flavonoids, lignins, alkaloids, terpenoids, carotenoids, vitamins, minerals, etc. Each plant is made up of a different combination, thus giving each species its own restorative properties.


Herbalism is based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself when provided with the right support.

40-50% of our modern pharmaceuticals are based on synthesized active ingredients from plants. Herbalists believe that use of the whole plant—not just synthesized parts—provides a more balanced and safer effect.

What can herbs address?

Herbs can help to support your system through a variety of health concerns, including but not limited to:

  • Nerve and Muscular Pain

  • Asthma, Bronchitis, Pneumonia

  • Allergies

  • Headaches/Migraines

  • PMS, Menopause and Fertility

  • Anxiety & Depression

  • Digestive Issues

  • Insomnia (and other sleep issues)

  • Liver & Kidney Issues

  • Immune System Dysfunction

Why not try herbs first?

For issues that are non-life-threatening, why not try a less invasive option before hopping to long-term pharmaceuticals or surgery? Generally, we can take the time we need to make an informed decision about our health and it’s always worthwhile.


This is especially important when considering surgery. Recent studies have shown instances of cognitive impairment from just a single exposure to anesthesia and the longer the patient is under, the more likely it is to occur.


Each year, more than 234 million surgical procedures are performed worldwide. A proportion of patients exhibit cognitive impairment, including memory deficits, after surgery and anesthesia. Such postoperative cognitive deficits are present in approximately 37% of young adults and 41% of elderly patients at hospital discharge and in 6% of young adults and 13% of elderly patients at 3 months after surgery. These deficits are associated with poor patient outcomes, including reduced quality of life, loss of independence, and increased mortality.(1)

Pharmaceuticals can cause long-term damage to your body and brain, too. For example, medications that we have recently found worsen cognitive impairment over time include opiates, benzodiazepines (Xanax, Halcion, Valium, Klonopin), antivirals like acyclovir, anticholinergics (Benadryl, Vistaril, Tylenol/Advil PM)(2), antidepressants (Paxil, ) muscle relaxants and more.(3) The more pharmaceuticals you take, the worse it can get, compounding the assault on your brain.(4)


Let’s see if something less invasive can help before jumping under the knife or filling that prescription.

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Bonus: Herbs are not meant taken as a lifetime solution. I find that people’s needs shift and change as they progress through the journey to restored health. Frequently, they no longer need to take the herb once balance is regained.


Many thanks to Chanchal Cabrera for her class “Managing Surgery with Botanicals: When, how, why and why not to do surgery, with special reference to cancer” at the 2018 Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine. The information on anesthesia and cognitive impairment above were from her lecture. Chanchal has been a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (UK) since 1987. She is also the owner of InnisFree Farm in Vancouver, BC, where she is building a healing garden retreat center. If you get the chance to study with her, I would highly recommend it.

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