No Magic About It

Posted on April 29, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Healing, Random Musings |

I wanted to share a thought that has been bubbling in my brain about herbalism gone wrong or perhaps misused.   I recently had a couple of encounters with what I sometimes call magic pill herbalism or thinking of healing as a magic pill.   Something I’ve always been a bit suspicious of.

Suspicious Cat (Photo by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Suspicious Cat (Photo by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Suspicious Cat is also suspicious of such things!

Not too long ago I had a couple of people tell me about their stress problems, adrenal fatigue and how they were taking adaptogens and licorice to help out with that but how they were still having problems.   And in parallel to that was remembering the seasonal rush in the fall by folks to use herbs that stimulate the immune system during cold and flu season and when they felt something coming on.

But as I mentioned to a couple of people – that’s a classic case of the cart before the horse.  What you really need to be doing is give the body something to support it in doing all these things.   Don’t forget your nutrients – the vitamins and minerals your body needs to deal with the losses caused by stress and to support a ramping up of the immune system.

Otherwise, all you’re doing is flooring the gas pedal and not filling the tank and you’re just speeding up the time until you completely crash.

I think that is one of the things I see happen a lot with folks who go crazy with immune stimulating herbs intending to prevent getting sick.   They keep revving the immune system without increasing the things the body needs to do that, then when they get sick they get sick bad.

As a rule of thumb we in the US don’t have a problem with too little protein or calories in our diet, but we generally have a chronic one with vitamins and minerals – which gets accentuated by stress and illness as the body uses these even more quickly and they were already in short supply.

Now I’m not going to go into a whose diet is better debate or advocate a particular diet – but I do think a parody of West Side Story with Paleos and Vegans would be rocking and I may someday write it.   I will just throw out some things both sides could deal with.

Don’t neglect seaweed in your diet if you can deal with it.  Seaweeds (nori rolls do not actually count since they are so processed the seaweed goodness is essentially gone!) are packed with awesome collections of vitamins and minerals – one of the true superfoods.

In the classic world of herbalism you can’t go wrong with stinging nettles which are practically the next best thing and probably overtaking your yard if you look!  Steam them like spinach, throw them in soups – but probably not  raw salad unless you like a numb tongue. 😉

Even just making sure you get a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables in your diet is amazingly important in general, but especially if you’re sick, stressed, etc.  Think soups.  Seriously it is not an accident soups are so helpful when you are sick – it’s probably the largest variety of vegetables most Americans get in their typical diet.  Which is incredibly sad.

Really, all I’m saying is I love herbs…they’re great, but step away from treating them like magic pills and remember about eating right.    Don’t just go for herbs when you are under stress, tired, sick or taking things to up the immune system, remember that is the best time to add more vitamins and minerals into your diet through eating a variety of good foods too.  Use the herbs to support you while you work to provide the body with what it needs to work with them! 🙂

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9 Responses to “No Magic About It”

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Excellent article.
Since Fukushima I have stopped using seaweed products as the radiation levels of them have increased.

Thanks. Absolutely, it’s always best to go with reliable sources of seaweed. Luckily there’s a great seaweed guy in Maine I buy from regularly.


It’s easy to forget that the herbs work best when the rest of the diet is right. Good to read that you recommend nettles, we’re making the most of the fresh growth right now – herb and nettle pesto is a firm favourite!

Exactly. I’m always amused with the folks fighting nettles and not eating them when they are so good for you. 🙂


Same goes for sleep, exercise, breathing etc – people think herbalists just give herbs, but the lifestyle aspects are a huge part of the healing. Great job reminding folks of this.

Exactly Maggie. It’s so easy to forget too. I’ve seen herbalists to it with even themselves a lot. 😉


I was recently at a local health food store where they had pairs of individually wrapped sample capsules sitting out in a basket, one variety of which was some gorgeously green, freeze-dried nettles. Let me tell you, after about 20 minutes of taking two, they hit me like a magic bullet with superb clarity, concentration and an enhanced feeling of well being. This was completely unexpected. Perhaps the potential, and experience, of immediate positive change fertilizes the incipient seed of the magic bullet idea you see so many trying to bring into fruition.

I use herbs throughout the year on salads and in herb teas. Lots of people only use them when they face a problem. Personally using them as a food works better.

A really good way to think of it. They should be part of our lives. Not just tools to be used. 🙂


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