Are Herbal Remedies Safe
Copyright 2004 by http://www.organicgreens.us and Loring Windblad. This article may be freely copied and used on other web sites only if it is copied complete with all links and text intact and unchanged except for minor improvements such as misspellings and typos.
“Natural” does not necessarily mean “Pure”. “Herbal based” does not necessarily mean it is 100 percent herbal in makeup. “Organic” does not necessarily mean it is truly, purely, organic. And something that is certified “98% Natural and Organic” is actually”2% corrupted material”. Let me ask this: If you take a 10 ounce glass of filtered water, guaranteed pure, pristine, non-harmful, and add 1/8th of an ounce of rat poison, how safe is that water to drink? Likewise, if you are using a product that is “98 percent pure”, just how pure is that 100 percent product – what is the other 2 percent of it contributing to the overall product?
People who are suspicious of traditional medicines often prefer to selfmedicate with herbal remedies in the belief that "natural" equals 'safe." Although popularly considered innocuous, herbal remedies may contain powerful chemicals such as quinine from cinchona bark, digitalis (a heart drug) from foxgloves or Taxol (an anti-cancer remedy) from yew bark and some contain contaminants such as arsenic, lead and other metals. A herbal remedy taken for medicinal purposes is not an “over the-counter drug”, but it does deserve caution and respect.
Probably the major difference between “drugs” from one of the major drug manufacturers and the herbs you grow in your herb garden or collect growing wild in nature is that the “manufactured drug” is usually a specific extract from the whole and as such is more concentrated and eliminates all the other associated components found in the complete herb. Further, their possible dangers are often spelled out on the package insert. By contrast, the safety profile of most herbal products is not listed. And there is a general “unawareness: of the lack of regulations governing their use by the public as a whole. Most herbal concoctions are not legally permitted to be sold as medications in Canada or the USA, but are classified as foods. Since they're regarded as foods, warning labels are not required. Only a few herbal products bear federal Drug Identification Numbers (DIN) approving their sale as drugs.
After centuries of experience, the most highly toxic plants have been eliminated from the herbalist's stock-in-trade. Lily-of-the-valley, daffodil, deadly nightshade, jimsonweed and hemlock are among substances banned by Health and Welfare Canada for sale as foods or in food. Reports about the adverse effects of some herbal remedies are surfacing, ranging from minor to serious, from lethal poisonings to allergic reactions. Many of the adverse effects reported from herbs are from mis-identification but include: severe allergic shock from camomile tea, heart problems from liquorice tonics, liver toxicity from comfrey and dizziness from oleander tea. In one recent case, a woman who mistook oleander for eucalyptus died after drinking the tea. In another an elderly couple died within 24 hours of overdosing on digitalis, mistaking poisonous foxgloves for comfrey. Plants containing pyrrolizidine (e.g., Golden senecio or ragwort) are of increasing concern owing to reports of liver disease from consuming this substance. especially for long periods. Gordolobos tea containing this ingredient - widely consumed in the Southern U.S. - is no longer considered safe.
Harmful overdoses from herbals are most likely when they're made into strong teas, steeped for 10-20 minutes or more. For example. liquorice contains chemicals that, taken in large quantities, can cause sodium and water retention, high blood pressure and even cardiac arrest. In addition, herbal remedies can interact with OTC drugs. Some plants such as tonka beans, melilot and woodruff, which increase bleeding, should not be consumed by those regularly taking Aspirin. Several herbs - such as hellebore and hawthorn - can exacerbate the effects of the heart medication digitalis. Others such as bayberry, juniper and St. John's Wort, even coffee, are powerful diuretics that should not be taken if you are already taking prescription diuretics. In the final analysis, shopping for herbal products is a matter of “know your product” - or stay away!
About the Author
Loring Windblad has studied nutrition and exercise for more than 40 years, is a published author and freelance writer. June’s and Loring’s latest business endeavors are at
Loring A. Windblad