My Top 10 Favorite Herbs: Part 1

Although I had casually dabbled in a few herbal remedies over the years, my interest was piqued just after our daughter was born in March of 2008. One of the nurses in the natural birth unit told my very sleep deprived husband that he HAD to get me some comfrey. Okay… He did, and it sat on a shelf for several weeks before it occurred to either of us to figure out what to do with it. Honestly, I have no recollection of the nurse saying anything at all, so maybe she did tell us how to use it, but neither of us remembered. I looked it up and learned, with my mind a foggy haze of sleep deprivation, that I should have been making a strong tea out of it and using it in the sitz bath that nobody bothered to send home with us. What was a “sitz bath”, anyways?! So, I dismissed the whole confusing thing and left the bag of dried weeds in my cupboard for the next several months.

Once I rejoined the land of the living (not walking into walls from exhaustion is one of the things you must be able to do to mingle in polite society), I stumbled across that bag of comfrey. Well, my hubby had spent ten bucks on it, so I might as well figure out something useful to do with it… That’s the beginning of my love affair with herbs! These are my favorites, starting with…

1)      Comfrey: This is the most wonderful herb we’ve tried! You can use either the dried roots or the leaves, but we use the leaves since they are quicker and easier to prepare. Comfrey can be used on any injury, including internal ones such as sprains, since it is transdermal (that means the healing properties go through the skin). It is anti-inflammatory, speeds wound healing and encourages new cell growth. It has been called “boneknit” due to its ability to actually speed the healing of broken bones! We’ve used it for cuts, bruises, severe sprains, bumps on the head, a broken toe (that made a believer out of my dad- I just wish we had before and after pictures!), shingles, wasp stings… pretty much everything! To use comfrey, we typically apply it one of two ways. For a minor bruise or cut, I have a salve that I made (about the texture of chapstick) that we smear on a few times. For something more serious, we bring about one cup of water to a boil and pour it over about ¾ cup of dried comfrey leaf in a heat-proof bowl. We let that steep just until it’s cool enough that it won’t burn the skin, then we scoop the wet herbs into a thin cloth (a large square of cheesecloth or a thin tea towel works well), fold the material over and apply it to the wound. We’ve discovered that covering it with some plastic wrap and then applying a heating pad on low will speed healing even more. For my Dad’s broken toe, several hours of this method took away all of the bruising and almost all of the swelling by the next morning!

2)      Elderberry: This is a really close second to the comfrey. My husband works with the public all day, so he gets exposed to EVERYTHING. When H1N1 was such a problem, we all took elderberry syrup every day. Elderberries are highly anti-viral, but most importantly, they specifically protect against the flu. It appears that Elderberry syrup makes the flu virus unable to invade our cells, which is a necessary step in the reproduction of a flu virus. For us, we never came down with the flu, although several of my husband’s coworkers got it. Studies show that even if you don’t take it as a preventative measure, you can still shorten the course of the flu if elderberry is taken regularly within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. I buy the berries dried and make both a glycerin and an alcohol tincture. Both have been very effective.

3)      Nettle: Most people just think of it as a weed, but we love nettle around here! Our favorite use is freeze-dried nettle leaf for allergies. I am allergic to cigarette smoke and cat dander and Kevin has asthma that is triggered by seasonal allergies. Freeze-dried nettle is a wonderful, natural antihistamine that will not cause any side-effects. If I know we are going to be in a situation that will cause allergic reactions, we take a couple of capsules half an hour before hand and it doesn’t wear off for several hours. I always have a few capsules in my purse in case of emergency! It is also a very nutritious herb which I love to use in my pregnancy tea.

4)      Plantain: This is another very common “weed” that most people under-appreciate. You can find plantain growing nearly everywhere (it’s probably in your yard!), and that is a very good thing. It has amazing astringent properties, which means it draws toxins and poisons out of the skin. For example, last Summer I discovered that we had some wasps building a nest under our back door steps. Pumpkin and I went charging out the door to go work in the garden and suddenly our feet were swarmed by about a dozen very angry wasps! I scooped her up and shrieked for Kevin to come get her, which he did with much confusion until he saw the wasps all around me. I told him to get our daughter inside and shut the door (I didn’t want angry wasps in the house!) and I managed to get myself inside as well, after quite a few seconds of dancing around getting stung. I had been wearing sandals, so my feet and ankles were covered with stings. I had about a dozen on my left foot/ankle and three on the right. Now, you must understand that I have pretty strong reactions to mosquito bites, so a ton of wasp stings was not a good thing! It itched, it burned like fire, and it was swelling… fast. I ran in the kitchen and mixed some baking soda with water to make a paste. They SAY it helps… not so much. Then, my brave husband ventured outside and gathered some fresh plantain leaves for me. We smashed them up with the baking soda paste and smeared the ugly green gunk all over… HEAVENLY! You can’t imagine the instant relief! For the next 24 hours I tried to keep plantain on every sting, and I had instant burning and pain when I didn’t. After the first 24, the swelling was almost gone except for directly on each sting, and all I felt was itching. It was very intense itching, but with the plantain salve I made, it was bearable. I did discover that the longer, thinner plantain was much more effective than the short, thick leaves.

5)      Lavender: Most people consider lavender to be just a soothing scent, but a good quality lavender essential oil is indispensable! My favorite use is for burns. Lavender oil will numb the pain of a burn, prevent infection and speed cellular renewal, which means faster healing! It works on anything from a sunburn to a burn from hot oil. Lavender essential oil is one of the few essential oils that can be applied “neat”, which means undiluted. For a small burn, we just let a few drops fall directly onto the burn. For larger areas, like a sunburn, we mix 10 to 15 drops into some aloe juice or gel and apply it as gently as possible. It can be used as often as needed. We have also used it successfully to cure ingrown toe nails (we don’t have pictures, but you really wouldn’t want to see them if we did… trust me!), infections from splinters and cuts, blisters, infected hangnails and infected bug bites. Just a drop on the infection and cover it with a band-aid!

Note: If you are new to herbs or don’t have a local supplier, I recommend the company I use, Mountain Rose Herbs. I have ordered herbs, essential oils, carrier oils and butters from them many times and have always been happy with the quality and how quickly they get here. They also carry teas, spices and lots of other fun things!

Read part two, here!

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15 comments to My Top 10 Favorite Herbs: Part 1

  • Chris

    I love comfrey!!!! We’ve used it several times. My husband’s broken toe and our grown-up son’s bone bruise caused by a clamp put on his shin during knee surgery. Great success with both!! Also, we have used it to help with shingles pain and itching. It was also very successful. Love your website!

  • Frankly, reading this list, all I can think is “DARN!” I had most of those herbs around and really could have used them recently! I had a bad burn and tons of lavender…but I didn’t know. My husband had poison ivy and we have tons of plantain…certainly would have tried that if I’d known! Very cool ideas and information. :)

    • Thanks, Kate! I’m always so excited to learn new ways to use the herbs and essential oils I already have. I recently read that lemon essential oil can help stop bleeding. After losing an altercation with my swivel-head exact-o knife, I can verify that it works really well and doesn’t hurt any more than rinsing with water! ;-)

  • Sonya

    I just found your site recently and am learning so much. I don’t have regular internet access to research more about using herbs. Can you recommend any books that were helpful to you?

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m always so glad to share what I’ve learned with others. :-) My favorite book on herbs is called “Practical Herbalism” by Philip Fritchey. http://www.bulkherbstore.com sells it, but I’m betting you can find a used copy at http://www.half.com :-) I also love “Herbal Antibiotics” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. It’s a much smaller book, but it is my number one go-to for any type of bacterial infection!

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  • Nancy

    Very interesting,just one thing though – don’t put bicarbonate of soda on wasp stings, that’s for bee stings! Put vinegar on wasp stings, it really works.

    • Interesting! I bet vinegar infused with plantain would be perfect for that, then. Thanks for the tip, Nancy!! :-)

      • nancy

        I only know because I trod on a wasp’s nest a few days ago! (at dusk, so they were sleepy and I only got a few stings on the ankle). Tea towel soaked in vinegar works as an instant fix, but swelling comes up about a day later that I’m actually treating with comfrey, one of your other favourites – makes such a nice mashable poultice if beaten with a meat tenderizer – plantain not so slimy and mashable and I don’t know if the two combine… Interested that you use dried comfrey, was thinking of having a stash of leaves in the freezer as I am assuming the plant dies down in the winter (only planted it this year).
        Oh, ironically I trod on the wasp’s nest while gathering nettles… herbs can be hazardous :-D
        …sorry, will stop rambling now…

        • I do love comfrey! I haven’t grown it, yet, but I plan to next year. We always keep dried comfrey on hand, but I haven’t tried freezing it. I would guess it would work. :-)

  • nancy

    comfrey’s great, but be careful where you put it, because where you put it, there will always be comfrey ;-)
    Look for a strain called ‘Bocking 14′ – it’s sterile, so won’t self-seed, propagated from root cuttings instead, and it’s great as plant food, if you use it for that too, which is what Bocking 14 was bred for I believe…

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