As I sit down to write this, it is the day we set our clocks forward “for spring” and I am gazing out my ground floor window at snow that comes higher than my ledge, and more coming down. It is hardly springtime in my part of the world – yet! but I am thinking ahead to the warmer months, to planting my herbs for the year, heading out to wildcraft, all kinds of goals and projects, including the Summer Session of my Facebook tutorial, Introduction to Animal Herbalism. And wandering through this blog, I see many articles I need to edit/update – mostly because they were written a long time ago, and information has changed – sometimes because my own outlook and way of practising has changed. I’m pleased to see how much has passed the test of time, too, and still holds up, 8 or 9 years after it was written. Last week I revised this one a little, on how to approach Supplementation –

Some of the popular supplements haveshifted, for sure, but the methodology is still sound. I’m going to set aside a little time every week to review older articles, and see if they need a tune up.

One herbal post I came across the other day, is really crying out for an update. It isn’t at all that there’s incorrect information in the piece, more that my focus is a little different and I would approach a list of general recommendations differently. Since it’s always fun for me to post on herbs, I’m going to offer a two-part update to this article from 2011:

…and divide it into Top Twelve herbs I use in clinical work, and the Top Twelve to have around the house for everything from a bout of simple colitis to a cut/scrape/burn, to calm a nervous dog in thunderstorms, to soothe an inflamed tummy or help fight off some viral infections. (There was just really no way to stop at ten).

Two lists, and let’s start with clinical – many you will already know, some might be less familiar To be clear, there is a lot of overlap, it’s almost a false division because I use the clinical herbs around the house a lot – all herbs possess more than one action, one special constituent, and we can use uva ursi and hawthorn, in particular (from my clinical list) for digestive and skin upsets, as well as their more famous applications in urinary tract infection and heart health. But many of my clinicals have multiple drug interactions, or contraindications, or need careful dosing – the herbs on my everyday list are safer, milder (but still very effective) and few contraindications. I encourage you to become familiar with them all.

St.John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is one of my Top Twelve, but has the longest list of interactions and contras of the group.

My Top Twelve Herbs in Clinical Practise

One of the real values in revisiting some of these familiar herbs is to help expand knowledge of their many uses and actions, and deepen understanding about things like the parts used – hawthorn for example, is best given leaf, flower and berry – and preparation, which will vary according the part – dosage, duration and potential contraindications. Many popular sites will just barely touch on herbs, suggesting a “this-for-that” or conditions-based approach to use – hawthorn “for heart” and echinacea “for infection” and not much more.While I can’t write a full monograph on all these plants here at the blog, I hope to give a taste of their complexity and medicinal power, so you can research more on your own.

Another point I need to make – in my personal life I often use all kinds of other herbs that possess similar actions, either in place of or in formulation, so I rarely, if ever, use ONLY hawthorn for a heart condition – it will be combined with dan shen, motherwort, dandelion, linden, a berberinaceous herb if indicated, gastric support, nervines/adaptogens and more – we don’t really just address one system in isolation, usually! but if I had to pick one indispensable for cardiovascular health it would be hawthorn. And in distance work with clients, it’s not always appropriate or even possible to have them purchasing whole herbs and tinctures and making their own preparations, so expedience counts.

The herbs I rely on most, on their own or as prominent in formulations (and their chief applications) would be:

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)-  cardiovascular tonic- in early and advanced heart disease, hawthorn helps lower cholesterol and helps prevent buildup of arterial plaque in humans, may have application in ADD

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatim) – nerve pain, viral infection, important with degenerative myelopathy, various forms of nerve damage, vestibular disease

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia and purpurea, chiefly) Infections, sluggish immune system, some cancers,prostatitis, feline rhinitis, topically with abscess

Licorice (Glycyyrrhiza glabra) a potent anti inflammatory, used in smaller amounts in formula for gut inflammation, respiratory infection, is an adaptogen and has myriad applications, but dose and form are critical

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) one of the best studied hepatoprotectives, I include it in cancer protocols, with hepatitis, to help protect the liver from various veterinary meds, and smaller doses (in formula) as a general tonic

Uva Ursi (Arctostophyllus uva-ursi)- strong antimicrobial for the urinary tract, indispensable with UTI, but not for longterm use

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) –an important immune system amphoteric (corrects imbalances)and generalized tonic for geriatrics, I include it with a wide variety of conditions, and as a tonic

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) When Goldenseal is called for, there is really nothing like it. Addressing infection in the digestive tract has been one of my most common and powerful uses – always look for cultivated sources.

California poppy ( Eschscholzia californica) My favorite relaxing nervine for older dogs who are restless at night, and with chronic pain that worsens at night, renders sleep difficult..useful in small doses/formula with many behavioural issues

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Probably overutilized, but still very important with liver disease, with osteoarthritis, GI inflammation,and as a tonic (general) anti inflammatory for seniors

Elecampane (Inula helenium) One of my very favorite herbs, warming expectorant for cats and dogs with upper and lower respiratory disease, elecampane is also a great vermifuge and is active against Giardia

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) Another herb we don’t hear enough about in popular holistic sites, and a true polycrest (miltiple applications) gotu kola is anti inflammatory, vulnerary, anxiolytic, nervine, supports connective tissue healath and is incredible topical as well as internal(wound healing/vulnerary)

The first thing to notice about this list is, these are all real medicinal powerhouses, known and well studied, for their actions in specific areas. While all of these have more than one action and a few have several applications, many here are specialists – Goldenseal is a go-to with intestinal infection, especially fungal, echinacea is one of our best immune stimulators, California poppy a superb relaxing nervine, milk thistle’s hepatoprotective actions are widely known and utilized. When I look at this list I see a backbone for so many formulations, all of which will benefit enormously from the inclusion of other herbs – Motherwort, Linden, Dan shen with heart disease; burdock, artichoke, Oregon grape with liver disease, Agrimony and Marshmallow with UTI and so on – but for many conditions, these herbs are the key players. The only exception is Licorice, which is used at about 10% in most of my ow formulations, or if higher/longer I use DGL. Licorice is such an incredible anti-inflammatory it gets included in formulations for GI disease, with respiratory infection, anywhere it’s unique actions are going to be beneficial, but it is rarely used fullstrength (and we’ll see why). All of these herbs are essential parts of my clinical toolkit, and we’ll go through them one at a time, in much more detail, how I use them (prepare, dose, and monitor, plus of course, contraindications) starting with astragalus, up next.

To learn much more about these and 60 other (mostly) Western herbs, consider joining our Newsletter, which is now going out twice a month – with balanced NRC recipes, and Herbs to Know.