Herb Safety: Buying Dried Herbs

Frequently in my posts here at Ask The Herbalists I suggest herbs or herbal formulas. Sometimes, these herbs might not be readily available and may need to be ordered. I want to talk about purchasing herbs safely in light of a recent tragedy in which an infant died of an infection caused by contaminated goldenseal powder that was applied to their umbilical cord stump.

To be clear, I’m not here to judge or criticize, and I encourage compassion for the family and caregivers. Rather, I’m here to talk about safely purchasing herbs.

So, what happened?

FDA testing revealed that the goldenseal powder applied to infant’s umbilical cord was contaminated with Enterobacter cloacae, Cronobacter sakazakii, Cronobacter dublinensis. Cronobacter sakazakii is a known cause of infant meningitis. See the FDA recall notice here.

The goldenseal powder was purchased from a third-party seller who had purchased it in bulk from a larger, reputable herb supplier; repackaged it for retail sale and sold it on Amazon over a period of five years.

The origin of the Cronobacter in this case is not known. Historically it has been found in soil samples, powdered milk substitutes – including infant formulas, processed cheeses, meats, herbs and in some spices. Storage could be an important factor, since Cronobacter can develop over time in stored material.

There are several ways in which herbs (and other products) can become contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms. They can be in the soil or elsewhere in the environment. Microbial contamination can also result from improper processing, handling, and storage.

How can you know if the herbs you purchase are safe?

Nothing is a 100% guarantee: The same is true of the food we purchase, and sometimes bad things happen despite honest and best efforts. And honestly, these kinds of incidents are rare. I think the best that one can do is make sure that the business/es that one purchases from are doing their due diligence.

Here are some factors to consider:


Make sure that the source you buy from has robust quality assurance procedures (more on that below). Avoid purchasing herbs or supplements from third party sellers on large distribution platforms as there is no way to know if they are handled and stored appropriately or even if they were adulterated.


Larger companies often have testing programs in place that test for moisture (an important factor in microbial growth), organic and inorganic foreign material; and microbial, heavy metal, mold, and pesticide contamination. Information about testing and other quality assurance procedures should be available on a company’s website or by request. Testing programs are expensive though and often are not an option for small, local businesses.

If testing isn’t available, it does not necessarily mean that product quality is inferior, as long as appropriate guidelines are consistently followed.

Best Practices

Botanical growers, wild crafters, wholesalers, manufacturers, retailers, formulators and dispensaries should follow current best practices. The American Herbal Products Association provides detailed guidance and assessment tools related to best practices and compliance with FDA regulations, these include:

Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) and Good Manufacturing Practices

For growers, collectors, and processors of botanical materials. Includes extensive guidance on:

· Botanical identity and quality

· Cultivation

· Wild collection

· Harvest

· Post-harvest handling

· Additional processing and handling

· Farm and facility standards

· Record keeping

Good Compounding and Dispensing Practices

For dispensaries and apothecaries. Includes extensive guidance on

· Personnel

· Facilities

· Equipment

· General practices – including ingredients and quality control

· Herbal compounding practices

· Packaging and labeling

· Records – including compounding and dispensing records

· Complaints and recalls

Every individual and organization in the supply chain for botanicals and botanical products should follow the guidelines appropriate to their role and keep records.

These guidelines are freely available on the AHPA website in the resources section.


Relationships are important in the botanical supply chain. Larger companies often have long standing relationships with herb farmers and collectors who have established histories of providing quality botanicals.

Our small local herb farmers, wildcrafters, herb shops, and apothecaries are treasures and I advocate supporting them as much as possible. They usually possess intimate knowledge of their plants and the land. These folks might not have the resources for testing that the larger companies do, but usually they care deeply and passionately about their communities and their work. If they consistently follow the guidelines mentioned above that are appropriate to their role then, in all likelihood, their product will be of superior quality.

Your Role in Product Quality

Remember that storage of your herbs is important, and this includes storage at home.

· Purchase herbs in smaller quantities that can be used within six months.

· Store your herbs in a cool, dry place that is out of direct sunlight and not subject to extreme temperature fluctuations.

· Wash your hand before handling your herbs and make sure that any utensils that you use, like scoops or spoons, are clean and dry.

To sum up my recommendations

· Avoid purchasing herbs (and supplements) from third party sellers on Amazon or similar high-volume distributors.

· Check the quality assurance and testing procedures of any company you consider purchasing from. If these are not available on the company website, or if you have questions call customer service.

· If you purchase from a small, local business have a conversation. Ask them about their quality assurance procedures. Odds are they’ll be happy to chat with you about it.

· Remember your role in herb safety. Follow the home storage guidelines given above.

For more information about quality control in the botanical supply chain check out this informative and engaging article and video from the Sustainable Herbs Program.

Have a question? Ask the Herbalists!

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health.

Find Renata at renalynn.com and on Facebook @renatalynnclinicalherbalist. Click here to receive her newsletter and learn Renata’s best tips and her 5 favorite herbs to increase energy and restore vitality.

WARNING: Oleandrin from the Oleander plant is DANGEROUS!

Oleandrin, which has recently received significant media attention for prevention and treatment of COVID-19, is DANGEROUS.

As a Registered Clinical Herbalist, I feel a sense of responsibility to provide accurate, scientific, reliable information regarding the recent breaking story regarding oleandrin, a substance derived from the oleander (Nerium oleander) plant, as a potential treatment and cure for COVID-19.

DO NOT INGEST any products that contain any form of oleandin or oleander.

Oleander is classified as a ‘cardiac glycoside’, which is a fancy name for an organic compound that can increase heart rate and force. Other cardiac glycosides include foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), from which the drug digoxin is derived, and lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). In small doses administered by a SKILLED medical practitioner, cardiac glycosides may be used to treat congestive heart failure, arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), bradycardia (slow heart beat). This is, in fact, what digoxin is used for. “Too large” a dose can cause/exacerbate slow heart beat, irregular heart beat, or stop the heart entirely = death.

There is a VERY narrow therapeutic window for cardiac glycosides. The difference between therapeutic and toxic/lethal dose is very small.

I’m not entirely sure where the idea of using oleandin for COVID-19 came from. After hearing the story in the media (which I will not repeat because there is no veracity to it), I visited my trusted, subscription database that keeps up with all of the latest scientific research on countless herbs and supplements. What I found was largely a discussion about oleander’s cardiac effects, some studies as a cancer treatment, and effects on the nervous system in mice. Though there was a brief mention of anti-parasitic activity, there was nothing specific on anti-viral action. For more information on the dangers of oleandin, please click on the following buttons for trusted information from two highly respected herb organizations:

American Herbal Products Association Statement on oleandrin (published 8/18/2020)

American Botanical Council’s Press Release on oleandrin (published 8/18/2020)

Herbal Care During the Pandemic

Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for COVID-19, but there are many opportunities to strengthen your body and immunity through good diet and lifestyle choices and, of course, herbs. I have previously published several topics that may help you get through these troubled times. I thought it would be useful to compile some of them for you here.

· Immune Boosting herbs

· Herbal Activities at Home

· Self Care During a Crisis

· Herbs for Anxiety

· Garlic (great anti-microbial!)


Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna is currently doing virtual consultations from her home office in Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenherbalist.com, or contact her directly here.

Tips for Finding a Qualified Herbalist

In my posts here at Ask the Herbalists I sometimes recommend working with a ‘qualified herbalist’. But what does that mean? How do you find one? In today’s post I want to provide some guidance in finding a qualified herbalist.

Registration with a professional organization

A simple way to know if an herbalist is qualified is if they are registered with the professional association in their country. These organizations have rigorous application processes, and high standards for education and experience, and a code of ethics that professional members are required to abide by. Registering bodies for herbalists include:

United States

American Herbalists Guild

,National Ayurvedic Medical Association

,National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine

United Kingdom

College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy

National Institute of Medical Herbalists;


National Herbalists Association of Australia

If an herbalist is not registered with one of these organizations, it does not necessarily mean that they are not qualified. There are many reasons that an herbalist might choose to forgo registration and The American Herbalists Guild recognizes this as a valid choice.

In the absence of registration with a professional association There are some things that you can evaluate in order to assess an herbalist’s qualifications.

Education and Training

There are many different kinds of herbalists, from folk herbalist to clinical herbalist and those who study under specific cultural traditions; and there are many valid ways to get an herbal education, including apprenticeship, self-directed learning, and formal education programs. One path isn’t any better than the others and you may find that one resonates with you more than the others.

Whichever educational path an herbalist chooses it should include physiology, biochemistry and pathology, nutrition, materia medica, botany, herbal pharmacy, evidence-based research, herbal therapeutic systems, clinical skills, and more. Clinical training should include working with clients under the supervision of a clinical supervisor or mentor.

You can find a detailed description of The American Herbalist’s Guild recommended educational guidelines here.


Long years of experience has its advantages but are not necessarily required for an herbalist to be able to help you. I, and many of my colleagues were able to help a lot of clients when we were student trainees and newly independent herbalists. What is important is that a beginning herbalist has the support of an experienced mentor or clinical supervisor, and herbal community. Our learning is a lifelong journey and even the most experienced herbalists rely on the support of colleagues and community.

Philosophy of Practice

An herbalist should have a theoretical framework that guides assessment and therapeutics. Some herbalists put a strong emphasis on science and evidence based care, others emphasize traditional Wisdom, and yet others balance both of these approaches. Traditional systems from around the world all have constitutional, energetic, and elemental aspects to them, yet the details of traditional philosophy and practice can be quite different, and you should make sure that your comfortable with your herbalists’ philosophy of practice.

Some of this information can often be found in an herbalist bio. Many herbalists write regularly in blogs and newsletters and some have podcasts where you can become familiar with their philosophy, their background, and how they work. Many herbalists offer short, free consultations, the purpose of which is to give you a chance to get to know them and for the two of you to figure out if you are a good fit. If you’re considering an herbalist and can’t locate the above resources just send them an email or other type of message, I’m sure they’ll be happy to chat with you.

Have a question? Ask the Herbalists!

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health.

Find Renata at renalynn.com and on Facebook @renatalynnclinicalherbalist. Click here to receive her newsletter and learn Renata’s best tips and her 5 favorite herbs to increase energy and restore vitality.

Turning to herbs for kidney stone support.

Nick writes that he has recurrent kidney stones and is experimenting with herbs as a way to potentially help his situation. He seemed to have good results with the following combination in pill form: Butea superba, Tribulus terrestris extract, L-arginine nitrate, Vitis vinifera, L-Citruline, Muira puama, maca root, long jack, Avena sativa extract, long pepper extract; and wanted to know our thoughts.

Thanks, Nick, for your question on kidney stones. Unfortunately, there are a number of types of kidney stones (see chart below) and I don’t know what your type is, nor can I say for certain which ingredient is the most active in your mix. But here is what I can tell you. First some general information, and then herbal information.

Types of Kidney Stones

Name of stone Approximate incidence

Calcium oxalate 70 percent of all stones

Calcium phosphate 10 percent of all stones

Uric acid 5-10 percent of all stones

Struvite 10 percent of all stones

Cystine Less than 1 percent of all stones

(University of Wisconsin (www.UWhealth.org))

Demographics. Those of European descent tend to have a much higher incidence of kidney stones, and men are twice as likely as women to suffer from them. Also, if kidney stones run in your family, there is a greater chance that you will get them.

Medications. In general, the following medications taken for long-term use can contribute to kidney stone formation, and extra water should always be taken:

  • protease inhibitors
  • ephedra
  • guaifenesin


  • Make sure that you are drinking enough good water; this will help flush the kidneys.
  • Avoid the whites (flour, sugar, white table salt (sea salt is a better alternative).
  • Both lemon and pomegranate juices have been shown to inhibit formation of kidney stones. General recommendation is about 3 ounces per day.
  • Avoidance of apple, grapefruit juice and cranberry juice all which may, in certain instances, increase the body’s production of oxalates.
  • Avoid all sodas and caffeine.
  • Increase fiber intake.
  • Animal protein evidence is conflicting in diets but when in doubt, eat less.

University of Wisconsin, Department of Urology’s myth busters on kidney stones:

MYTH 1: Kick Calcium to the Curb

“This is a big myth-buster here,” says Kristina Penniston, PhD, registered dietician and researcher in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Urology. “Sometimes we actually need to increase a person’s calcium intake. People that form calcium stones will say, ‘Whaaaat? I’ve been told to avoid dairy all my life!’ To that I say, ‘Yeah, and you’ve continued to form stones, right?!’ “

Many people fear calcium because they hear stones are made of calcium, but the truth of the matter is if your calcium intake is too low, you’re at risk for over-absorbing oxalate, a common compound we eat in many foods. Over-absorbing oxalate can lead to extra oxalate in your urine and that can lead to calcium oxalate stones.

MYTH 2: Axe the Oxalate!

In some people who form calcium oxalate stones, if there’s no other reason (there usually are other reasons!) for that stone formation, then it might be time to try to reduce oxalate intake. After making sure calcium intake is appropriate, then a lower intake of a couple of the most oxalate-rich foods might be recommended. But here’s the caveat, says Penniston: “The foods that are highest in oxalate are also high in fiber, magnesium, potassium, and phytate. These are actually stone inhibitors. Moreover, studies show that when you reduce oxalate, you reduce your fiber intake. That can lead to constipation and other bowel issues. In general, we’re trying to help people eat a healthy, balanced diet.”


Other forms to help with stones: hot sitz baths.

Supplements shown to help or reduce stone formation:

· Magnesium

· Apple cider vinegar

· Potassium citrate (balances out a diet with too much salt)

· Probiotics

· Vitamin K3

Herbs/plants. Here is an alphabetical list of plants that have been used, both traditionally and today, to treat different aspects of kidney stones. After that, I will give you what I have used clinically. A great place to go to see how herbs for the kidneys were used historically is https://botanical.com/, A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve.

Aesculus hippocastanum: Horsechestnut seeds for intense or throbbing pain associated with kidney stones.

Agathosma betulina: Buchu leaf is/was used as a diuretic.

Althea officinalis: Marshmallow root, very mucous-like so it was used to soothe hot irritation and/or pain in the urinary tract.

Arctostaphylos uva ursi: Uva ursi, Zea mays: corn silk, Serenoa repens saw palmetto is/was used in combination to reduce stones.

Chanca piedra: stone breaker, used to prevent formation, decrease size, and help pass stones.

Crataeva nurvula: Varuna bark was used to reduce calcium excretion in the urine and increase magnesium and sodium excretion.

Desmodium styracifolium: Beggar lice was used to reduce the amount of calcium excreted in the urine.

Elytrigia repens: Couch grass, dog grass is soothing to the urinary tract.

Equisetum arvense: Horsetail was used to enhance the passing of urinary calculi.

Eupatorium purpureum: Gravel root, joe-pye weed was used to reduce stones and as a diuretic.

Hydrangea macrophylla: Hydrangea root is/was used as a urinary analgesic.

Piper methysticum: kava for urinary tract/kidney pain.

Parietaria officinalis: Pellitory-of-the-wall, in the nettle family—heals geno-urinary tract.

Solidago, spp.: Golden rod-urinary antiseptic, diuretic, increase passage of calculi (often combined with parsley piert (,Aphanes arvensis), or pellitory-of-the-wall.

Tribulus terrestris: Tribulus. used to help prevent formation of kidney stones.

Trigonella foenum-graecum: Fenugreek seed was used to reduce risk of stone formation and slowed the progression of stones.

Urtica dioica: The seed was used as a trophorestorative.

Personal experience.

I have found the following herbs to be quite helpful in reducing kidney stones in combination with the above diet recommendations. This is NOT to say that other herbs are not as effective, but rather I have not used them. Also, anything that is anti-inflammatory is great to use (turmeric, pepper, ginger) as well as a demulcent, as an adjuvant.

General formula: hydrangea root, uva ursi, stone breaker, dandelion leaf, parsley and goldenrod. If there is pain, I add kava to the tea: 5 grams of herb in tea form at least once a day.


One Earth Herbal Sourcebook, Alan Tillotson

Weiss Herbal Medicine, Weiss

The Physio-Medical Dispensatory, Cook

A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Kerry Bone

British Herbal Pharmacopoeia

University of Wisconsin Health website (www.uwhealth.org)

Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, your one stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached customercare@invibeherbal.com.

Holy Basil! For stress support in uncertain times

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum tenuiflorum) is a wonderful herb to discuss at this moment in time. Seasonally because it’s currently taking over my garden, but also because it’s a supportive, tonic herb that has application during today’s troubling challenges.

What is Holy Basil?

Holy basil, like its cousin culinary basil (Ocimum sanctum), is a member of the mint family. As such, it is extremely easy to grow, but has a tendency to take over in the garden like most mints (you have been warned!). Unlike many mints, though, it’s my experience that holy basil only spreads through seeds – it does NOT send out runners in the ground to perpetuate itself. But spread by seeds it does! Every year, when the soil gets warm enough – which seems to be around mid-late May in central Maryland – the tiny seeds begin to sprout all over my garden. I never have to worry about re-seeding them each year – they do very well on their own. Photos throughout this post are from random areas of my garden in 2020.

What is Holy Basil good for?

ATH has previously written a lovely article about holy basil’s therapeutic benefits, and I recommend that you revisit it

Holy basil is perhaps best known as an ‘adaptogen’ (a fancy word for what I like to call a ‘stress modulator’). Over time, with regular ingestion, holy basil can even out bumps in the road by making it easier for a person to respond to stress. After a few weeks taking an adaptogenic formula containing holy basil, my clients have often reported that they are “less reactive” than they usually are when faced with a stressful situation.

On a related note, Braun and Cohen (2015) discuss several studies regarding anti-depressant/anxiolytic properties of holy basil, including a study of 35 humans that showed a reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms. Renowned herbalist,

Sounds like a great herbal ally during a pandemic?

What do I do with Holy Basil?

Though a relative of the common, culinary basil (Ocimum officinalis) that most of us are familiar with, holy basil (sometimes also known as ‘tulsi’) has a distinct flavor profile. Personally, I would not swap culinary basil for holy basil, but herbalist, president of the American Herbalists’ Guild, and my friend,

Alternately, rather than cooking with holy basil, I enjoy it as a tea. It is lovely hot in an herbal blend – it pairs well with mint,

Finally, if you grow fresh holy basil, pull off a leaf or two daily and eat for overall health.

Where can I get Holy Basil?

Holy basil is easy to grow. Mountain Rose Herbs sells

If you’d like the dried herb, here again

For a convenient, concentrated method, try a holy basil tincture or extract. David Winston’s Herbalist & Alchemist carries


Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs and Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide. (4th Ed.). Elsevier

Clare, B. (2020). Spice Apothecary: Blending and Using Common Spices for Everyday Health. Storey Publishing.


Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna is currently doing virtual consultations from her home office in Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at

Holistic Help for Uterine Fibroids?

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An ATH reader asks if there might be a natural solution for recurring uterine fibroids.

This is a really good question. Fibroid uterine fibroids affect a lot of women, estimates range from 50 to 80% depending on life stage and other demographic factors. Medical treatments can relieve symptoms and reduce fibroid size but they have concerning side effects, including bone loss and are generally recommended only for short term use or to reduce fibroid size before surgery. Surgical options may endanger fertility and are indicated for women past childbearing age who experience severe symptoms.

There are several factors that can potentially come together to influence the development and progression of uterine fibroids. These include:

· Genetic variations

· Inflammation

· Oxidative stress

· Estrogen/progesterone balance

· Exposure to xenoestrogens like bisphenols, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates, and others

· Cardiometabolic risk factors like elevated insulin and obesity

A holistic or integrative approach will include an evaluation of environmental factors, optimization of diet, herbal protocols, and possibly other therapeutic modalities like acupuncture, and should address all the above factors (except genetic variations)


Xenoestrogens are ubiquitous in modern life. They’re in the plastics, household cleaners, toiletries, cosmetics, and more. You’ll want to evaluate your environment for the presence of xenoestrogens and do your best to eliminate them. You can find help in


Vitamin D

Vitamin D has well established anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic activities. There is an association between vitamin d deficiency and uterine fibroids, and recent research suggest that vitamin D inhibits the expression of certain inflammatory mediators, enzymes, genes, and cell receptors that are involved in the growth of fibroid cells. There are some promising clinical trials in which treatment with vitamin D either slowed progression of fibroid growth or decreased fibroid volume. (Ciebiera et al., 2020) So maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D is an important part of a holistic approach.

The best way to ensure adequate vitamin D is sunlight exposure. It’s worthwhile to have your physician test your vitamin D levels and they may recommend supplementation. You can learn more about optimal vitamin D levels and supplementation in

Anti-inflammatories and antioxidants

Like many disease processes inflammation and oxidative stress play an important role. The good news is that we can get loads of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants in our food. Eat a whole food diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables (they can be cooked, when appropriate. Just make sure you’re starting out with whole, fresh food). Try to eat two or more servings with every meal and get a variety of colors each day. Culinary herbs are loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds so incorporate them into your diet generously. Check out the beautifully illustrated

Crucifers and fiber

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli kale and cabbage stimulate our natural detoxification and elimination processes, and in doing so they facilitate the metabolism and elimination of hormones which will help improve estrogen/progesterone balance. Soluble fiber, like the type found in oats and flax seeds increases levels of a protein called sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG, which binds excess estrogen, making it inactive.

Herbal Protocols

Here I will outline the goals of an herbal protocol for uterine fibroids and while I can offer some examples of herbs that could help accomplish those goals, this is not a suggestion for a formula.

Goals of western herbal protocol for uterine fibroids:

Promote healthy estrogen/progesterone balance. Excess estrogen seems to be the driving factor under which the other factors come together to contribute to fibroid development and growth. Examples of herbs that might be considered include chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), white peony (Paeonia lactiflora) and black cohosh (Actea racemosa) are common choices in western herbal medicine.


mprove metabolism and elimination of hormones. This contributes healthy hormone balance. Examples include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) and Schisandra (Schisandra sinensis).

Improve uterine tone and reduce heavy menstrual bleeding (if present). Uterine tonics like raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) and motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca), and uterine astringents like Yarrow (Achillea millefoleum) or lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)

Improve pelvic circulation. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) is a classic herb for encouraging healthy pelvic circulation.

Since fibroids are a complex condition and there are many herbs that could serve each of the functions mentioned above and choice of specific herbs and effective combinations depend on your unique circumstances. I encourage you to work with a qualified herbalist to help you sort through contributing influences and design the right herbal protocol for you. Check out

Hope this Helps!


Romm, Aviva Jill. (2018) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health 2nd Edition: Elsevier, Inc

Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). 1—Herbal therapeutic systems. In Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy (Second Edition). Churchill Livingstone.

Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. Trickey Enterprises (Victoria) Pty, Limited.

Ciebiera, M., Ali, M., Prince, L., Jackson-Bey, T., Atabiekov, I., Zgliczyński, S., & Al-Hendy, A. (2020). The Evolving Role of Natural Compounds in the Medical Treatment of Uterine Fibroids. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9051479

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her at

,Menopausal/perimenopausal symptoms have you feeling anxious and run down?

Meadowsweet — by any other name?

Erin asks “Can Spiraea Alba) (also known as white meadowsweet) be used in the same herbal manner as Filipendula ulmaria (Queen of the Meadow/Meadowsweet)? Or are they greatly different in any distinctive herbal applications? After researching high and low, it seems as if Filipendula ulmaria is the only “meadowsweet” used in herbal applications today.

This is a great question because this is a very confusing plant! Although there are websites that say Spirea Alba has been used as a traditional medicine, I simply could not corroborate, in the over 15 books I have on herbal medicine, any medicinal use of Spiraea alba. In addition, ,I have searched the American Botanical Council database and nowhere, in its vast database, can I find anything on the use of ,Spiraea alba,. Of course there is so much literature on ,Filipendula ulmaria,, also known as ,Spirea ulmaria,, and commonly known as Queen of the Meadow, or meadowsweet as you pointed out.

,,Filipendula rubra,.

There is some information on Filipendula rubra, however. According to Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, Filipendula rubra was used as a heart medicine and as a love potion. It’s interesting to see that in Native American culture, as well as other cultures, the physical heart and the emotional heart are linked.

Spiraea tomentosa.

Yet another relative, Spiraea tomentosa was also referred to as meadowsweet in the King’s American Dispensatory (Felter/Lloyd). The uses here were for summer diarrhea and as a tonic in cases of dysentery and diarrhea. It was thought to improve digestion as well so extremely similar to the uses of Filipendula ulmaria. (Page 1809, Vol II).

Finally there are some other spiraeas mentioned in A Modern Herbal by M. Grieve. Here is the link:

,Filipendula ulmaria,.

For those who aren’t familiar with meadowsweet (,Filipendula ulmaria,), it has long been used as a digestive aid and is often blended with chamomile and peppermint for a general upper and lower GI tonic. It too, has been used in acute cases of diarrhea or dysentery very similar to the above mentioned ,Spiraea tomentosa,.

Thanks for the interesting question! Jayne Tamburello, RH(AHG), LDN, CNS

An Herbalist’s thoughts on botanically-induced abortion

An ATH reader recently inquired about “herbal remedies that may help induce a miscarriage” because “I want to take care of womb space and have this experience not be so unnatural as it would be at the clinic.”

This is a sensitive and controversial topic that, as an herbalist, has been brought to my attention three times in as many months by potential clients. As such, recently I have spent considerable time pondering this topic. What follows is my personal position.

First, and most important, because something is considered “natural” does not automatically mean that it is “safe”. I reached out to my herbal peers for wisdom, and their general consensus is that using herbs to induce a miscarriage/abortion is particularly dangerous and requires proper training and experience by the practitioner.

While most of us learn about herbs that were traditionally used by indigenous or slave populations to terminate unwanted pregnancy, a method of safely doing so is not generally taught in modern curricula. A quick check for “herbal abortion” in my treasured, trusted resources (See References) came up dry in terms of direction on how to safely induce an abortion. There was only discussion on how to use herbs to prevent a threatened miscarriage or support the body and mind post-abortion.

When asked if I could assist herbally with an abortion, I knew from a training standpoint that I was not qualified. But the question opened up a greater, ethical question of whether I would be comfortable assisting even if I could. In the general sense, I am strongly pro-choice as I just cannot fathom having someone make a deeply personal, heartbreaking decision for someone else.

As a woman, I also get my own choice. Personally, I would not choose abortion. But the question of whether I would help facilitate abortion in another has never come up until now. To answer that question I searched deep into my heart and spoke with fellow herbalists. Ultimately, I determined that I would not, on personal belief, assist with this process. Every woman and herbalist are free to make the decision that is best for them; this is where I stand.

Having said that, it’s important to mention another point that came up in my peer conversations. In recent months, the legality of abortion is being threatened in some areas of the United States. Historically, women turned to herbalists and other alternative practitioners when the medical system had failed them. In the case where a botanical option facilitated by a trained herbalist was the ONLY option, perhaps that would change the landscape in terms of who would be willing to assist.

Not long ago the idea of abortion being illegal in the United States would have been farfetched. In today’s uncertain, turbulent times, it seems that anything could happen. But for now, the best, safest means of having an abortion is to consult with your doctor or abortion clinic for properly trained, safe assistance.

In closing, I offer up a few herbs that may be beneficial post-abortion:

Uterine tonics:

1. Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)

2. Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)

Female hormone balancers:

1. Black cohosh (Actaea racemose)

2. Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus)

Nervines (calming in stressful times)

1. Milky oats (Avena sativa) – see my

2. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

3. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) – another prior

Finally, for overall women’s health, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nurturing herb that calms the mind, digestion, reproductive organs, skin (topically).


McQuade Crawford, A. (1997), Herbal Remedies for Women, Three Rivers Press.

Romm, A. (2010), Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone.

Trickey, R. (2003), Women, Hormones, and the Menstrual Cycle (Herbal and Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause), Second Edition, Allen and Unwin.


Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna currently practices at the MUIH Natural Care Center in Laurel, Maryland and also does virtual consultations.Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at

Can Cabbage Juice Heal an Ulcer?

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An ATH reader asks if cabbage juice can heal a medication-induced ulcer.

Before we get to cabbage, it is important to be under the care of a qualified health professional if you have an active ulcer, and I encourage you to seek care if you have not already done so. And be sure to avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods during your healing process.

With that said, let’s talk about cabbage juice.

Studies conducted from the 1930s through the 1950s demonstrated that the juice of cabbage leaves prevented the development of new ulcers and healed existing ulcers faster than the standard therapy of the time.

The healing effect of cabbage juice was attributed to an unidentified substance in cabbage leaves that, at the time, was dubbed vitamin U. We now know that “vitamin U” is actually s-methylmethionine, a derivative of the amino acid methionine that prevents damage to, and promotes healing of, the lining of the digestive tract.

These studies wouldn’t meet the rigor we expect today, nevertheless they do provide convincing evidence that cabbage juice does indeed speed the healing of gastric ulcers. The main difficulty in the human trials was compliance. Most patients found the cabbage juice unpalatable, even objectionable. The treatment required drinking a liter of juice in divided doses each day and many patients did not complete the trials.

Fortunately, cabbage juice is not the only option to support healing of an ulcer. Here are a few herbs that can help.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Due to its anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antacid properties, meadowsweet helps protect and heal the upper GI mucosal lining. Meadowsweet was traditionally used to treat upper GI maladies, including ulcers and gastric reflux and while no human trials exist, contemporary animal studies support traditional use.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties; It promotes regeneration of the epithelial tissue that forms the outer layer of our skin and the lining of hollow organs, like the stomach. Numerous contemporary studies confirm this activity.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) also has anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties. Its antispasmodic and sedative properties soothe tension and anxiety and it is especially helpful when tension affects the digestive tract. Animal studies have demonstrated a protective effect against gastric ulcer formation.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) Gentler than its cousin peppermint, spearmint is gently astringent and relieves nausea, which can sometimes accompany gastric ulcers.

A blend of 2 parts meadowsweet, and 1 part each of the other herbs should do nicely. You can blend a large batch and store it in a glass jar out of direct light. For daily use infuse ½ cup of the herb blend in 1 quart of covered, just boiled water for 20 minutes. Strain and drink in 8-12-ounce portions throughout the day. These herbs can be purchased in bulk from

Deglycyrrhized licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Licorice has protective and healing action on the upper GI mucosal lining through increasing the levels of compounds that promote mucous secretion and tissue regeneration. Deglycyrrized licorice (DGL) is available in capsules. You might be able to find it at your local health food store and it can easily be ordered online. Take as directed on the bottle.

Safety note: Higher doses and long-term use of licorice can lead to water and sodium retention, loss of potassium and elevated blood pressure. The compounds responsible for these effects have been (mostly) removed from DGL though a small amount remains.

Hope this helps!

Have a question?


Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. (2013). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/C2009-0-48725-7

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her online at

Fire and Ice, Livermore.

Question submitted by Edwin,:

,Asking for suggestions for liver cancer.

The liver is the largest solid organ of the human body and a powerful organ that performs numerous functions for our body. It is the principal blood filtering organ and a powerhouse for the conversion nutrients, production of bile for digestion, storage of glucose, management of blood clotting, clearance of metabolic biproducts and toxins. As such, the liver is exposed to the best and the worst compounds and must sort them out to maintain good vitality. The very redundancy of the organ makes it resilient to repeated cellular damage until it reaches a tipping point. Only approximately 2% of liver cancer originates in the liver. In most cases the liver cancer it has started somewhere else in the body and has taken hold in its secondary location through metastasis. This is generally an indication of an aggressive cancer.

Liver cancer is a serious and life-threatening disease. You have to take take appropriate measures in strict consultation with your doctor, be it conventional therapy or herbal remedies. Taking any herbal supplements should be vetted through your medical team to be sure not to cause adverse herb-drug interactions. Great care must be taken to not potentiate medical therapies by use of herbs that have similar mechanism of action as pharmaceutical drugs (conventional therapies).

Ideally, herbs should only be taken after peak levels of drugs have passed; this information can be provided by your medical team. It helps to have the support of family and friends. Get the prognosis of your case from your doctor and plan for all eventualities.

As the liver is the main organ of filtration and digestion, many strong hepatic herbs are contraindicated in the case of liver cancer as the bile duct may be compromised. That means avoid strong bitter herbs. ,Presented here are a list of single herbs that could be used in an herbal protocol.

· Mild hepatic support herbs: Burdock root, dandelion root, turmeric, diet rich in brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts), caraway seeds.

· Hepato-protective herb: Milk Thistle (,Silybum marianum,), Artichoke leaf (,Cynara)

· Hepato-detox support herb: Buplurem, Danshen (,salvia miltiorrhiza,) Baikal skullcap, schizandra berry, globe artichoke, diet rich in vitamin B3, B1 & C, citrus fruits, rosemary, St. John’s wort.

Generally speaking, follow these recommendations:

· Collaborate & communicate with your physician(s).

· Introduce dietary changes: increased brassicas, increase citrus and legumes.

· Herbal supplements may need to change during treatment to address therapeutic side-effects. Starting at low dosage. Take milk thistle capsules at off peak times. Changes include dietary changes, reduce animal protein, increase legumes.

· Only introduce herbs at off peak of drug therapies.

· Hot or warm water infusions may be best way to take herbs.

In addition, a review of 876 journal publications on herbal supplements and treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) found 100 articles worth including in a therapeutic summary. Briefly, the most successful phytochemicals used in the treatment or in vitro studies against HCC include: Curcumin (derived from turmeric), Resveratrol (derived from grape peel), Silibinin (derived from milk thistle) and Tanshinone (derived from ,salvia miltiorrhiza,). See reference 4 below from Yi and Martin.


1. Hoffmann; Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts Press, 2003

2. Mills & Bone; Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, Churchhill Livingston, 2000

3. The Complete Natural Medicine Gude to Breast Cancer, Robert Rose, 2003

4. Li & Martin; Herbal Medicine and Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Applications and Challenges; Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 2011: 541209. Published online 2011 Feb 20. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neq044

,Judith Fox Smith, MS, is the founder of Foxsmyth Herbal, in Stoneham, MA. Judy is a biological research scientist and clinical herbalist. She is the founder and past president of the Eastern PA chapter of American Herbalist Guild, the Herb Gatherers of Lansdale, PA and past Vice President of San Antonio Herb Society. She combines her knowledge of biology and botany with her passion to provide practical herbal and lifestyle recommendations for a holistic balance in today’s techno-driven world.

At Ask The Herbalists, your questions are answered for free by professional herbalists, with advanced degrees. Ask us a question! Tell your friends about us! Donate to support our work to create an online space for reliable information on herbal medicine.

,Before I came to know you, love,

,Little my life was worth to me.

,I prize it now all things above,

,And wish long in this world to be.

,Fujuwara-no Yoshitaka

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