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22 January 2012

For Caretakers: Herbs for Helping/Healing Elders

For those of you caring for elders, you know how challenging the health issues they face can be. In the last year I have been faced with helping my mother (who is almost 87 years of age) find her way toward healing from a number of health challenges she has recently been facing. In fact I have become her primary caretaker. She had a prolonged hospital stay in 2011, and after she came home, she didn't seem to get much better.

Throughout the past several months, we have negotiated the tricky course of doctor visits and prescriptions for a host of ailments--the entire process of addressing one symptom or manifestation of her illness after another reminds me of pushing a balloon under water because as soon as we think the balloon (or symptom/ ailment) is down, it seems to pop up somewhere else in another form--extraordinarily frustrating for patient and caretaker.

With all the doctors we've visited and tests she's taken, outside of her initial hospital visit for pneumonia, we never really received an accurate or useful diagnosis, and I can not say even what her healing journey will turn out to be, but I have found many green allies to be helpful to both of us through this difficult trek.

Knowing the risks of the many drugs she has been prescribed, I have felt much more confident using herbs to attain similar (or better) outcomes than the drugs, but without the potential for dangerous side effects. Though I can not say for certain what her outcome might have been had we stayed completely on the path of western/scientific medicine using only drugs, I can say that mom's mental clarity and inner vitality remain strong, and I credit that to using herbs rather than drugs.

Just some of the issues we needed to address included: severe body-wide inflammation, manifesting in the form of itching, rapid heart rate, edema, blood clots, anemia, shingles, nervousness and anxiety, general weakness and fatigue, depression, weight loss--just to name a few!

Some herbs that have become invaluable helpers (tinctures made from fresh plant material):

St Johnswort--Hypericum perforatum--made from the fresh, flowering plant tops (Alcohol-based tincture, dosage 50-150 drops, and infused oil, massage topically as needed). Effective at calming the nervous system and also anti-viral. Particularly effective against shingles virus, use both the oil topically to the affected areas and the tincture, orally in a glass of water several times a day. In addition to a gluten free diet, we found this herb to be the healer of severe itching which plagued her for months--the anti-histamines and other medications the doctors provided did very little. St Johnswort calmed the itching, and we still apply it topically to the commonly affected areas like back and shoulders to keep the itching away before bedtime. Allows for a very restful sleep when massaged onto the back at night too.

Wormwood--Artemisia absinthium  (Alcohol-based tincture, dosage 5-15 drops, as needed only). A great friend of the digestive system, helpful for alleviating gas and bloating. A small amount sipped in a glass of water will work miracles for painful gas! Don't use Wormwood for long periods of time.

Osha Root--Ligusticum porteri (Alcohol-based tincure, dosage 5-15 drops, as needed only). For severe allergic condition, for example, itching in this case. Will work as a temporary solution only, reducing histamines for a short period of time. May lose its effectiveness if taken too frequently, best when needed only.

Motherwort--Leonurus cardiaca (Alcohol-based tincture, dosage 10-25 drops, several times a day as preventative/tonic or as needed in acute situations). A great heart tonic, especially effective at slowing a rapid heart rate and improving the rhythm of the heart. Motherwort also relaxes cramps and aids the proverbial heart in times of stress and upset.

Oatstraw--Avena sativa (Infusion, dosage up to one quart a day). A great heart tonic, aids in improving the heart's ability to pump efficiently, thereby reducing edema. Oatstraw is also a nervous system tonic, and we found it effective in calming down her nervous system, especially in the periods of intense itching. Oatstraw combined with St. Johnswort, both the tincture orally and the oil topically, really helped alleviate her terrible itching. Oatstraw also builds muscle and helps to promote a healthy weight.

Red Clover--Trifolium pratense (Infusion, up to one quart a day). Helps thin blood and improve circulation. Anti-carcinogenic as well. Good for people prone to blood clots.

Rosemary--Rosemarinus officinalis (essential oil, 10-15 drops in a small container filled with the medium of choice, see below). Rosemary is useful in toning down arthritic inflammation in her joints, especially knees and hands--for a warming effect dilute several drops in olive oil; for a cooling effect use chilled Aloe Vera gel as the medium. Gently massage into the affected areas. Relief is immediate, but you must use every day.

Additionally, I have found organic grass-fed beef to be quite useful in addressing her anemia and in general building up her strength. We switched to a gluten-free diet a month or so ago when we were getting no relief for her severe, all-over kind of inflammation, manifesting in the form of itching. Combining the gulten-free diet with the herbs (especially St. Johnswort and Oatstraw) has made a huge difference to where the itching is almost non-existent.

Note: Some of the herbs mentioned here can be purchased at:

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