Herbs for Ever?

Once people have begun to feel the benefit of herbs, they sometimes worry that they will have to go on taking them forever. It’s a huge topic. While you can’t become addicted to whole plant remedies as opposed to isolated chemicals, you can certainly become dependent on them. There is physical dependency on laxatives like senna, for example; the bowel gets used to having that stimulus, and won’t work without it. With long-term changes to diet, exercise and lifestyle, it is possible to wean yourself off the laxatives, but it does take determination. Gentler herbs that support the digestive process can help.

Then there is psychological dependency. Herbs are just as liable to this as any other form of therapy. Once you’ve found something that works, it can be hard to take the next step and move beyond it. If you are working with a practitioner, it helps to monitor your use, gradually reducing the dose and noticing if symptoms recur. The usual aim of herbal treatment is to restore health and keep it that way, without continuous medication, so sometimes if a patient is reluctant to give up their herbs, they have to be gently encouraged.

If you have a condition which cannot be ‘cured’, then herbs can play a vital part in good management; anything from rheumatoid arthritis to chronic lung disease to mild heart failure might fall into this category. In this case, long-term use of herbs is fully justified, and stopping suddenly can cause problems, though often the daily dose may be very small.

Chronic conditions aside, most people seem to come down to occasional use of herbs when they feel they need the support. So there’s no easy answer. Whatever therapies you are using – including orthodox drugs – it’s always worth reviewing from time to time, just to make sure that what you are doing is still having some benefit.

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