Safety of Herbs over Time
Answered by: Susan Eagles
Question from: Name not given
Posted on: February 26, 1999

I am a 41 year old male. I have always been the nervous type, low on energy, and somewhat depressed (off and on). My girlfriend has been taking various herbs for over a year, now. So I decided to give it a try. I figured they were safe, being sold "over the counter". I decided to take a Siberian Ginseng-Gotu Kola combination (at a 750mg. dose, twice a day) for energy; Kava Kava (at 150mg., twice a day) for anxiety; and St. John’s Wort (at 300mg., twice a day) for depression. I have been taking this combination for almost 2 months, and have noticed little, if any effect. Now, I am reading everywhere that NONE of these herbs should be taken for more than a month! Am I slowly poisoning myself? And what about my girlfriend, who has been on some of these herbs for over a year! There are NO WARNINGS to this effect on any of these products. What should we do? Stop Cold-Turkey, or "wean" ourselves off them?

James Duke in "The Green Pharmacy" (available at Richters) states that labels on herbs cannot specify medical or therapeutic use or possible side effects because herb marketers would have to spend approximately $200 million proving to the Food and Drug Administration that the herb is safe and effective enough to justify a medical claim. And who would want to spend this money on plants that cannot be patented?

Many herbs can be safely taken for long periods of time, similar to taking foods. Many over-the-counter non-herbal medications cause serious disease and no warnings are given. Prescribed drugs can cause irreversible damage, especially to the liver and kidneys, but you would have to search the drug guides for clues to this information. Some foods taken in excess cause disease.

The keys to safe and effective diet and use of drugs and herbs are knowledge and balance. Low energy, depression and nervousness are a function of diet, exercise, work and social life as well as the state of the nerves themselves, which may have become weakened because of an imbalance in some of these factors, and stressful life situations, which may benefit from counselling and relaxation exercises. Taking herbs for any purpose should be combined with a holistic approach that deals with the root cause of the problem. The purpose of using herbs as medicine is to help bring the body into balance while the other approaches are taking effect. They are unlikely to have any long term healing effect on their own.

Ginseng should be taken in periods of three weeks on, two weeks off so that your system isn’t weakened by the extra energy used during the "on" periods. Gotu Kola should not be taken for longer than 6 weeks without a break. I suggest you come off both Ginseng and Gotu Kola. Because they are not addictive, you should not suffer any side effects.

St. John’s Wort may be taken for longer periods of time. Conservative estimates, such as in Varro Tyler’s "Herbs of Choice" (Pharmaceutical Products Press, 10 Alice Street, Birmingham, NY, 13904-1580, U.S.A.), recommend a 6 week maximum. This is because no toxicity has been scientifically proved or disproved. I recommend that you slowly wean yourself off this one.

I don’t have any information on the maximum period Kava can be taken. Herbalists use it for specific purposes, generally for periods up to six weeks. Though it is considered very safe in the recommended doses, I recommend you give it a break.

A herbalist or naturopathic doctor can help you to develop a program of herbs with lifestyle changes that will benefit to your health.

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