Herbal medicine workshop detailed the basics of using plants as remedies

On September 12, the community workshops at the UBC Farm featured a session on the basics of herbal medicine. It was facilitated by Katolen Yardley, a medical herbalist with over 20 years of clinical and herbal medicine experience. Yardley’s workshop educated herbal medicine novices and intermediates about the therapeutic uses of local household plants and herbs, and how these seemingly inert products can sometimes also be our medicine.

September might mean back to school, but for many people it can also mean battling colds and the flu. Yardley explained that one of the benefits of using plants as medicine is their complex system of chemicals, which limits the body’s ability to develop a resistance to the effects of plant medicine.

“There’s been a lot of research on various herbs that can enhance immune system function, macrophage activity, natural killer cell activity and enhancing the white blood cell activity in the body,” said Yardley. Both huang
qi and the medicinal mushroom turkey tail are examples of such products.

Huang qi, a Chinese flowering plant, contains polysaccharides that can be used for people who are suffering from a weak immune system. Yardley explained that this particular plant could be beneficial for “students that are under a lot of stress and [whose] whole body and immune system is depleted.”

Medicinal mushrooms such as turkey tail and reishi are also among those products which enhance macrophage and white blood cell activity.

Rosemary is another herb that can not only enhance our immune response like medicinal mushrooms, but can also improve cognitive function, as it acts as a circulatory stimulant. As Yardley explained, “with improved blood flow, there’s additional nutrients that are carried via the blood flow to various areas of the extremities or the upper part of the body.” Because it contains antioxidants called rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, rosemary does a great job
of encouraging blood flow and keeping our capillaries strong.

As midterm season approaches, replacing a cup of coffee or Earl Grey tea with a freshly brewed cup of steeped rosemary tea might not be a bad idea. Not only will you be improving cognition and retaining more information, but the antibacterial properties in rosemary may help fight off all the pathogens acquired throughout the day.

After a stressful season of colds and midterms, all that’s left to do is relax and decompress. In her workshop, Yardley went through the benefits of using aromatherapies such as lavender and lemon balm essential oils. Breathing in essential oils elicits a beneficial chemical response in the brain.

“The essential oils, when they’re inhaled, can pass through the olfactory central nervous system, and then a message is sent to the limbic system where it is processed and the limbic system releases neurochemicals that can be relaxing,” Yardley explained.

Different oils can incite different responses. Rosemary, for example, is stimulating, while lavender can be sedating and relaxing. Yardley went on to say that, “depending on the essential oil being used, aromatherapy can be fantastic for anxiety, post-traumatic stress or [a] general[ly] stressful lifestyle.”

Throughout the workshop, Yardley stressed the notion that fresh is best. In order to experience the most effective results, finding a freshly stocked essential oil or herb is extremely important. As time goes on, the medicinal properties of the vast majority of these products diminish.

Yardley will be returning to the UBC Farm on October 2 to facilitate an experiential class on learning herbal medicine through the use of the senses.

The Ubyssey does not recommend trying any of the aforementioned herbal remedies without first consulting an expert on how they would interact with your body.