Herbs for MS

by Lorna J. Moorhead

Living with Multiple Sclerosis is exhausting. Finding the right medicines to help with the overwhelming array of symptoms can be tough. When faced with a neurologist, who doesnít believe in symptom relief, it gets even tougher.

In an attempt to find something to ease my symptoms, I turned to my herb garden for help. In the past few months, I have discovered that some herbs are beneficial in taking the edge off of my symptoms. I am not a doctor and the efficacy of herbal remedies for general medical use has not been thoroughly studied. I do believe that someday we will be able to safely use herbs for a bit more than seasoning. To my knowledge, there have been no tests regarding the use of herbs to help with MS symptoms. These tips are not meant to suggest a change in a personís current MS therapy. Even though these ideas are for simple teas and baths, it is still best to check with your doctor before introducing any new type of therapy into your routine. If you are already taking medications for symptom relief, I suggest that you do not do anything involving herbs until you have cleared it with your doctor.

No herb or pill can magically take your symptoms away forever. (Oh, if it only could!) Nevertheless, these ideas and recipes may help you, like they helped me. Those of us with MS know that every bit of assistance we can get leads us closer to a fuller richer life! I will be listing new herbs and recipes every other day, so keep checking in! If you chose to subscribe to my column, email reminders will be sent when a new listing is posted.

Herbs can be steeped and used for making a tea or infusing a bath. A BATH?! Yes, a bath. Most people with MS know that hot water can make symptoms worse. Lukewarm baths steeped with infused herbs have been my savior. Teas are faster and easier to prepare than baths, and can taste delicious as well. Finally, oils, lotions, and poultices can be made with the herbs and put directly on the skin. These applications work wonders for sore muscles, cuts, and burns.

Herbs listed here can be bought at your local nursery. You may already have some of the teas in your home. Here are some ideas and recipes for helping with different symptoms.

Catnip

Yes, that same herb you buy for your cats. It may make them roll on the floor in psychedelic bliss and then race around the house as if their tail was on fire, but it has a calming affect on humans. Catnip works as an anti-spasmodic and mild sedative. However, catnip does not leave you feeling like you just popped a Valium. (If you are taking Valium or any other sedative or muscle relaxant, talk to your doctor before using herbs.) But it does take a bit of the edge off. Think of it as a deep breath of fresh spring air that seeps into your system and coaxes the knots of stress loose throughout your body.

Everyone is different, and MS is different for everyone. Reactions to catnip will vary greatly. Some of you may feel very loose and others may think, "Why am I drinking this green stuff?"

Directions:

If you have a living catnip plant, take some of the leaves and let them dry. You can use them fresh as well. If you have cats, try to keep them from rummaging in the plant. (Good luck!) When they bruise the leaves, the scent is released and that will only bring them to heights of gloriously destructive ecstasy. (And attract more cats!) Bruising of the leaf takes some of the medicinal juice out of the plant, as well. You'll have to choose: your stress? Or the catís fix? Don't want to deal with the fuss of tending to a plant? You can buy natural catnip already dried either at a pet store or a natural food store.

Preparing an infusion for use in a tea or bath:

Boil some water and then pour the hot water over some of the catnip leaves. I have found it easy to make a catnip bath and some tea at the same time. Take a coffee filter and brace it over a plain jar. That way, you don't have to tolerate leaves floating in your bath or tea. For a stronger infusion, mix the hot water and the catnip and then strain it. Once you have done this let it sit and steep for about ten minutes. The water will turn green.

Pour the green brew into your bath or cup and enjoy! Catnip tea is minty, but you need extra sweetening to your taste. Use Ĺ-1 teaspoon catnip each cup of tea. For a bath, I generally use Ĺ-1 cup of dried catnip. (I like 'em strong and green!)

Use in MS:

Calming and relaxing. Catnip has helped me greatly when I have been overstressed or anxious. May help relax muscles. Tea can also help digestion after meals that you know might cause heartburn. It also helps with menstrual cramps.

Warning:

Catnip can cause stomach upset if too much is ingested. Catnip is considered non-toxic. I recommend you check with your doctor before using catnip or any other herbs for yourself, your young children, if you are pregnant or nursing, and if you are over the age of 65. If you have MS, remember to take lukewarm baths! Becoming overheated can make your symptoms worse and ruin your relaxation time.

Chamomile

Yes, the stomach tea. Chamomile is one of the best selling herbs on the market. It has similar anti-spasmodic qualities to the catnip, a pleasant aroma, and tastes great. Chamomile has been known to help promote sleep, ease menstrual cramps and stomach upset, plus it may help with ulcers! Chamomile is a main ingredient in those sleepy time and nighttime teas you bought and never used. They're sitting in your cupboard right now. However, I bet you never thought of tossing the tea bags into your tub!

Directions:

The chamomile flower is used in teas and baths. The flowers have a circular yellow center and little tiny white petals. If you have ever had chamomile tea, when you smell the flowers you will recognize the scent immediately!

As with the catnip, you can find the live plant at any nursery or get the dried flowers at a natural food store. Chamomile is easy. You can go to any nearby grocery store and buy the tea! (But we know it's already in your cupboard, behind the baking soda.)

Two or three heaping teaspoonfuls of chamomile flowers per cup of boiling water makes a wonderful, relaxing, digestive tea. I suggest no more than three cups a day. To avoid floating weeds in your cup, use the straining idea I suggested above. For teas, I generally use store bought. Less mess and no fuss. For a bath, tie the flowers together in a coffee filter and run it under the water.

Relaxing chamomile baths may help calm tension and muscles. As with catnip, you can steep the flowers in jars of hot water and then, after ten minutes, pour the water into the bath. (The water will turn yellow.)

Use in MS:

Calming, relaxing, digestive aid, and helps promote sleep. You can mix catnip and chamomile. Many of those store-bought teas use both herbs in their ingredients. The combination can be used for an extra soothing bath. When mixing herbs, remember to use smaller quantities of each. If you have stomach problems, chamomile is also a digestive aid and may help with ulcers.

Warning:

Once again, I insist that you check with your doctor before using catnip or any other herbs for yourself, your young children, if you are pregnant or nursing, and if you are over the age of 65. If you experience any stomach upset, nausea, or vomiting, stop use immediately.

Catnip and chamomile have been a great help to me after a rough day. They may help you. But for people with MS, these herbs might be exceptionally beneficial and a good alternative. These two herbs come in handy as a safe, simple way to help you relax. I don't profess that these are miracle cures, but I do believe that a gentle cup of tea or a soak in the tub never hurts.

© 2000 Lorna Moorhead


Lorna Moorhead was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in September of 1999. You can view her web site at www.msmoms.com. She is author of the book "Coffee in the Cereal: The First Year with Multiple Sclerosis".



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