We live in a society where we can rely on a pill for every ill. Our approach to health–especially as invincible college kids— is a reactive one.  Rarely do we consider the underlying cause of our problems; once a problem registers, we treat the symptoms and move on. But as any good gardener knows, to get rid of a weed one must pull up the roots.

Holistic health is concerned with overall well-being as opposed to treatment of symptoms. Any given disease or discomfort requires a comprehensive (“holistic”) approach that incorporates medicinal herbs as well as tweaks to multiple facets of one’s lifestyle. A holistic approach is interested in your physical body, but also in your emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social, and environmental well-being. With your whole body working in conjunction with herbs to heal you, you gain both the benefits of health and the experience of the process through which healing occurred.

Whether or not you buy into this approach to living, you may find it fun to learn what types of medicinal herbs are out there. Herbalism is unique because allows you to be the master of your health. If I’ve piqued your interest, read along, and see what herbal options that I think CMCers could find relevant.

Sad Sally’s and Negative Neds: 

Dried Lemon Balm Cut and Sifted

Sure, on average Claremont is a super happy place all the time. However, everyone occasionally gets the blues. Both Lemon Balm and St. Johns Wort are excellent optimism enhancers.

Lemon Balm:  aka “The Gladdening Herb” is a soothing herb. It is especially useful for calming those who feel anxious or restless. It is a very safe herb that has no known negative side effects. Lemon balm’s leaf can be taken as a tea or tincture.

St. Johns Wort: This herb is very well known and extensively researched. It is effective at treating depression, anxiety, and disturbed sleep. This flower improves mood and morale, sharpens mental clarity, and  enhances tranquility. It typically takes 2-6 weeks of doses to really feel an improvement from this herb. It causes sensitivity to sunlight and shouldn’t be combined with other antidepressants or prescribed medication (including oral birth control). It is usually taken as a tincture or tea.

Tinctures of Burdock and Dandelion

The Skinny:

Herbalists believe that skin conditions are often a manifestation of excess toxicity in the body. The skin is the largest organ, and when you break out your body is telling you that something inside is not right. Instead of treating the manifestation of the condition on the skin, herbalists recommend herbs that detox your body and clean your blood. Dandelion, Burdock, and Red Clover are all good herbs to clear up complexion and are usually taken as teas, tinctures, or capsules.

Capsules of Milk Thistle Seed Extract




TNC enthusiasts:

So you’re in college and you like to drink. Fantastic. Here’s an herb for you: Milk Thistle Seed. This herb protects the liver against poisoning. Now, I’m not saying you should take this herb and then down a handle of Jack. What I am saying is that this herb is incredibly good for your liver, and why not give it a bit of protection if you plan on putting stress on it every weekend? Milk Thistle Seed should be taken continuously over the period of time that you anticipate liver stress for optimum health benefits. Also, if taken both before and after drinking, it is said to be effective at preventing hangovers. This is a very safe and very well researched herb, and is usually taken as a standard extract in capsules.

Ginkgo Capsules and Leaves


Fog Horn Leg Horn: 

Time to buckle down and bust out that creative genius of yours? Feeling forgetful? Are you experiencing writers block as you sit down to write that… Forum article? Well have no fear, your mental fog can be cleared up with some Ginkgo. This fan-shaped leaf comes from the world’s oldest surviving tree—one of which stands here on campus right outside McKenna Auditorium! Its benefits include increased circulation and improved mental function and recall. This leaf is even being used in early-stage Alzheimers treatments. Ginkgo rarely causes adverse side effects, and is usually taken as a capsule or tincture.


Experiencing sleepless nights? Constantly tossing and turning? Valerian could provide you with z’s with ease. This root is safe and non-addictive, often taken as a capsule or tincture. Along with aiding in sleep, it is also useful as a mild pain reliever and muscle relaxant.
Valerian Root Capsules

Get Some Green

So here you go, a place to start on your herbal endeavor. But now what? Where do you get these magical leaves? How can you learn more?

  • Any  grocery store with a natural foods section will probably have a section with herbal capsules.
  •  EcoTerra in the village (between Verizon and American Apparel) has a nice selection of herbs in cut and sifted, capsule, and tincture form as well as a very helpful staff.
  • Online ordering is always an option, and Jean’s Greens and Mountain Rose Herbs are good sources if you prefer to go that route.
  • If you’re just plain interested in herbs I suggest you stroll the interwebs, as they are chock full of knowledge. For some basic herbalism 101, start here.

As mentioned in the intro, herbalism and holistic living are not about getting a quick-fix; herbs should be part of a long-term, comprehensive, and proactive plan of health. While we live in a society where we react to our problems by taking a pill for every ill, with a little digging (literally! Roots are great!)  you will also find that there is a leaf for every grief.


Many of my details came from these three sources:

Chevallier, Andrew, and David Keifer. Herbal Remedies. New York: DK Pub., 2007. Print.

Purchon, Nerys. Natural Health: the Complete Guide to Herbs & Oils; Natural Remedies and Nutrition. NSW, Australia: Mellennium House, 2006. Print.

Raab, Barbara. Introduction to Herbalism. University of Vermont. 2011.

  • Cooper Brown

    Would it be out of line to suggest that this author may be a witch?

    • John

      I’ll tell you what, I don’t think it wouldn’t be out of line to state that, while yes, some of these items are researched as having marginal effects upon bodily health, they are no substitute for prescription aid (especially in the case of St. Johns Wort), and that natural medicine like this has pretty well been criticized for being nothing more than pseudoscience and a ridiculous waste of money.

      • Young Man

        Wasn’t this the same writer who was touting “The Secret” as being a valid way to improve one’s life a few months ago?

        Is the Forum now selling snake oil?

      • Connor Barclay

        1) Placebo effect is still an effect.

        2) If you actually believe all medical problems can be solved with a prescription or other form of traditional medicine, I applaud your good health and hope that you remain blissfully unaware of the ignorance contained in your statement. Spend a summer at a world class medical facility, receive no viable treatment, and then tell me traditional medicine isn’t also “a ridiculous waste of money” at times.Great article, Ellie!(I can’t believe I’m defending natural medicine… haha – you win!)Cheers,Connor

  • Elizabeth

    Great article, Ellie!

  • Jillian

    It’s important to note, however, that some of those herbs can have extremely negative side affects if you are already taking prescription drugs.

    St. John’s Wort, for example, will really mess with you if you’re already taking anti-anxiety or anti-dpressant medication.

    I think some of these can also interfere with one’s system if one is taking certain forms of birth control.

    Thanks for the suggestions!