Herbs as Medicine

The topic is herbs because July is National Herbal Prescription Awareness Month. Since there are a number of articles about uses of herbs on our site, this is a great opportunity to discuss using herbs for health.

Herbs as a Cure All?

As many of you know, I am Dr. Jacqueline Soule. It’s a doctorate is in Botany, not medicine. That doesn’t stop people from asking me health questions. If anything – having the Botany background raises more questions! Seems that everyone has heard of some wonderful plant that is going to cure all their woes, and they want to ask me about it.

Before drug companies got involved, this is what drugs looked like.

The dilemma is that – along the way to that Doctorate, I did 2 years of Medicinal Plant Chemistry, and have a brain (plus a file drawer) stuffed with information about medicinal properties of plants. Fact is – over 90 percent of all drugs used today were originally extracted from plants.

Doctrine of Signatures

In virtually every medicinal tradition (East or West) there were considered both hot and cold principles.  There is also what comes to us with the name “Doctrine of Signatures.” The Doctrine of Signatures is based upon the belief that all plants have a sign or “signature” upon them, telling us humans the use for the plant.

A plant with a kidney-shaped leaf would be used medicinally to treat what were believed to be kidney ailments. A plant like the creosote bush – with it’s leaves divided and looking like a tiny set of lungs would be used to treat lung ailments (we will come back to this topic). Mind you, the lung or kidney-shaped leaf may not be the part of the plant that was used, perhaps it was the root. Since the root is hidden underground, the plant had to send up a leaf to let us know what it was good for. The persistence of the belief in the Doctrine of Signatures for all these centuries is due to the fact that many of the plant medicines discovered using the Doctrine really do work!

Saw Palmetto

The saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) has been variously reported as an aphrodisiac, diuretic, and a cure for prostate problems. The “signature” was noted over 400 years ago by Spanish explorers when they “discovered” the plants in Florida. The plants have long, stiff young leaves, which point skyward like a phallus, plus the rounded fruits cling to either side of a stalk, looking like testes.


Centuries later, medical testing has determined that some types of prostate problems do respond to extracts of saw palmetto!

In Europe you can purchase saw palmetto extracts.

More than half of men aged 50 and older experience some symptoms related to enlargement of the prostate gland. Saw palmetto extracts can reduce symptoms, via an anti-inflammatory effect that appears to target prostate cells alone, reducing prostate swelling, and reducing urinary tract complaints associated with swollen prostate. Since reduced prostate pain and swelling may result in increased feelings of amorousness, “aphrodisiac” qualities may be experienced. Note – If you suspect prostate problems, you must be evaluated by a physician to rule out cancer.

Creosote as a Historic Drug

Translation from the Romanian. “Any cough cured!!! 1 box 2.95 Lei. 4 boxes 10.95 Lei. We advise persons with a cough or who suffer from influenza, asthma, laryngitis, sore throat, catarrh, inflammation of the bowels, to buy the famous CREOSOTE PILLS of Dr. BERTELLI. Awarded prizes at 6 medical congresses and approved by the Superior Sanitary Councils of Romania and Italy. These pills will cure any cough and any of the aforementioned diseases in a matter of days. All medical celebrities are successfully working with Creosote Pills. Available at the M. Stoenescu Central Drugstore, Academieĭ Street 2, Bucharest, and at the “Eye of God” Victor Thūringer Pharmacy, Calea Victoriei 154, Bucharest and through all pharmacies in the country. Sells for 2 Lei and 95 Bani a box. Four boxes, selling for 10.95 Lei, suffice for a complete recovery. All boxes not stamped on the outside with the seal of Universul newspaper offices and not featuring a Romanian guide on the inside, that should also bear the Universul seal, are to be returned as forgeries.”

Creosote Bush

Here in the Southwest, Spaniards “discovered” the creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and promptly brought it into their medicinal repertoire. Mind you, the Natives had been using the plant for time out of mind. And for exactly the same uses the Spanish then used it for. Perhaps this is another example of how the gentle Jesuit, Father Kino, helped preserve the traditions of the Native peoples, because he didn’t consider any plants or traditions as “heathen,” and thus something to be eradicated.

Father Kino’s Herbs – Few Copies Left!

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print, award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today   The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

If you live in Tucson,consider purchasing your copy locally at Antigone Books, or Rillito Nursery (call first because they keep running out).

Back to Creosote

Creosote has been used to treat arthritis and asthma. The “signature” is that the leaves that are split almost in two, looking like two lungs joined by the trachea. The leaves contain liposygenase and cyclooxygenase inhibitors, no different from manufactured chemicals now used by physicians to treat asthma and arthritis. The problem is that these compounds can cause also liver damage. Yes, even the chemicals from the from the pharmacy.


When it comes to creosote bush, powdered leaves taken internally (in gel caps for example) have caused liver damage in humans. Creosote leaves, infused as a tea, have not demonstrated similar toxicity.

Use In Moderation

So it comes to this. Excessive use of any medicinal compound can cause damage human tissues. With creosote, a little can help lung complaints. Too much can damage the liver. Both medicines and herbs can help us, but they also can harm. Everything in moderation.

Legal Notes

© Article copyright Savor the Southwest // Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

One thought on “Herbs as Medicine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *