I’ve been asked recently if people should take a break from their regular intake of herbs.
The reasoning for even having this question come up comes from our experience with drugs and our drug-oriented mindset. Clearly, we can become habituated to drugs.
With some medications, the longer we take them, the more we need- a phenomenon called “tolerance”. Have you ever taken a decongestant for a cold, and by the time the cold was over, you needed four times the dose you needed just days before to dry up your runny nose? How about caffeine? Your first cup of coffee left you plastered to the ceiling, but now you easily pour down several cups a day.
Generally, herbs do not create tolerance in the way that drugs do. There are exceptions, but typically they can be taken, sometimes for years, and still produce the desired effect. Think of herbs as “gourmet food concentrates. Generally, the active substances in herbs are the same as in foods. We just choose certain plants to use as medicine for their concentration of specific desirable chemicals. For example, parsley is a delicious salad vegetable, but parsley juice makes a great edema remedy. You might as well ask, “Should I take a break from potatoes or carrots?”
Remember, a drug is a single, often artificial, isolated chemical. We take relatively large doses of that specific chemical to produce desired effects, but the large dose of that single chemical also overwhelms our metabolic pathways and produces side effects. Herbs are composed of thousands of chemicals, each in a tiny amount. Each one gets metabolized in a slightly different way and at a different speed, spreading out the good and bad effects over a broad range of body channels. This much broader approach is easier for the body to handle and generally much less likely to produce side effects or tolerance.
Typically, herbal remedies for acute conditions, like goldenseal for a bacterial infection, have no long term benefit and are discontinued after the condition clears up. Tonic herbs, though, are much more like food, and are often taken daily for months or years without a break. The average lifelong dose for Chinese traditional herb users is 2 ounces, dry weight, per day- for a lifetime.
Most important, evaluate your herb program regularly and make the appropriate adjustments for your age, season and condition.