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Making Educated Choices: Plant Families & Allergens

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While the leaves, roots, flowers, barks, and seeds we know as herbs are derived from plants found all around us, this does not mean that everyone can and should ingest every herb. It can be challenging to know what is safe, what dosages are recommended, and where to turn to find the answers. Finding trusted sources of herbalism information or knowing when to consult an expert can seem overwhelming, but it is so important to do the research before charging full steam ahead!

Turn on the television or open a magazine, and you will likely hear great hoopla about the latest “miracle herb.” Over-exuberant promoters and well-meaning health gurus seem to constantly tout the “miraculous” properties of everything from turmeric to green tea. As consumers, we can be lulled into a false sense of security, leading us to assume that just because something is natural (or organic or non-GMO), it is perfectly safe to consume as much as we want. Caution, respect, and herbal education are key! Mountain Rose Herbs offers many wonderful books written by herbalists we trust, and we also share many resources for herbal education on our website.

Foraging and Feasting guide for finding wild food book laying out on desk


Here are some general tips and guidelines for conducting your research and making informed choices:


1. Start with identity and pay attention to Latin names.

We list the plant family, genus, and species for all our herbs because while common and folk names may be better known, these names are often shared among several plants across different regions, so the scientific identity of an herb becomes very important. It will help you in your research for possible allergens, contraindications (an herb that might not work well when taken with another herb, or for people with specific conditions or symptoms), and sensitivities.

2. Know your possible PLANT GROUP allergies and sensitivities.

If you know you are allergic to specific foods, oils, or other natural ingredients, be sure to check the genus or plant family of any herbs you are considering adding to your daily routine. Some common plant families that can present sensitivities for people include: Asteraceae, Solanaceae, Fabaceae, Poaceae, and Juglandaceae. The Solanaceae, for example, encompasses foods like tomatoes (S. lycopersicum), potatoes (S. tuberosum), eggplant (S. melongena), and goji berries (Lycium chinense), as well as many other shrubs, trees, and vines. Similarly, the Fabaceae are commonly known as the bean, pea, and legume family. This means that if you have allergies to edible beans or peas (including peanuts, which are in the legume family), you might also be sensitive to alfalfa leafmesquite, or carob

3. Research uses, precautions, preparations, and dosages.

This is where the work comes in! We do our best to provide as much information as we can regarding precautions, constituents, possible preparations, and so on for the products we carry, but these descriptions are by no means comprehensive. Since we are an herbal supplier and not licensed healthcare practitioners, we are unable to provide medical advice or recommendations by law—and for good reason! Each of us has unique needs and health histories, so doing our own research is crucial. Remember, herbs are not one-size-fits-all, and it is possible to take too much or too little, or to make mistakes in the preparation.

4. Consult an expert.

We often suggest people consult a trusted health care professional for specific advice. This can be an herbalist, midwife, doctor, or another trained and educated resource. It can be tempting to try to self-diagnose or go DIY, but when it comes to one’s health, consulting those who know more can help decrease risk. If you are taking other medications, it is imperative to find out how herbs will interact. A skilled health care professional can help you tailor your journey to your individual needs. If you aren't sure where to find one, an herbal education program in your area may be able to guide you towards a reputable practitioner.

Plants can help promote a healthy lifestyle, but they can also be powerful. By respecting the plants and knowing our bodies, we can live more harmoniously with our natural world.

Sunflower laying on desk over lots of plant education cards  

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Topics: Herbalism


Written by Mason on July 3, 2018

Mason Hutchison is the founder of HerbRally, a podcast and website that promotes herbalism education and events. He has completed herbalism apprenticeships at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies and the Arctos School of Herbal and Botanical Studies. Mason is the Events & Outreach Strategist for Mountain Rose Herbs. His day-to-day work involves organizing community events such as the Free Herbalism Project, as well as attending herbal conferences throughout the country. He is the co-organizer of one of the longest running herbal events in the US, the Breitenbush Herbal Conference. He is also on the board of directors for the Eugene Tea Festival. He has previously volunteered for the Occupy Medical herb team and the Native Plant Society of Oregon – Emerald Chapter. Mason is a proud father, avid basketball and ping pong player, spring water gatherer, and an enthusiast in the art of frugal nutrition.

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