In terms of safety, it is helpful to consider where various types of herbs fall on the herb safety continuum scale of 1 to 5 ( Hobbs, C.).
Nourishing herbs are on the left side of the scale with a safety rating of 1, as they are very safe and can be consumed daily as often as desired with no side effects.
On the right side of the scale are herbs for extreme acute use (also called heroic herbs by herbalist Christopher Hobbs), which have a safety rating of 5. These are herbs that are “strong and highly irritating, causing dramatic changes to occur” with little difference between a therapeutic dose and a toxic dose and thus strong potential for side effects – these must be used only under direction of an experienced herbalist.
In between these extremes are tonic herbs and “specific” herbs. Tonic herbs are gentle and slow stimulants (Maurer, 2013), have a wide therapeutic range, and include two types: nourishing tonics that are very safe to take daily over extended periods of time; and stimulating tonics that are safe to take for days to months without side effects if used correctly.
“Specific” herbs are “moderately active stimulants” with a narrower therapeutic range, best for acute use limited to approximately two weeks (Hobbs, n.d.).
This article is excerpted from Mother Earth News. Read more about the Herb Safety Continuum Scale here:
Maurer, S. (2013). Sacred Plant Medicine Apprenticeship class handouts. Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education.