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 Herbal Medicine: Losing Addictions Naturally  
Let's meet a few people in the office of Bartlett Insurance Company. Although they sound like cases, their situation is not unusual. Recent statistics show that xx are addicted to alcohol, xx million people smoke, and xx are overweight.

Maggie would like to stop smoking, but doesn't have confidence in herself--she has already tried and failed too many times. Bill would like to lose the 4-cup a day coffee habit, because he knows it's a major factor in his poor sleep at night. He often wakes up in the morning feeling more tired than when he went to bed, and really needs that first cup to get him going. Ann has been drinking alone at night, and wakes up with a headache feeling groggy. She feels as if she can't have fun without the wine she always has at dinner. Fred thinks about food all the time. The only thing that gets him through the day is the thought of a big dinner, and afterwards, dessert. During the day he snacks on candy bars and chips, and a 6-pack of cola is always ready at hand in the refrigerator. Not that it will last long--he has been known to drink 6 cans of the stuff in one afternoon.

Addictions. It has been said that we are all addicted to something. Whether it be sex, food, tobacco, drugs, drama or strong emotions. Or appreciation, the company of a close friend, nutritious food or even the air we breathe. While there are things in life that we need to have, we don't normally call these addictions, if they are not excessively compulsive, and they don't cause problems. Though I find that I am addicted to good nutritious food and caring expressions from others, but what keeps these needs from being addictive is their positive, life-affirming nature. Those "addictions" that lead to increased health and well-being, especially as a mutual benefit, when others are involved are obviously human attachements and needs that don't fall into the addictive category that we are considering here.

But what if we find that there are things that our "higher self" knows is not positive and life-affirming? They are not in the Tao of our life; they may even be ruining our health and even destroying us. Although we don't want to get too philosophical here, one could even say that smoking and drinking, under the proper circumstances, can be healthy. I have read the stories of old people in Russia, who were over 100 years old, that drank a glass of vodka every day and smoked 2 cigarettes. They simply enjoyed them--they had a salubrious and stimulating effect on their life. It's obviously when a thing becomes compulsive, we have no say or control of it--it rules us-- that it becomes a problem to work on.

I find myself eminently qualified to talk about addictions, because I have an addictive constitution. I have gone through addictions, struggled with them, become more clear about their meaning and their place in my life, and let them go. Healing these addictions, some of which has come through family genetics, has taken effort, but well worth it. I feel stronger and more confidant about all aspects of my life, my work and relationships because of this work.

So how to go about it with natural methods? How can we best use herbs, diet and other remedies and support to help us come into the consciousness, clarity and power we need to resolve the problem?

I have found it useful to organize our knowledge about how to resolve addictions with natural remedies like this:

1. Emotional/Spiritual

2. Diet

3. Herbs

4. Nature cure

Emotional and Spiritual Issues

"Sitting With our Addiction"

It is important as a first step in the process of resolving addictions to sit with our addiction like a meditation. Often, addictions develop slowly over the years, which may start at a very early age, or even before we are born, and we fail to notice them. They become such a part of our behavoir and our life that we either have no conscious abot it, or we deny that we have a problem. We are unconscious about the addictive behavoir. For instance, when I was smoking, many years ago, I eventually noticed that I would sometimes light a cigarette and smoke it, then put it out and not even remember I did any of it. When I began to really watch myself as I went through the ritual of smoking, I found that there were many things I didn't like about the habit. I began to look at it more and more closely, I used it as a meditation. I watched my desire for a cigarette arise, I watched any judgements that would come, I watched my feelings in relationship to other people who reacted to my smoking or supported it (because they smoked), and I watched the feelings and body sensations when I was out of cigarettes and couldn't smoke one beyond the time my body called for one. Sometimes I would sit in meditation, and simply watch all of my feelings about smoking, follow it back and back to the beginning of the need. I saw how the sucking response was tied to my lack of the breast when I was an infant (breast-feeding wasn't fashionable then). I saw how the smoking ritual was something to hide behind, as I came into contact with others. And I saw how the nicotine affected my biochemistry, the changes in blood pressure, the feelings of slight dizziness, the suppression of hunger, if I wanted to keep speeding and not take time to eat.

If we sit with our addiction with good faith and good intention and ask for the grace to see it for what it is clearly, then the other practical steps we need to follow in order to heal the addiction will come naturally without tremendous effort.

The part that does take effort is going through our resitance to clarity about the addiction. On our way to that place of clarity we will have to face our darkest and deepest, and often most painful, places. This is the mythological journey of Jason slaying the dragon. This is the journey to our God self that requires courage and concentration.

Every one of us has the ability to travel to this place of God-self, but not everyone will travel there. This is the irony of being human. But as we are able to travel there, we are able to show others how best to make that journey for themselves. This is the power and magic of this effort. No one person is any more or less perfect than another--we are being called forth by those who have made the journey, just as we are calling others forth by our efforts and consciousness.

As a practical exercise, try sitting in a quiet place for 15 minutes. Concentrate on the process of whatever addiction that needs healing. For instance, if one is a drinker, think about the drink. Envision going to the store, buying the bottle. Look at the feelings that come up. Are we fearful, embarrased? Do we feel guilty, or angry? Imagine the first drink. Are we anxious to have it? How does it taste? Is it good to our tastebuds, sweet? Does it taste foul, but we choke it down? Watch the first sensations of the alcohol as they come to our nervous system. Watch closely until we start to lose ourself to the feeling and sensations of being high. Watch as long and as closely as we are able. Also watch the feelings in the morning. Does it hurt? Do we feel guilty?

It is important to watch without judgement. When we judge ourselves or the behavoir, we are using the ego to try and control the ego. There is too much possibility to fool ourselves and get nowhere. This is a common process that we go through, sometimes for years or lifetimes. The only way this process will be truely productive is if we only watch very closely, with exquisite attention and dedication, with no thoughts about right or wrong. When we are in the state of watching without judgement or evaluation, we are closer to our God-self. Then and only then will a true movement into the light occur. Another way of saying it is that we are accessing our higher intuition about our life. When we are in this space, increasingly, we are able to access universal knowledge about our healing process. We are in a powerful healing process, in fact, we are an integral part of it.

Be the "smoker" or "drinker" absolutely. Don't play games with the mind--"I am not really a smoker," I'm better than that, I will quit soon." Just be the smoker all the way. "I am the smoker. I smoke. I smoke often. I light the cigarette, I enhale, I feel the smoke go into my lungs and I feel the chemicals pervade my body. I smoke Luckies (or whatever brand). I like this brand because Cowboys (or smartly-dressed powerful women) smoke them. Cowboys are cool, they don't have a problem with women, or life--they know who they are and what they want." Get into the perceptions of the brand that we embrace.

The Company we keep

Throughout my life I have changed friends and acquantances many times. Not that old friends aren't important or fulfilling, far from it. But through the years, as I have gotten the call to change, to grow, I have found myself being attracted to people that already embodied the way I wanted to be. For instance, as a practical example, when I was a smoker, most of my friends and acquantances were also smokers. As I struggled with smoking

A Sense of Humor

By not taking ourselves too seriously, we are allowing God to enter into us. God is always in us, but we are really noticing the presence. So by being able to laugh at ourselves, to see our folly, our inconsistencies, we are able to be with our God-self.

By taking ourselves and our condition seriously, we get heavier and heavier. We connect ourself with the mind, we bind ourselves to its constructs, we get caught up in the web of self-deception.

Health is Now

When we are in the space of thinking about how we will improve our diet, or stop drinking or smoking, or start working out, or take that long walk tomorrow (or even later that day), we are not in the healing way. Health is only created moment by moment in what we do right now. The choices we make at this instant is all that can create health, and all that can heal addiction.


Diet makes a great deal of difference. For our health, and especially for healing addictions. When we eat foods that are not appropriate for our own constitutional needs, we lose power. The most common problem with diet is sugar and processed foods. Sugar comes in many forms--fruit, fruit juices, sucrose, fructose, honey, corn syrup and maltodextrin, among others. First of all, it is important to identify where the sugar is in our life. It is hidden in so many foods, that it is easy to overlook. When we eat many foods with sugar, especially in a cool or cold climate, or during the winter, we can weaken ourselves in a number of ways. I can speak form experience--when working with addiction, it is important to be conscious about sugar in every form, and eliminate as much as possible of it from the diet. Instead, focus on strengthening foods that will create longer-lasting and steadier energy and warmth, such as grains, beans, lightly cooked vegetables, a few nuts (whole and unroasted) and seeds (especially fermented), and some dairy and meat, where appropriate.

This kind of diet will lead to a steadiness that helps create a space for us to be in that will be of invaluable help in healing addiction.


Herbal remedies

Herbs are increasingly coming back into vogue. In many ways, they have never left our consciousness, and have always been with us as mutual allys. Let us not forget we share the planet with our green companions so that we can offer them respect and allow ourselves to be in a healing space with them.

There are a number of ways that herbs can help us heal addiction. Herbalists will differentiate the therapeutic categories to help clarify what herbs will be the most effective, and how they should be used. See the sidebar, "Herbal Programs for Addiction"


One of the most important herbal treatments for addictions are cleansers that can help remove residues of the drug substances, or other irritants from the blood system and tissues. I have found from experience that the faster one can remove these substances from the body, the better chances of success.

Sweating is one of the best forms of cleansing, if it is done properly, because it is a passive form of cleansing, and does not place an extra strain on the kidneys and liver. Try the following tea blend to help initiate sweating and enhance the effectiveness of the cleansing process.

Yarrow, elder flowers and peppermint leaf, one part each. Infuse the herbs in a pot of water (1 part of the herbs to 10 parts water, weight to volume) and let them steep for 15 minutes. Drink 2 cups during the sauna, and follow with a cup or two of water.

It is also a good idea to clean out the lymph system with red root and echinacea, either in tincture or tea form. Take these herbs for 4 or 5 days and then enjoy a lymphatic massage. This cleansing massage is performed with the aid of lots of oil. I recommend the addition of 20 drops of rosemary oil (to 1 ounce of oil) to stimulate circulation. Start at the back of the head, move down the neck with repeated strokes, then around the collarbone, under the armpits (if you're not ticklish!) and down along the ribs, around the breast area, down to the abdomen and move in a circular motion, clockwise to stimulate bowel elimination. Then start from the feet (especially on top between the bones), stroke towards the ankles, then around the ankles, up the inside of the leg (just below the bone), up to groin, along the inguinal groove, and another circular motion around the abdomen. This massage does wonders for eliminating drugs and toxic wastes.

It is also good to combine this massage with a liver flush--the other special method for removing toxins from the body efficiently and quickly.

The Liver Flush
Liver flushes are used to stimulate elimination of wastes from the body, to open and cool the liver, to increase bile flow, and to improve overall liver functioning. They also help purify the blood and the lymph. I have taken liver flushes for many years now and can heartily recommend them. And if you make the herbal formula right, it can be quite tasty. Here are the instructions:.

1. Mix any fresh-squeezed citrus juices together to make 1 cup of liquid. Orange and grapefruit juices are good, but always mix in some lemon or lime. The final mix should have a sour taste--the more sour, the more cleansing and activating. This mixture can be watered down to taste with spring or distilled water.

2. Add 1-2 cloves of fresh-squeezed garlic, plus a small amount of fresh ginger juice, which you can obtain by grating ginger on a cheese or vegetable grater and then pressing the resulting fibers in a garlic press. (Note: Both garlic and ginger have shown amazing liver-protective qualities in recent studies (Hikino, 1986). Garlic contains strong antioxidant principles, and also provides important sulfur compounds that the liver uses to build certain enzymes.)

3. Mix in 1 tablespoon of high-quality olive oil, blend (or shake well in a glass container), and drink.

4. Follow the liver flush with two cups of cleansing herbal tea. I like "Polari-Tea", which consists of the herbs below. I make plenty of this tea and keep it in a quart canning jar, so it is always available.

Fennel (1 part)
Fenugreek (1 part)
Flax (1 part)
Licorice (1/4 part)
Burdock (1/4 part)
Peppermint (1 part)

Directions: Simmer the herbs for 20 minutes, then add 1 part peppermint and let the tea steep for an additional 10 minutes. For extra soothing properties, try adding 1/2 part marshmallow root (cut and sifted) to the initial tea blend.

5. Drink the liver flush in the morning (preferably after some stretching and breathing exercises), then do not eat any other food for one hour. This liver flush can be taken in cycles of 10 days on and 3 days off, as needed.

There are also several good commercial formulas for liver-cleansing available in natural food stores everywhere, both in bulk and in tea-bag form. One product I can recommend is a blend called "Puri-Tea" from herbalist Brigitte Mars. It contains peppermint, red clover, fennel, licorice, cleavers, dandelion, Oregon grape, burdock root, butternut bark, chickweed, parsley root, and nettles.


Antidepressives: rosemary, hypericum, lavender

Sedatives: valerian, hops, passion flower, camomile

Nerve strengtheners: wild oats

Energy herbs: rosemary, ginseng


Antiaddictive herbs
  • Adaptogens (adrenal support and stress-protection): eleuthero, ashwaganda, gotu kola
  • Hormonal balancing herbs: vitex, licorice
  • Circulation activators: ginger, cayenne, prickly ash

Flavoring herbs: peppermint, ginger

How to take the herbs

Nature Cure

Deep breathing, exercise, cold water, stretching, relaxing movement.
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 About The Author
Christopher Hobbs LAc, AHG Christopher Hobbs is a fourth generation herbalist and botanist with over 30 years experience with herbs. Founder of Native Herb Custom Extracts (now Rainbow Light Custom Extracts) and the Institute for Natural Products......more
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