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Finding a good herbalist

Most of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or if you read through and it just can't see where to start, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to help guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Dangerous labels

Having carefully listened to enough parents to really hear their point of view I do understand how getting a label of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) for their child has been a burden in some ways but also a great relief. Parents, especially mothers, feel hugely responsible for their children's behaviour and when they get that label they have felt the immediate shift in the attitudes of their families, siblings, partners, teachers, friends etc. because now they can give a medical 'reason' for why their child has been having, and giving to others, such a hard time.

So, it is with this understanding in mind that I want to say at the outset of this article how nevertheless terribly dangerous I believe medical labels can be, and never more so than when they apply to children.

The risk of labels is how strongly they can stick and then go on to create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. In the case of ADD or ADHD what can happen is that everyone, including the child or adult themselves, develops a hardened belief that their inherent nature, their genetic make-up, is simply bad at learning and holding attention, and that things will always be that way.

Every year there are more criteria for more labels and every year there are more medications to fit those labels. Once you get a label, a 'name', for what's wrong then from that point on you fit in a certain kind of box that will have a certain type of treatment recommended by the mainstream system. Which brings us to where we are now because we have never in the history of humanity had such a massive proportion of our population, young and old, on mind-altering drugs....

I wonder if future generations will go further down this track we are currently hurtling along or if will they look back at this time as a kind of mass social experiment that we eventually realised was an extraordinarily risky thing to do, especially with developing minds...

In any case, you who are reading this will have your reasons for seeking out different points of view. There are genuine alternatives to mind-altering drugs for this problem and the first place to start is by asking how can Nature help.


Herbs that can help

The benefit vs. harm of labels aside, a child or adult who is struggling in this area is having real problems with their nervous systems. They are obviously finding it hard to switch on and concentrate but they are also finding it really hard to switch off and relax too. If you ask a person who has been given the diagnosis of ADD or ADHD open questions about how they feel, and listen carefully to their answers, a common theme emerges which is that they are incredibly 'wired but tired'...

I have most often found that it has been a dual approach that best serves the healing process in these cases. In the first part of the day, I typically use a formula of herbs that helps to 'activate' the nervous system and then in the latter part of the day, I use a second formula of herbs that helps to ' relax' the nerves.

In a moment, I am going to give two examples of how this might look in practice but it is important to mention early on that there are key variables between children and adults as to which herbs, as well as foods and many other things, will serve them best.

The subject of individual variability is explored in more detail in the section on constitutional medicine. The introduction page also has an article linked at the bottom on the 'Cycle of Healing', which goes further into the concepts of 'activating' and 'relaxing' - that page is here.


Kola & Valerian

Two herbs illustrate this last point about individual variability especially well. One of the most stimulating herbs in our materia medica is the potent Kola nut which contains a hefty amount of caffeine amongst other activating alkaloids. For one person, a dose of Kola will cause agitation and edginess but for another it may actually help them feel calmer and significantly help them concentrate their mind and body to a task. You will see a resonance here with the paradox of how giving some people a dose of 'Speed' (Ritalin) can help them to calm down and get their focus.

Another herb at the other end of the scale is the famous Valerian. I say famous because Valerian is a potent relaxing remedy and a great many people who have had awful problems with anxiety or sleep disturbance have found it to be a life-changing ally to have in their lives. However, Valerian is also well known to cause a paradoxical stimulation in some people whereby instead of helping them to have a more peaceful sleep it causes them to be far more awake and alert than they were before, at least until it wears off!

Cola nitida (Kola nut)


Pulse testing

So how can you know if Kola nut or Valerian or other such potent herbs are the right ones to use? In practice, unless I feel quite sure from their constitutional picture or for some other reason, I will often use the ancient technique of pulse-testing to be sure to follow the first rule of medicine - primum non nocere, i.e. 'firstly, do no harm.'

I want to share this technique with you here because, even if you have had no practice with this kind of thing, it does not take any time to learn and only requires one step to get it right, which is to have an empty mind and an open heart...

Pulse testing is where you carefully and gently feel the pulse of the person at their wrist and, whilst you are 'tuned into' the pulse you give a tiny dose of the herb and feel what happens before, during and afterwards.

Much of the success of this technique lies in simply getting familiar with taking the pulse itself and the only way to get good at that is to practice it until it feels quite natural. The art is to not press too hard not too light but rather take your time getting your fingertips used to feeling their pulse before you go ahead and test the herb or other remedy.

In an essay I wrote for practitioners on pulse and tongue diagnosis (here if interested to read further) I describe it like this - Feeling a pulse is like catching a shimmering fish. If you touch it too lightly it will whisper through your fingers like smoke. Press too deep it will wriggle and writhe until you let it go. Wait with it patiently and it will give you its body and let you feel its underwater swim.

When you have the pulse under your fingers you then introduce just one or two drops of the Kola nut, or Valerian or whatever herb or substance you want to test on the person in your care. What happens next is both baffling and intriguing in equal measure but you will reliably feel a significant change in the pulse if and when the innate intelligence of the body feels the substance as beneficial or harmful.

If you do not feel any change then take that as meaning it's simply neutral, but I think you will find that if you practice this technique a few times that nothing happening is by far the least common reaction! Much more commonly the pulse gets noticeably stronger, more full, more steady, or it goes the other way, and gets noticeably weaker, less full, less regular, more edgy or rough.

I love science and the search for truth that it's methods represent but I can tell you for a fact that it makes no difference if the person likes or dislikes the taste as to whether the response is stronger or weaker. Nor can I explain how it works other than to say that somehow the heart just must know what the heart wants...

Even if I can't explain how it works, all that matters is that this old method consistently works and I'm deeply grateful for whatever mysterious force of Nature that we can briefly apprehend through closely listening to the heart's echo in the wrist.

By the way, this method is not generally taught these days though I have tried to teach it to hundreds of my colleagues. I say tried because some get it and some don't. Being willing to trust what you feel while keeping your head out of the way is something that is a lot easier said than done!

Incidentally, in that regard, any students or practitioners reading this should definitely try to 'double-blind' the experiment. So when you are testing something you choose a few other remedies at the same time but neither they nor the recipient knows which substance is being tested. This is quite easy to do in practice if you simply shuffle identical sized test bottles whilst keeping the labels pointed away from you and resist all temptation to look before you are finished!


Sample Activating Formula 210 mls

Withania root 60 mls
Kola Nut* 50mls
Panax Ginseng* 30mls
Licorice root 30mls
Damiana 20mls
Basil herb 10mls
Rosemary 10mls

*If either of these two herbs in particular were not suitable then the amount of any of the other herbs could be adjusted up or you could just use more Withania root. You simply cannot overdose on Withania and it is truly one of the best herbs on earth for a person who feels both 'wired and tired'.

Dosage is critical to the success of any kind of medicine and is a large part of the art of getting it right! In my clinic we make all our own tinctures from raw, dried and usually organic herbs so I can only say what I would use by way of example. For a 6-year-old could be 4 mls twice in the day until they were much better when I would drop it to once a day. For a 10-year-old I might use 6 mls twice a day at the beginning of treatment and for a 14-year-old I would go to the full adult dose of 8 mls twice a day until much improved whereupon again we would drop to once a day.

If you are not familiar with herbal medicine, then I can tell you that there are all very high doses indeed. My experience with treating children and young people with these conditions is that you must start at the top end of the dose range and only ease it back when they and everyone else is sure it is working.

Sample Relaxing Formula 210 mls

Withania root 60mls
Valerian root* 40mls
Skullcap leaf 40mls
Hops flowers* 30mls
Licorice root 20mls
Lobelia* 10mls
Lavender 10mls

*As you can see there are three herbs in this sample formula that may or may not suit a person. You can also see that the root extracts of both Withania and Licorice are in both formulas, this is because they are both superb at nourishing a nervous system that is at either end of a spectrum of imbalance. As already mentioned, the Withania in particular can be used at higher amounts if any of the other herbs are not a good fit.

I don't follow hard rules about this because a lot will depend on the size and apparent sensitivity of the patient in front of me but, by way of example, the dosage levels given above for the activating formula would be just the same as what I would choose for the relaxing formula; i.e. 4-8mls depending on the age and two doses in the latter part of the day (e.g. one dose after dinner and another before bed) until they were doing much better whereupon we reduce to a single dose in the evening.

Withania somnifera (Ashwaganda root)


Food matters

Allergies or intolerances

Think about yourself, or the health of the child or person in your life who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or for whom you are thinking that this may be their or your issue.

Have you or they had any eczema or asthma? Have you or they had a recurring pattern of sore stomachs and disturbed bowel function? Have you or they had recurring headaches that come with deep fatigue and the need to sleep a lot or stay in bed? Can you see that you or they tend to get cracks in the corners of their mouth and/or dark rings under the eyes?

The above are all classic signposts of food allergy or intolerance and if you are answering yes to one or more of those questions then you should certainly consider allergy or intolerance as a possibility because, if this is the case, then you are likely to find that a change of diet can result in a profound change of behaviour.

I have seen this happen innumerable times in my own practice and have likewise heard from many colleagues in person and in our online forums how they have observed the same phenomenon too. Undiagnosed food allergy and intolerance can and does have a major negative influence on the most sensitive organ in the human body - the brain.

You also need to know that this whole area is rife with myth and misinformation so, if you need to explore this area further, the next step is to read the detailed article found here.


Chemicals & additives

Further to allergy or intolerance based immune reactions another potential issue in this diet area that has gained considerable attention in the health world is how food additives can impact on children whose developing brains are more sensitive, and therefore more reactive, to the abundance of chemicals in our modern diet.

If you have been exploring this subject online or in certain books you will already know what I am talking about here. There are people, such as those who follow the Feingold Diet, whose primary approach with ADD and ADHD is to clear out all possible food additives, MSG, excess sugars etc. from the diet and who believe that this single intervention can have a big impact.

I personally absolutely agree with the possibility that chemical additives to food can have adverse effects on the brain and behaviour. If you or someone you love has the ADD or ADHD label then I urge you to commit your time and energy to developing a wholefood rather than a fast, convenience, processed food diet.

Perhaps it will help a great deal, the only way to know is to try and see. Whatever else happens the health of you and your whole family will be the better for it - mentally and physically. If you would like to read a summary of what I see as constituting excellent nutrition read here.


Action stations

Here are some thoughts from the great American Herbalist Paul Bergner on this subject:

"One other consideration in the multi-factorial dys-ecological state of ADD is the basic sense dominance of the child. Most people are visual or hearing dominant, and the school system, sitting in a desk, works for them.

Some individuals are 'spatial-kinaesthetic" dominant. The dominant sense is a sense of where they are in space, and in motion.

I know a man here in Boulder who is a holistic optometrist, and also has worked for thirty years as an optometrist in the Army Reserves. He was given a group of men to study, 30 of them, who were unusually successful "point men" meaning they could spot the booby traps and ambushes, and presumably because they were still alive after doing a lot of this, they were very successful. The Army wanted to know if there was something special about their vision. The only thing this man found  in common with all 30 of them was "cross dominance" meaning that the dominant eye was the opposite of the dominant hand.

This is a characteristic of spatial-kinaesthetic dominance, so this was the common factor. He said the great majority of them had been diagnosed with learning disabilities or ADD in school, and none had been successful in a school setting. since I heard this, I've watched for it and found it common in skilled outdoors people, including Ab Taylor, one of the great living man-trackers alive in the North America today.

The problem in school, is that an s-k dominant child can only figure out what's going on when they are moving around. So we are drugging our most skilled hunter-gatherers, and not training them to their skills. The other piece coming out lately is that the adrenergic response in general suppresses learning, so we keep the kid in his seat, but suppress his learning and memory."


I think that anyone who has worked with anyone who even remotely fits the ADD or ADHD label will agree that these are people who have more than the average physical energy cooped up in their bodies.

This is as good a point as any in this article to mention that many of the adults I have met in practice who were diagnosed with ADD or ADHD in their youth have turned out to belong to the Eagle constitution and one of the hallmarks of this type of person is a higher than average level of physical and nervous energy.

Some of these folks have gone on to be remarkably successful in their chosen life-path despite, rather than because of their education, and this is always because they have been able to find something that ignites their interest and their passion whereupon they have an abundant ability to concentrate on their objective!

That ability to focus exceptionally well on a desired goal is a very Eagle quality, by the way. It is one thing to not be able to keep your attention on something that doesn't interest you, another thing entirely to retain your focus on what you actually want to do!

Anyway, what I wanted to point out here is what many others say too, which is that engaging physical exercise and activity are crucial to the long-term success of learning how to grow and become successful with any kind of person who has an abundance of energy as a part of their nature.

Sports and/or martial arts training are a good match for many but I think that each person needs to find the right fit for them and be open to trying and seeing what works and what they best see the point of doing!


Technology Time

I haven't yet met the parent of a child with an ADD or ADHD diagnosis who hasn't said that a) their child really loves technology, games etc. and b) they are really good at them!

Again, this goes to prove that there is nothing wrong with their ability to retain attention when it is something that actually interests them but of course there is going to be concerns from everyone involved in education when there is no other desire than to get back on to the computer to play more games!

Some of my colleagues believe that an excess of technology time is a major part of the reason behind behavioural issues with children, I personally think it may be more of a contributor than a root cause. In any case I think the way of moderation is better than all or nothing.

I recommend to my own patients to avoid technology completely in the first part of the day but to then encourage and reward their children with a reasonable amount of technology time before they start the winding down process of switching off from screens etc. and then taking some relaxing herbs, putting on some relaxing music, dimming the lights etc...



Engaging with and responding to stories is an intrinsic part of being human and I am a huge advocate for novels in particular, i.e. any kind of good story that can grasp the attention of a person and keep it. I call a good book a 'medicine for the mind' and think that a good story-teller is worth their weight in gold!

If you can get your child to learn to read and hold their attention on books then many of their main educational problems are going to be solved naturally, without them even realising it!


One step at a time

I can very understand how a parent, already stressed out by what is happening in their family, could feel overwhelmed with how much they have to do who when they read an article like the above, or other literature in the natural health world on ADD/ADHD,

When you compare the time, effort and expense of, for example, finding a good herbalist to get good herbs, going to a more whole-foods diet, getting into a sport or martial arts club etc. then who can blame someone for choosing the pharmaceutical option of just taking some little pills each day?

That said there are also a great many people, and you reading this are probably one of them, who want viable alternatives. If you will embark down this path then I urge you to do it one step at a time and to start with the herbs, i.e. let Nature take the first step.

You should not underestimate how much these ancient allies can help us in our times of need, used wisely they are simply extraordinary and I think that when you see some positive benefits from using them you will get more strength and confidence to keep taking further steps.

None of this is an instant fix but if you are willing to be patient and are ready to do the work, I am sure you will look back on this as one of the best life choices you made. Good luck, sincerely!

Constitutional Medicine

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd