Questions and Answers

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    Are herb drinks considered part of the “hot drinks” forbidden by the word of wisdom or are they “herbs to be used with prudence and thanksgiving?” (See D&C 89:10, 11.)

    Dr. Clifford J. Stratton, associate professor of anatomy, University of Nevada School of Medical Sciences; high councilor, Reno Nevada North Stake

    That’s a good question but a difficult one to answer, since over a thousand different herbs have been identified to this date but not all of them have been so thoroughly studied that we know all of their medicinal values. Fortunately, the most popular herbs and herb drinks have been analyzed—but the only source I would recommend checking is a medical library. Information available from popular or commercial sources that I have examined is frequently unreliable.

    All herb drinks cannot be discussed in this limited space, but I will include comments on some of the most popular.

    Salvia, popularly known as sage, has been used in teas for centuries. Its active ingredient is a greenish-yellow volatile oil with a strong tannin content. One species, Salvia ref ex, is poisonous, but extracts from Salvia officinalis are very effective in modern bronchitis medicines and in preparations for throat inflammation. Used as a gargle, it prevents excessive salivation and has a significant antibacterial effect.

    Panax, or ginsing tea, is reportedly a daily drink for millions. It stimulates the adrenal gland of the kidney and causes a dramatic increase in corticosteroid secretion. That means it interferes with carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism, electrolyte and water balance, the heart, kidneys, voluntary muscles, and the central nervous system. Its use should be avoided unless advised by a physician.

    Mint, spearmint, peppermint (Mentha) teas effectively aid in the release of gas from the stomach and intestine and can safely be used in moderation for that purpose. Dandelion roots (Taraxacum officinale) were used by physicians in the nineteenth century to treat chronic diseases of the liver, but their actual usefulness has not been substantiated.

    Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) can increase cortisone production, but it also contains compounds which cause inflamed skin in many individuals. Since synthetic cortisone is available by prescription, without the other undesirable components found in the plant, the traditional use of alfalfa for rheumatism and arthritis is strongly discouraged today.

    Clover and sassafras teas contain poisonous substances (cyanide and safiole, respectively). Clover is therefore prohibited in the United States.

    Numerous “combination” herb drinks used as pleasant drinks or for their medicinal properties, are also sold. You should find out the effect of each of the herbs before you drink the tea regularly.

    Ephedra, popularly known in the western U.S. as “desert tea,” “Mormon tea,” “squaw tea,” or “Mexican tea,” contains no harmful alkaloids but is high in vitamin C. If taken in large quantities it decreases the heart rate and thus may decrease blood pressure. Earlier claims that it helped treat venereal disease and sore throats are probably unfounded. It is important, however, not to confuse the North American Ephedra with the Chinese Ephedra, Ma Huang, which contains a large quantity of ephedrine, a salt of an alkaloid which strongly stimulates the nerves and thus should be used only as a drug under a doctor’s care.

    Thus, each herb tea can be classified as a “hot drink” or “an herb to be used with prudence” only after we know what effect it has on the body. Many drinks contain no significant levels of drugs and can be used as tasty warm drinks, with some nutritive benefit. However, a well-nourished body has no unnatural cravings and requires no drugs to perform well both intellectually and physically.

    The Lord has given us herbs “to be used with prudence and thanksgiving” (D&C 89:10–11) “to strengthen the body” in certain cases of minor illness. But he has warned us that herbs should be used “with judgment” (D&C 59:17–20), “not in excess” and “neither by extortion,” based upon reputable information (see D&C 59:17–20; D&C 89:10–11).

    As a doctor who has researched the drug (medicinal) components in herbs for many years, I must stress the importance of not “prescribing” herb teas as medicine for yourself or others. Many herb teas do contain drugs whose effect is unknown, and “folk knowledge” is not a reliable guide. Any illness requiring drugs should be treated by a physician; and a prudent individual will not consume large quantities of any herb for any reason.