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Ask the Herbalist--Essential Oils and Epilepsy

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QUESTION: I am a Registered Nurse and a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, and the Illinois State Rep. for the Alliance of International Aromatherapists and I am now studying herbalism in a home study course with Rosemary Gladstar. I came across this site and am so happy to get another opinion. I am certainly not asking for medical advice, just any information or references to other sources. Last Sept. I was diagnosed with epilepsy, having first simple seizures (deja vu feelings, strange smells and tastes, full awareness) these progressed after a few months to complex partial seizures (same symptoms but now with lack of awareness and memory loss). This was so surprising to me since I am 55 years old. I have never heard of this. Of course my GP says it could be the essential oils. I am now seeing a specialist in epilepsy, he does not think it's from essential oils. But now that I'm studying herbalism I have made some wonderful "brain tonic" tinctures with recipes that Rosemary recommends. These include herbs such as Gotu kola, Gingko leaf, Ginseng, Sage and Scullcap. In a book the specialist recommended to me, Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy, it discusses all of these as herbs to avoid because of potential interactions with medications or potential to cause seizures by altering sensitivity to seizures in the brain. All this information has taken all the fun out of my study of herbs! I was so looking forward to taking these tinctures especially because the seizures have affected my memory.

About the same time as my second seizure cluster in Feb. I had been drinking all sorts of tea blends with some of the above herbs among others; licorice root, a bit of sassafras, ginger and all sorts of others. I also just strained a tincture of Valerian root and scullcap (would have added passionflower but didn't have it at the time) to help me sleep and now this book also mentions that these may intensify the sedative effects of the meds and they should be avoided. Although the increased sedative effect would be desired for nighttime.

Now I'm concerned about using any herbs. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about herbs and am now totally confused. I plan to take my tinctures to my doctor next visit and discuss these with him. But I would like to be as prepared as possible. I have considered just trying these tinctures to see what happens but the seizures are not only scary and affect my memory, but I also can't drive for at least 3 months after having them. Also the doc increases my medication. Now I'm on 3 different ones, slowly increasing one, Lamictal, in order to eliminate Keppra eventually. The side effects of these meds are awful. Talk about chemicals messing with your brain!!!

If you have any information that could help me I would love to hear it. Or any good references that I can educate myself with, I would be greatly appreciative. By the way, Rosemary and her colleague say they know of no issues with any of these herbs and epilepsy. I have found a life's passion with aromatherapy and herbalism. I don't want to continue in this state of doubt.  Thank you for your time.

ANSWER: Pleasure to hear from you. Your desire to learn more is to be commended. I have several suggestions, but let first tackle the symptoms. To do this, I would first eliminate any essential oils, yes your GP is correct, but I would only do so to further my investigation. Depending on how often you are experiencing the symptoms (not the seizures), I would venture to say, eliminate all essentials for 7-10 days. Keep a chart of your symptoms as they may arise and their intensity. Include in your chart your moods, stress levels and health issues etc. This chart will help guide us in the future.

Please do not handle essentials or smell them during this period, and please continue with your meds as indicated by your physician. The side effects of these are "awful" as you state, but keep in mind we are trying to find the root of the problem. If for some reason your body is or has become allergic to any herb, oil or combination thereof, the meds then can be adjusted or eliminated. Also obtain a tongue cleaner and use 2xs day. This is invaluable as most of the "fur" remaining on your tongue is actually undigested food.

I know you are thinking, well when can I resume my research and therapies with essential oils? Soon, but first read further... 

During this period, I would suggest a 48 hour fast drinking only Green tea adding 25 drops of extract or tincture of Dandelion root and 10 drops of extract or tincture of Passionflower. Sweeten only with a bit of honey and drink 4-5 day. Drink plenty of fresh water also. This will help eliminate toxins and help rebalance and revitalize the body. If hunger overtakes you during this time, you may eat yogurt and drink fresh fruit juices. After your fast, my first suggestion is for us to take a look at your diet. For me the saying holds true: "You are what you eat". 

For the next 30 days (hopefully forever), eliminate all heavy red meats, pork, all dairy (eat eggs in moderation), white sugar and all fried foods. Moderate your intake of coffee and alcohol. Eliminate sodas, colas, chips and candies. All of the above stagnate the system.  If you smoke please quit, the brain needs plenty of oxygen to function well, plus its a health hazard and bad habit.  

You should now enhance your diet with fresh salmon and mackerel, chicken, turkey, brown rice, fresh garlic and onions, honey, plenty of foods high in fiber and eat fresh locally grown fruits and raw or steamed vegetables daily. Pharmacology studies done in Japan have confirmed an anticonvulsant activity in the extract of saffron. You may include in your ice or potato dish as seasoning, after the meal is done. In China both saffron and bamboo or bamboo shavings are included in broths, soups and stews to treat convulsions. You should also include a piece of Astragalus root and a piece of white Chinese ginseng root in your soups to supplement your immune, or add 25 drops of the extracts to the dish after the meal is done. 

I would also suggest juicing carrots, apples, pears, berries and other fruits. When you juice you actually grasp all the benefits without interference from the stomach, the beneficial vitamins and mineral enter your blood stream directly. No one eats five whole carrots, but a few minutes ago I just finished drinking them.  It is extremely important for you to maintain a daily low-level regimen of exercise. Fifteen minutes of Yoga or Tai Chi would do wonders for you. 

Having said that please eliminate the use of Ginkgo as it may precipitate seizures, eliminate the use of Sassafras may cause cancer and eliminate the use of Valerian it is too harsh on the body and brain. Some of the possible side effects of Valerian include headaches, morning drowsiness, and vivid dreams. It has also been reported to cause insomnia, excitability, and uneasiness. Substitute Valerian with Lemon balm or Linden flower. 

The proper herbs for you are Black Cohosh, Sage, Ashwaganha, Sage, Scutellaria, Gou Teng (Gambir Vine Stem), Skullcap, Saffron, Bamboo, Ginger and white Chinese ginseng.

You may want to start after your fast, drinking infusions of Skullcap and adding to these 20 drops of extract of Black cohosh and 10 drops extract of Scutellaria. Drink 3xs day and sweeten only with a bit of honey. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we often employ a very good formula named Bu Nao Wan (Cerebral Tonic Pills) or Jian Nao Wan (Healthy Brain Pills). They both help with concentration and memory, restlessness, uneasiness and insomnia. They nourish the brain, heart and kidneys. They are also very helpful in calming the spirit and they tonify the heart and blood Qi.

Okay, now back to the oils.   After you abstinence my suggestion is to introduce to your system one oil at a time, and not a combination. Use a particular oil for a week or so before adding another, and notice any changes.  I have noticed over the years that folks when first introduced to alternative remedies want to do too much, too fast, and they go all over the place. I believe I have given you here a way to correctly begin your journey into better health.