10 Herbs That Heal: A Guide to Common Medicinal Herbs

Chamomile is a popular herbal remedy in the United States, commonly used to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, chamomile is likely to be safe when used as tea and it can be safe for oral use in the short term. Not enough is known about the long-term safety of using chamomile for medicinal purposes. In Europe, chamomile is used to help heal wounds and reduce inflammation and swelling.

Its proven effectiveness supports the popularity of this herbal remedy. You can also add ice to tea if you prefer a cooler drink. Chamomile is available for purchase as tea and in capsule form in most health food stores. If you use capsules, look for pharmaceutical-grade products.

Other grades, such as therapeutic grade, may not be of such high quality. Chamomile can cause allergic reactions, and some people have reported anaphylaxis (a severe whole-body allergic reaction that can be fatal) from its use. Avoid using chamomile if you take blood thinners or the anti-rejection drug cyclosporine, as it may interact negatively with these medications. Ashwagandha comes from the plant Withania somnifera, also known as Indian ginseng and Indian winter cherry. The evergreen shrub is native to Africa and Asia and grows in parts of the Middle East and India.

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. This versatile herb is common in Ayurvedic medicine (Indian traditional medicine system) to increase energy levels, decrease anxiety and stress, and reduce pain and inflammation. Ashwagandha is also used to improve male sexual health, as the herb can increase testosterone levels in men. The root of the woody plant is said to support erectile dysfunction, increase libido (sexual desire) and improve sexual pleasure.

Ashwagandha is available in the form of capsules, tincture and powder as a dietary supplement. Ashwagandha powder may taste earthy and bitter, so it's best to mix it with something, such as milkshakes, desserts, and coffee or tea. It has traditionally been mixed with honey, ghee or water. Most people don't immediately feel the effects of ashwagandha; it may take weeks before the benefits of ashwagandha are noticed.

Ashwagandha is generally safe for most adults; common side effects include drowsiness, gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea. People who take certain medications, such as anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines and barbiturates, should not take them, as the plant can interact with these drugs. Do not take ashwagandha if you are pregnant, as high doses can cause miscarriage. Echinacea is a flowering plant belonging to the daisy family. The large magenta petals of the flower unfold in early or late summer.

It grows in eastern and central North America, and the leaf, stem and root of echinacea are commonly used for medicinal purposes. Echinacea has traditionally been used as a remedy for toothache, intestinal pain, snake bites, seizures, skin irritation, arthritis and pain. Today, echinacea is a home remedy that is commonly used to shorten the duration or prevent the common cold and flu. It is also widely used to promote wound healing.

Echinacea is rich in substances that are believed to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have antiviral and antioxidant effects. Some studies show a minor benefit of using echinacea to possibly prevent upper respiratory tract infections; however further studies are needed to determine its effectiveness in preventing or shortening the duration of a cold. Echinacea can be harmful to the digestive system and can cause stomach upset. Experts say echinacea should only be used in the short term; long-term use (eight weeks or more) may affect the body's immune system and liver.

Consult your healthcare professional before using echinacea; it may interact with medications you are taking, particularly medications that are known to affect the liver. Garlic is a perennial plant native to Central Asia that is cultivated for its tasty bulbs. It is now cultivated all over the world by many cultures. Garlic is valued both for cooking and for its medicinal properties; humans have been using garlic for thousands of years. Traditional medicinal uses include preventing infections, lowering blood pressure, treating tuberculosis, colic, liver disease, intestinal worms, and reducing fever.

Compounds found in garlic have antimicrobial, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties; research shows that garlic can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Garlic may be effective in preventing certain types of cancer; research shows that regular consumption of cooked or raw garlic can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Garlic can be consumed both cooked and raw; it can also be used in powder to season meats, vegetables soups and stews. Talk to your doctor if you plan to take garlic supplements for its health benefits; garlic may increase the risk of bleeding and should not be taken if you are taking blood thinners. For that same reason do not take large amounts of garlic before surgery or dental procedures. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a plant with a leafy stem and greenish-yellow flowers; originally from Asia and India ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. This versatile spice comes from the underground stem of the ginger plant and is added to food and drinks around the world. Ginger has been widely used since 16th century in many traditional medicines around the world; more than 2 000 years ago ginger was so prized sought after for its medicinal properties that one pound equaled cost of a sheep. It was used as remedy for common ailments such as nausea pain vomiting now days ginger has distinction being classified as herb food medicine terms its medicinal properties ginger perhaps best known its ability.