A guide to common medicinal herbs is essential for anyone looking to explore the world of natural remedies. From chamomile to ginseng, there are many herbs that have been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. In this article, we'll take a look at nine of the most popular herbal medicines, including their main benefits, uses and relevant safety information. Chamomile (Flower) is considered by some to be a cure-all and is commonly used in the United States.
It is usually taken as a tea or supplement, but can also be applied topically. Chamomile is known for its calming effects and is often used to treat anxiety, insomnia and digestive issues. Echinacea (Root, Rhizome) is a flowering plant that has long been used in Native American practices to treat a variety of ailments, including wounds, burns, toothaches, sore throat and stomach upset. Most parts of the plant can be used for medicinal purposes, although many people believe that roots have the strongest effect. Echinacea is usually taken as a tea or supplement, but can also be applied topically.
Research suggests that it may reduce the risk of catching a cold by up to 20%, but there is little or no evidence that it treats the cold after contracting it. Side effects such as nausea, stomach pain and skin rash have occasionally been reported. Ginseng (Root) is a medicinal plant whose roots are usually soaked to make a tea or dried to make a powder. It is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation and increase immunity, brain function and energy levels. There are several varieties, but the two most popular are the Asian and American types Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius, respectively.
American ginseng is believed to promote relaxation, while Asian ginseng is considered to be more stimulating. Although ginseng has been used for centuries, there is no modern research to support its effectiveness. Possible side effects include headaches, lack of sleep and digestive problems. Ginkgo biloba (Leaves) is also known simply as ginkgo and is derived from the maidenhair tree. Seeds and leaves are traditionally used to make teas and tinctures, but most modern applications use leaf extract.
Ginkgo is said to treat a wide range of ailments, including heart disease, dementia, mental difficulties and sexual dysfunction. However, studies have not proven effective for any of these conditions. Elderberry (Fruit) is an ancient herbal medicine typically made from the cooked fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant. It has long been used to relieve headaches, nerve aches, toothaches, colds, viral infections and constipation. Test tube studies show that its plant compounds have antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral properties, but research on humans is lacking.
Some small human studies indicate that elderberry shortens the duration of influenza infections, although larger studies are needed to determine if it is more effective than conventional antiviral therapies. Short-term use is considered safe. St John's Wort (Flowering Plant) is a plant-based drug derived from the flowering plant Hypericum perforatum. Its small yellow flowers are commonly used to make tea, capsules or extracts. Its use dates back to ancient Greece and it is still frequently prescribed by medical professionals in parts of Europe.
Many studies point out that short-term use of St John's Wort is as effective as some conventional antidepressants. However, there are limited data on safety or long-term efficacy for people with severe depression or suicidal thoughts. Side effects include allergic reactions, dizziness, confusion, dry mouth and increased sensitivity to light. Turmeric (Root) belongs to the ginger family and its main active compound is curcumin. It can treat a number of conditions including chronic inflammation, pain, metabolic syndrome and anxiety.
Several studies reveal that supplemental doses of curcumin are as effective in relieving arthritis pain as some common anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Curcumin supplements are considered safe but very high doses can cause diarrhea, headache or skin irritation. Herbal medicines have been used for centuries to treat various ailments and conditions. While some herbs have proven effective in treating certain conditions in clinical trials or small studies, more research needs to be done before they can be recommended as treatments for any condition.
Before taking any herbal medicine it's important to speak with your doctor about potential risks and side effects.