Long before miracle drugs, before modern medicine, even before the discovery of vitamins, people all over the world were taking herbal remedies. Today, as millions of people in the United States and abroad search for alternatives to conventional medicines that can be addictive or have adverse side effects, worldwide interest in herbs is stronger than ever. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the world population relies on herbal or botanical remedies. As science learns more about how our bodies work, we are led back to health solutions that are simple, natural and effective. Quality herbal preparations are natural alternatives you can trust, made from select herbs and subjected to exacting quality assurance standards.
The following guide to some of the most trusted herbs used in the healing arts throughout the world, reprinted with permission, is from the Natural Health Handbook, 1995, except where noted. For a trial issue of Natural Health Magazine, call 1-800-937-4766.
Bilberry preparations are derived from the leaves and berrylike fruit of a common European shrub (Vaccinium myrtillus) similar to the blueberr. A folk remedy for better eyesight, it gained attention when British pilots during World War II reportedly ate bilberry jam before night missions. Scientific studies confirm a positive effect on vision due to the berry's flavonoid compounds, the anthocyanoside, that can cause biochemical reactions in the eye. Bilberry may prevent acute glaucoma attacks or play a role in the treatment of chronic glaucoma. It may also play a role in relieving menstrual problems; studies have found it helps to relax smooth muscles like those found in the uterine wall. Extracts are usually standardized for 20-25 percent anthocyanoside content. Bilberry is nontoxic and comes in tablets, capsules and extracts.
"Beginning in the 1970's and continuing through today, studies have been conducted at research facilities in Peru, Austria, Germany, England, Hungary and Italy suggesting that Uncaria tomentosa (Cat's Claw) may be beneficial in the treatment of... arthritis, bursitis, rheumatism, all forms of herpes, allergies, ulcers, systemic candidiasis... lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, pre-menstrual syndrome and irregularities of the female cycle, environmental toxin poisoning, numerous bowel and intestinal disorders, (and) organic depression..."
From Health World Magazine
Used with permission.
Cayenne, also known as red pepper, is both an herb and a spice obtained from the dried, ground fruit of various hot chili peppers (Capsicum frutescens) which contain the compound capsaicin, which reduces pain and inflammation, probably by blocking the activity in the body of substance P, a compound needed for transmitting pain impulses. Capsaicin is an ingredient in a prescription skin cream. Drops of cayenne concentrate are used to relieve toothache (though some will find it unpleasantly hot) and as a liniment to soothe sore muscles. Cayenne is also used topically to stop bleeding and taken internally to stimulate circulation or induce sweating to break a fever. Some herbalists use it to treat colds and infectious diarrhea. In the Orient it is a popular "crisis herb" for its heating and stimulating effects on the kidneys, lungs, stomach and heart. it is widely used as a spicy seasoning. It is sold in the form of capsules, concentrated drops and tinctures.
Dandelion is a bitter but nutritious herb prepared from the roots, leaves and other parts of the well-known, widely distributed, yellow-flowered weed (Taraxacum officinale). Traditionally, it has been used as a digestive tonic, blood cleanser, mild diuretic and laxative, and weight-loss aid. The fresh leaves are high in nutrients including Beta-Carotene, Vitamin C and Potassium. As an herb, Dandelion is also taken to relieve inflammation of the liver and gallbladder, congestive jaundice, skin diseases and PMS. It may be useful to lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce high blood pressure and prevent heart disease. Dandelion is safe and nontoxic. It is sold as tablets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Dong Quai (Dang-Gui)
Dang-Gui, a favorite Chinese herb for women, is derived from the root of Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis). It is also called Dang-Qui, Dong Quai, and Tang Kuei. It is used similarly to American and European angelica, and has long been prescribed by traditional Chinese and Indian herbalists to harmonize vital energy and nourish blood. Dang Gui is widely taken in the West for gynecological problems and to regulate hormones, alleviate menstrual cramps and end PMS distress. It has been extensively studied in China and found to nourish the reproductive system, enhance immunity, lower blood pressure, reduce pain and improve circulation. Dang-Gui is often taken as a daily tonic by women entering menopause or before menstruation. It should be avoided during pregnancy. It comes dried and as tablets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Echinacea is an increasingly popular European and North American herb derived from the roots and other parts of the purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea). It is a versatile herb used to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. It is applied externally to cuts, bites and stings to help promote heating, regenerate healthy cells, reduce inflammation and maintain the structure of connective tissue. Taken internally, Echinacea helps to fight bacterial and viral infections, boost the immune system, lower fever and calm allergic reactions. It is nontoxic and can be taken internally in relatively large quantities (2-3 droppersful of the tincture daily as a general immune stimulant taken for up to a week). It is found in the form of salves, liotions, tabIets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Fennel preparations are produced from seeds of a tall, stalky plant (Foeniculum vulgare) native to the Mediterranean. Fennel is primarily used as a digestive aid and to help expel gas. It is also used to treat diarrhea and infant colic. Women use it to stimulate milk flow, promote menstruation and relieve menopausal ailments, although pregnant women should avoid it. As a tea, it can be applied with an eyedropper to soothe the eyes. Aromatherapists use the essential oil medicinally and the food industry uses it extensively as a flavoring. It is available dried and in capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures, extracts and essential oils.
Ginger is derived from the underground stems and roots of a tropical plant (Zingiber officinale) native to the Orient. It has been used since ancient times by the Greeks, Chinese and others as a medicine and flavoring. Ginger is widely taken today for its calming effect on the digestive system and is the premier natural remedy for nausea from morning sickness, upset stomach and motion sickness. It helps expel gas from the intestines and relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract. Ginger may also lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. It is a popular spice and flavoring, and Ginger cookies and Glinger Ale may have high enough Ginger content to have medicinal effects. It is nontoxic and safe to take in large doses. Ginger is also used to make a popular essential oil with medicinal properties. It comes fresh or dried and in tablets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Ginkgo preparations are derived from the fan-shaped leaves of one of the world's most ancient tree species (Ginkgo biloba). It has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years to treat asthma, allergies and coughs. Currently it is gaining popularity for its reputed ability to improve brain function and boost memory and alertness. Researchers say that it stimulates circulation in the brain and ears and thus may help prevent dizziness, hearing loss, tinnitus, stroke and depression. Ginkgo acts as an antioxidant. Studies indicate that it has potential use in the treatment of impotence, varicose veins and Alzheimer's disease. Extracts are often standardized to contain 24 percent Ginkgo heterocides. It comes in tablets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Golden Seal Root
Goldenseal preparations are derived from the yellow root of a small perennial plant (Hydrastis canadensis) native to eastern North America. It is one of the most widely used herbs, with both internal and external applications. It is taken orally to alleviate colds, fevers, digestive ailments, infectious diarrhea, and to stimulate the immune system. Studies confirm that its compound berberine has pharmaceutical powers, notably the abilities to fight bacteria and to stimulate immunity. Goldenseal reduces excessive menstrual flow. Topically, it is used for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic actions and is widely recommended by herbalists to clean wounds, alleviate skin infections or sores (including ringworm, athlete's foot and itching), and reduce hemorrhoids. It shouldn't be taken long-term in large amounts, or by pregnant women or people with high blood pressure. Goldenseal has been overforaged and is now mostly farmed. It is often expensive and sometimes adulterated. It is sold as powder and in capsules, concentrated drops and extracts.
Gotu Kola is a principally Asian plant (Hydrocotyle asiatica, Centella asiatica). It should not be confused with kola, an unrelated, caffeine-containing herb. For thousands of years Gotu Kola has been a popular remedy in India and Pakistan, where it has a reputation for promoting longevity and is being investigated for use against leprosy and tuberculosis. In the West it is used mainly as a tonic to increase energy and endurance, improve memory and mental stamina, and alleviate depression and anxiety. It boosts circulation in the legs and is an effective remedy for varicose veins. Gotu Kola also has important uses externally as a wound healer, burn remedy and psoriasis treatment. Large doses taken internally may have a sedating effect. It is sold dried and in capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Hawthorn preparations are derived from the flowers, leaves or berries of a thorny shrub (Crataegus oxyacantha) native to Europe. It enjoys a long history of use as a heart tonic, and studies have confirmed that the plant is a rich source of bioflavonoids and other chemical compounds that affect heart function. Hawthorn is an effective antioxidant. It can reduce blood pressure and prevent palpitations, arrhythmias and arteriosclerosis. Hawthorn helps stabilize collagen, the protein normally found in joints that is destroyed during inflammation, and thus may be useful against arthritis. Hawthorn is best taken over a prolonged period. It is sold as dried berries, capsules, tinctures and extracts.
Licorice is an herb prepared from the roots of an Oriental and European perennial (Glycyrrhiza glabra) of the pea family. Licorice has long been used by traditional Chinese, Greek and European herbalists as a general tonic and for respiratory problems such as asthma, coughs and bronchitis. Studies have confirmed potential uses to relieve coughs, treat ulcers, alleviate arthritis, and control liver conditions such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. The herb's natural sweetness makes it a favorite flavor for herbal combination products as well as for candies and other foods. Overuse of extracts may cause adverse health effects related to salt and water retention. Retailers sell Licorice in powders, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Milk Thistle is a traditional liver remedy prepared from the seeds of a thorny, weedlike plant (Silybum marianum). It is often taken in the form of silymarin, a standardized extract of a complex compound found in the seeds. Studies confirm that silymarin helps liver cells regenerate and stabilizes liver cell membranes. It also boosts the organ's ability to filter blood and prevents liver damage from toxins including solvents, alcohol, drugs, most pesticides and herbicides, and other bacterial compounds like those associated with food poisoning. Milk Thistle may help treat cirrhosis, hepatitis and other liver diseases. It is often taken regularly as a preventive and after exposure to a toxin. It comes in capsules, concentrated herbal drops and extracts.
Saw Palmetto is derived from the dark berries of a small southeastern palm tree (Serenoa repens, s.serrulata) with sword-like leaves that grow in a fan shape. It has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac and to tonify the male reproductive system. Studies confirm an effect on male sex hormones, and an extract has exhibited positive clinical results in treating enlargement of the prostate. It is also an expectorant used to treat respiratory complaints like colds, coughs and bronchitis. Saw Palmetto contains polysaccharides with potential immune-boosting effects. It is sold as tablets, concentrated drops, extracts and tinctures.
Valerian is an "herbal Valium" prepared from the root of a European plant (Valeriana officinalis) now spread throughout the northeastern United States. Valerian is taken to provide temporary relief from anxiety and to prevent insomnia. It can also relieve headaches, stomach and menstrual cramps, and constipation or indigestion from nervous tension. Studies have found it is as effective as some barbituates for reducing the time needed to fall asleep, though it is stimulating instead of calming to some people. It is safe when taken in moderate doses (a gram of the powder, a teaspoon of the tincture, or 250mg of the liquid or solid extract) but should not be used for an extended period of time. Valerian is sold dried and in tablets, capsuIes, concentrated drops, tinctures and extracts.
Information provided is not meant to imply that all of the scientific community is in agreement. Research continues. Contrary and/or efficacious findings may very well be in the majority. The information herein is selective and limited in scope, and should not, as the sole factor, influence your buying decision.