First Published September. 2, 2017 - Updated April. 8, 2018
Herbs have been integral to both traditional and non-traditional forms of medicine dating back at least 5000 years. And for much of human history, herbal medicine was the only medicine.
Large scale surveys in the United States and abroad suggest that up wards of 60% of adults have used some form of complementary or alternative medicine which includes herbs. The use of herbs as a natural medicine has few to no side effects as does doctor prescribed synthetic medicines.
What Are Herbal Supplements?
Herbal supplements are products made from botanicals, or plants. They are also referenced to as herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicines.
An herbal supplement derived from plants are used topically or internally to maintain health and treat diseases.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine these are the most commonly used herbal supplements in the United States:
- St. John's wort
- Saw palmetto
- Evening primrose
- Milk thistle
Let's examine the health benefits of some of these herbs used as a natural medicine to maintain health and cure diseases.
The Use Of Echinacea As A Natural Medicine
Echinacea is a flowering perennial and a member of the daisy family. More commonly known as the coneflower, which comes in several colors, with pink being the most common. Many gardeners grow this powerful herb without even realizing it!
Scientists from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy reviewed 14 unique studies on the effectiveness of Echinacea on reducing an individuals risk of catching a cold.
Their review concluded that Echinacea could reduce a person's chances of catching a cold by approximately 58% and also reduces the length of time a cold lasts by almost 2 days.
The author of Nutritional Herbology writes that the proven actions of Echinacea are due to its water-soluble plant compounds called polysaccharides. They act by sequestering the attacks of various microbes and allow the body to heal itself.
Upon reaching an infected area, the polysaccharides have an immunostimulant effect, which results in the production of leucocytes or white blood cells (which attack foreign invaders of the body).
The resulting phagocytic action of the leucocytes effectively eradicates a number of infectious organisms.
Some studies have published suggesting that echinacea has no impact on a cold at all.
Several clinical trials have shown that people who take echinacea as soon as they feel sick reduce the severity of their cold and have fewer symptoms than those who do not take the herb.
One study of 95 people with early symptoms of cold and flu (such as runny nose, scratchy throat, and fever) found that those who drank several cups of echinacea tea every day for 5 days felt better sooner than those who drank tea without echinacea.
Ginger's Use As A Natural Remedy
Ginger is commonly used to relieve nausea, settle the stomach and relax the body. Daily consumption of ginger root can help to inflammation.
A University of Miami study reported that ginger extract could one day be a substitute to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The study compared the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to a placebo in 247 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.
The researchers concluded saying that a highly purified and standardized ginger extract had a statistically significant effect on reducing symptoms of Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee by 40% over the placebo. The effect was moderate and there was a good safety profile, with mostly mild GI adverse events in the ginger extract group.
Ginger root is also used to help prevent motion sickness, vomiting, colic, stomach cramps and stomach troubles associated with the flu. Ginger helps to settle your stomach and get rid of both diarrhea and nausea.
Take a look at what ginger can do for you as a natural medicine:
- Contains anti-inflammatory properties which help to increase the digestive juices and provides relief from an upset stomach and stomach pain
- Helps relax the intestinal tract, giving you instant relief
- Effectively helps to eliminate any gas from the intestinal tract
- Contains strong anti-oxidants called gingerols and shogaols, both of which decrease free radicals that can damage your body they do to the body.
- Helps with absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat
- Stimulates the production of saliva, bile, and gastric juices, which aids in better digestion and prevention of gas
- Relaxes muscles and relieves cramping that lessens the chance of backed up food in the digestive system
- Improves blood circulation by boosting blood flow and reducing inflammation
Using Ginkgo For A Medicinal Remedy
More than 40 plant compounds of the ginkgo biloba tree have been isolated and identified, but only two of them -- flavonoids and terpenoids -- are believed to account for Ginkgo beneficial health effects.
Ginkgo has been widely studied for its effective anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, platelet-forming and circulation-boosting effects.
Drugs.com describes ginkgo as an herbal product that works by increasing blood flow to the brain. The herb has proven effective for circulation and memory loss due to brain conditions such as stroke, Alzheimer disease, and dementia.
The herb has shown to be effective at reducing symptoms related to chronic health conditions, like asthma, and can be effective for those who suffer with ADHD.
A 2014 medical study found that symptoms improved for people with ADHD who took a ginkgo extract. Children who took 240 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract daily for three to five weeks showed a reduction in symptoms related to ADHD with few negative side effects.
St. John's Wort A Remedy For Depression
St. John's wort contains several chemicals, including hypericin, hyperforin, and flavonoids.
Researchers have suggested that the herb acts similar to pharmacutical drugs called an SSRI up takers, helping to increase the availability of the brains neurotransmitters that help improve mood.
These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
The British Medical Journal published in 2005 a large scale study, saying that St. John’s Wort is at least as effective as a commonly-prescribed antidepressant and has fewer side effects in the treatment of moderate to severe major depression.
In 2008, the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit research organization that analyzes scientific studies to draw conclusions, determined that the overall body of research shows strong evidence for the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort in the treatment of depression.
Cochrane researchers reviewed 29 trials which together included 5,489 patients with symptoms of major depression. All trials employed the commonly used Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression to assess the severity of depression.
In trials comparing St. John’s wort to other remedies, not only were the plant extracts considered to be equally effective, but fewer patients dropped out of trials due to adverse effects.
The University Maryland Medical Center published the following as to the effectiveness of St. John's Wort for depression:
There is good evidence that St. John's wort may reduce symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate, but not severe (or major) depression. In many studies it seems to work as well as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a popular type of antidepressant often prescribed to treat depression.
SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and sertraline (Zoloft). In addition, St. John's wort doesn't seem to cause loss of sex drive, one of the most common side effects of antidepressants.
Many other studies have compared St. John's wort to Prozac, Celexa, paroxetine (Paxil), and Zoloft, and found that the herb works as well as the drugs.
Not all studies agree, however. In one study, St. John's wort was found to be no more effective than placebo for treating depression. But these studies should be weighed against the majority that have found St. John's wort helps depression.
Studies have also found that the herb can help with:
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): One study reported a 50% reduction in cramps, irritability, food cravings, and breast tenderness.
Menopause: Some studies have suggested that St. John's wort combined with black cohosh, helps improve mood and anxiety during menopause.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD is normally treated with light therapy. Research has shown St. John's wort improves mood in people with SAD when used alone. But evidence has also that using St. John's wort together with light therapy works even better.
Minor wounds and burns: When applied to the skin, studies have shown St. John's wort to relieve symptoms associated with minor wounds and skin irritation helping to reduce inflammation. The herb has antibacterial properties.
A Natural Remedy With Chamomile
Chamomile is one of the oldest, most widely used and well documented medicinal plants in the world and has been recommended for a variety of healing applications.
These include: hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and hemorrhoids.
The herbs plant compounds, terpenoids and flavonoids contribute to its medicinal properties.
Chamomile is valued as an antimicrobial agent. A German study found that the herb inactivates bacterial toxins. Small quantities of chamomile oil inhibit staphylococcal and streptococcal strains of bacteria.
You can drink chamomile tea combined with other antimicrobials, such as thyme, echinacea, and goldenseal, for internal infections. You can use chamomile topically, as well, to treat infections and inflammation.
You may also find relief from a warm cup of chamomile tea taken about 30 minutes before bed. Molecular Medicine Reports published saying that chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer.
The sedative effects of the herb may be due to the plant compound apigenin a flavonoid that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.
Chamomile also has strong antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an effective remedy for stomach cramps. Drink tea twice a day, in the morning and the evening to relieve pressure and pain.
The Use Of Milk Thistle As A Natural Medicine
Silymarin is the main active ingredient in milk thistle. The plant compound is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Silymarin was discovered in 1968 by a group of German scientists.
Since silymarins discovery, hundreds of studies have been done to find out its health benefits. One such study was published in the Journal of Hepatology. The study was a randomized, controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis of the liver.
Researchers assessed the benefits of milk thistle extract with 170 patients, of which 91 of them were alcoholics with cirrhosis of the liver. Subjects received 140 mg of silymarin three times a day for 41 months.
The four-year survival rate was 58% in the group who received silymarin and 39% in the placebo group. The reduced death rate among those taking the plant extract was most pronounced in the alcoholic cirrhosis subgroup. And there were no side effects from silymarin.
- Regenerates liver cells damaged by alcohol or drugs
- Acts as a liver decongestant stimulating bile flow by liver and gallbladder, thus reducing stagnation and preventing gallstone formation and bile-induced liver damage
- Increases survival rate of patients with cirrhosis
- Complements the treatment of viral hepatitis
- Protects against industrial poisons, such as carbon tetrachloride a colorless gas that leaks into the air, water and soil near manufacturing plants and waste sites
- Protects the liver against pharmaceuticals that can stress the liver
- Used as an antidote to prevent poisoning from the death cap mushroom
A leading authority on healing herbs, James Duke, Ph.D who received his doctorate in botany from the University of North Carolina in 1961, says "Even if you don't have liver damage or liver disease, milk thistle helps improve liver function by helping the liver remove toxins from your body."