Let’s face it, when you aren’t feeling good, the last thing you want to do is to get out and go all the way to the drugstore to get something to make you feel better. It’s not only inconvenient, it’s expensive. Prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines can cost an arm and a leg. The next time you have an ache, pain or illness before you rush out for relief, you might find one is much closer than you think. Chances are a remedy is as close as your kitchen cabinet.
Herbs are perhaps the most overlooked medicinal alternatives in modern day times. Most of us know and appreciate them for the delicious contribution they add as accents to our food, but did you know that herbs have amazing health boosting properties too?
What are Herbs?
You’re probably familiar with the fact that herbs that can be found in little tins or small jars at your local grocery store, but do you know what they really are, where they come from and what all they can be used for? While most of us are aware that herbs are derived from plants and flowers, it’s interesting to dig a little deeper to discover more about their roots.
Herbs are made from leaves, flowers or stems of plants. They are usually green and are either fresh or dried. Spices differ in that they come from the root, bark, fruit, seed or substance of a plant and are often ground into powder or crushed. Both herbs and spices are used to compliment the taste of food or beverages and for health purposes as well. Herbal medicine (herbalism) is the use of plants and plant extracts to treat ailments and to boost health so therefore includes both herbs and spices.
Using herbs for medicinal purposes is nothing new. Some of the oldest records of such date back to the Sumerians in 5000 BC. Herbs are also mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, which is said to date back to 4000 BC. In 3000 BC, herbs and spices were not only used but were studied in herbalist schools as well. Herb gardens were cultivated during the Middle Ages. Early American history is rich in the use of herbs for health remedies. They are mentioned in ancient books and poetry. Wars have even been fought over the. Indeed, herbs are a huge part of our human heritage.
In the past decade or so, herbs have been making a comeback and rightly so. The benefits of using herbal remedies are many. Here are a few reasons why:
- They are generally inexpensive.
- When used properly, they are safe with no side effects.
- They are convenient.
- Many offer multi-therapeutic values so when you are treating one symptom, you are reaping other rewards as well.
- Science supports the medicinal effectiveness of plants, including herbs, in many incidences.
- You can “grow your own”!
Methods of Use
When used for medicinal purposes, there are a number of ways herbal therapy can be administered. Below are some of the methods:
- Herbal Teas. When a herb is infused into water, it is considered to be an herbal tea. Served hot or cold, herbal teas are refreshing and healing. Peppermint tea is a good example.
- Essential Oil Extracts. Essential oils are concentrated liquids derived from plants, such as a herb. This “volatile oil” can be applied topically (usually with a carrier oil), inhaled through aromatherapy and, in some cases, taken orally.
- Topical Solutions. In addition to herbs in essential oil form, they can be made into salves, balms, creams and lotions which can be administered to the skin for relief and healing.
- Herbal tablets and capsules are a common form of administration. Generally, plants are evaporated into a dry mass in order to achieve the substance these supplements contain.
- When extracts of herbs are implemented in alcohol, they are referred to as tinctures. Herbal wine and syrups fall into this category.
- Herbs can be eaten alone or as an addition to food for medicinal benefits. Although it is more difficult to get as high of a concentration as some of the other methods, it is certainly beneficial to ingest them and can be done in fresh or dried form.
Our Top 12 Herbal Picks
There are tons of herbs in existence. The health benefits of herbs are astounding as most have not just one but a number of medicinal values. In fact, more than 7,000 compounds used in modern pharmaceutical drugs actually come from plants. Twenty-five percent of pharmaceutical drugs in the United States stem from them like aspirin, morphine and digoxin.
Here are 12 of our favorite healing herbs along with their benefits:
Perhaps the most overlooked and underused of herbal remedies, oregano is oozing with benefits. Even its name means “mountain joy”. Also known as wild marjoram, this mint family herb has purple flowers and olive green, spade-shaped leaves. It yields an aromatic, spicy taste that is commonly used on pizza and other Italian dishes as well as Mexican foods.
Oregano contains vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, phytochemicals, fiber, iron, folate, magnesium, potassium and calcium. It is a miraculous anti-inflammatory which may be its best-kept secret. It is a potent antioxidant so it has the ability to boost your immune system and chase away free radicals (cells that cause damage to the body). Oregano acts as an antifungal, anti-bacterial and an anti-viral as well. It is good for relieving upper respiratory infections because it promotes sweat and assists the body in developing phlegm which rids toxins. Parasite infestation, urinary infections and yeast infections are other conditions that benefit from oregano use. Some swear oregano kills certain cancers like breast, colon and prostate varieties.
There are a number of ways you can introduce oregano into your body. It can be eaten alone or mixed into foods, ingested by way of tablets or capsules or even applied or taken orally in a concentrated oil form. For inflammation, a topical application works wonders as well.
Garlic is a plant with a distinguished pungent flavor whose bulbs, leaves and flowers are implemented to flavor foods and for its awesome health benefits as well. Native to Central Asia, garlic has been used for over 7000 years.
What’s so hot about garlic, besides its taste? Plenty! While the controversy continues on whether garlic is an onion, herb or spice, the medicinal effects it possesses put it at the top of any medicinal list. Vitamins B6 and C, manganese, phosphorus, calcium and selenium are some of the nutrients found in it. One of the most important ingredients found within garlic is allicin which is responsible for many of its healing qualities.
Garlic’s ability to dramatically reduce inflammation, boost immunities and promote good circulation and cardiovascular functions make it effective at fighting 160 known diseases like heart disease and even certain cancers such as those of the brain, breast and pancreatic.
It is an effective antifungal, antiviral and anti-bacterial. Extremely rich in antioxidants, garlic is so powerful, it can successfully fight even antibiotic resistant infections. Garlic also contributes in preventing and controlling diabetes and thyroid conditions and is excellent for colds and the flu.
Eating garlic, raw or cooked in foods, is a great way to introduce it into your body. Sprouted garlic may even be best, according to some experts. Supplements in the form of tablets or capsules are available too which are preferred by many because they are more potent and don’t have the strong taste. Topical administration or ingestion of garlic essential oil is another mode for reaping garlic’s many benefits.
While cinnamon is actually in the spice family, it is considered a very important staple to any herbal medicine cabinet because its benefits are many. Vastly used in Ancient Chinese Medicine, you may be surprised to find out what all it can do besides just make a scrumptious piece of toast.
Native to a few select regions like Sri Lanka, the coast of India, Burma and Bangladesh, cinnamon is derived from the bark, leaves or roots of the cinnamon tree. It was imported to Egypt by 2000 BC. With its sweet and woody, rich aroma, cinnamon was so valuable and sacred during the days of old that it was gifted to royalty and was even offered up to gods. Those involved in the trade of cinnamon refused to give the geographical source of it in order to prevent competition.
There are a dozen or more types of cinnamon trees. There are also two different types of cinnamon, cassia and ceylon (true cinnamon). Throughout the ages, it has been used to compliment foods, embalm the dead, for anointing in religious ceremonies and for health and healing. In fact, it has been so coveted, it has been the source of more than one war.
Cinnamon is a thought to be at the top of the list when it comes to anti-oxidant properties Although it has been extremely popular in historical times, its amazing benefits have gone unnoticed in modern times for the most part, until quite recently when it anti-oxidant qualities were rediscovered. It is making a major reappearance on the scene now, though.
Rich in manganese, fiber and calcium, cinnamon is a powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial and immunity booster. It is thought to be so potent, it can help fight and prevent cancer. It’s also good for the brain as it helps with cognitive function.
Eating cinnamon as an accent in foods, especially desserts, is an enjoyable way to get it into your system. Teas made from it are tasty and refreshing as well. But there are other ways that are best for getting more quantity in. Cinnamon is available as an oral supplement and can also be found in essential oil form which can be inhaled, applied topically or ingested.
For herbalists, peppermint is a “go to” herb for many ailments, especially those having to do with pain and inflammation. A popular member of the mint family, this plant originated in the Middle East and Europe is a cross between the watermint and spearmint plants. It is now grown in many parts of the world.
Peppermint is notorious for its cool, menthol-like taste and aroma. New findings show that the aroma alone boosts the brain and improves cognitive functions. It is oozing with phytonutrients which help protect plants (and people) from fungi, disease and parasites. It is the leaves that are generally used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
Loaded with vitamins like A, C, thiamine, folates, niacin and riboflavin, peppermint also has plenty of minerals too such as manganese, zinc, magnesium, copper and calcium. It is a very effective anti-inflammatory and pain reliever and is superb when used as an anti-spasmodic too such as for irritable bowels. Peppermint also aids in digestion and digestive issues. It is a stimulant, perking up the sensory functions in the brain.
Peppermint is one of the most potent antioxidants in existence. It can help treat and prevent illnesses and diseases from the common cold to more serious conditions like prostate cancer and shingles. There’s not much you’ll find better than peppermint for achy bones or to relieve congested sinuses.
Peppermint can be enjoyed raw, dried or in oil form. In a food or drink (such as tea) it is refreshing and very healthy. For a more concentrated introduction into the body, you can find it in supplements and in essential oils too. Mix a tad with a carrier oil and pour into a hot tub for a therapeutic soak, massage it onto your skin or dab a drop or two onto your tongue for immediate relief of a myriad of ailments.
Known as the “dew of the sea”, rosemary is a member of the mint family that has a woody, evergreen scent. It is an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean area that is commonly used to flavor lamb, pork and chicken.
Rosemary has a slew of medicinal benefits that have been used for centuries. It was used to keep the plague at bay and as a youth-inducing agent too. Today, it is appreciated for its antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and antioxidant qualities among other benefits.
Rich in vitamins C and A, rosemary is a potent antioxidant that can promote good vision, healthy skin and can boost the immune system too. It also contains protein that helps organs, skin, bones and blood vessels.
Rosemary is tasty in foods and can drink in teas. It is also available in supplement form. One of the most popular ways to administer rosemary, however, is via essential oil that can be inhaled through aromatherapy, applied topically or ingested.
Chamomile is a daisy-like plant that is one of the oldest medicinal herbs known to man. Referred to as the “earth apple”, the Egyptians offered it up to their sun gods. It was used as a cure for malaria and other dreaded diseases.
Chamomile contains a number of nutrients including vitamin A, fluoride, potassium, magnesium, calcium and folate. It is known for its ability to calm stomach and digestive issues like nausea, vomiting and heartburn. It also possesses a sedative-like quality and is an anti-coagulant, anti-cancer, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory.
Chamomile is common in teas and is often drank before bedtime to bring on deep, healing sleep. It can also be applied in essential oil form or inhaled in an aromatherapy. Capsules containing chamomile are available as well.
Thyme is an evergreen and is a member of the mint family. It is appreciated for both it’s culinary and its medicinal value. Used for food enhancement, embalming, gifting, burning as incense and to ward off evil spirits, the civilizations of old embraced the many benefits of thyme.
With a penetrating, herbaceous scent, the aroma of thyme alone is very therapeutic. It has a relaxing effect that is said to uplift one’s mood. Thyme contains vitamins B6, C and A as well as folate, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, manganese, calcium, copper, iron and riboflavin. It is an excellent antioxidant, able to combat the staphylococcus species of germs and MRSA bacteria as well.
In addition, thyme is helpful for easing menstrual pain, relieves pain in general, stimulates blood circulation, lowers high blood pressure, relieves fatigue and reduces the appearance of scars.
Thyme can be eaten and is especially tasty on roasts and pasta dishes. It can be made into tea or taken by way of a supplement. It can also be applied topically in an essential oil, inhaled through aromatherapy or dropped onto the tongue.
Feverfew is a gorgeous, ornate flowering plant that is also called “bachelor button”. Native to Eurasia, the daisy-like flower can now be found in all of Europe and North America as well.
Feverfew has the innate ability to miraculously lower a fever, thus, its name. It can also target cancer stem cells and is being looked at closely in that regard. It is also helpful to combat headaches, aches and pains of arthritis and eases stomach issues too.
While it can be eaten, some have reported that it caused sores in their mouths so it is more commonly ingested by way of a liquid solution that can be dropped onto the tongue.
Basil, or Saint Joseph’s wort, is a basic herb found in most kitchens today. Native to India, the word “basil” means “king” in Greek. It was noted long ago that if one ate basil, the sting of a scorpion would not even hurt.
Grown in a wide array of different varieties, basil is a low-growing plant that has an aroma that is slightly similar to a pungent anise. It is used in many Italian dishes.
Not only is basil notorious for alleviating pain, it stimulates blood flow, adds shine to hair, has anti-aging qualities and is very good for the immune, nervous and digestive systems.
Basil is available in supplements, can be eaten fresh or dried and is very effective as an oil which can be massaged onto the skin, sprinkled into a bath or inhaled in an aromatherapy.
Commonly considered a weed, milk thistle is actually a natural, a favorite of those who are familiar with its astounding powers. The warm climate, thorny-stemmed, flowering plant has a therapeutic milky substance running through the veins of its leaves and thus, its name “milk thistle” was begat. It is native to the coast of England and Mediterranean areas but commonly grows in many parts of the world now.
You will be hard-pressed to find a more effective solution than milk thistle for liver conditions, just ask the Chinese who had incorporated into their traditional medicine regime for centuries. The medicinal use of the plant dates back to 40 AD.
When the leaves of the milk thistle plant are crushed, a milky substance is rendered. Vitamins E and C are found in milk thistle and its milk. It is a fantastic anti-inflammatory and a potent anti-oxidant that helps prevent, defend and cure a number of diseases and ailments. It also has the ability to reverse oxidative stress, making it a wonderful anti-aging solution. In addition,
Miraculously, milk thistle is able to draw out deadly toxins, thus making it a godsend for not only liver problems like cirrhosis and hepatitis, but is also helpful for high cholesterol, diabetes, gall bladder issues, kidney stones and cancer. It is thought to ward off the negative effects of chemotherapy as well.
The roots of a milk thistle plant can be eaten but the preferred ways to introduce it into the body’s system is to drink it in a tea, take it in tablet or capsule form or to ingest it as a liquid.
Clary sage has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Indignant to the Mediterranean, North Africa and Central Asia, this herb is covered in tiny hairs and has pale flower blooms. The scent of the plant is a strong one, a pleasant mix of nutty and arid.
Clary sage is bursting with benefits. It’s an anti-convulsive, anti-depressant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antioxidant, sedative, astringent and anti-bacterial agent. It has also been heralded as an aphrodisiac and is appreciated for its euphoric properties.
Along with being effective to soothe the soul, clary sage is good for digestive issues and hormonal imbalances. It’s also great for your skin.
Clary sage can be eaten, made into a tea, acquired through a supplement or applied or inhaled in an essential oil.
Also known as spikenard, lavender is one of the most popular of all herbs. Its ability to calm and soothe makes it a coveted commodity. Many don’t realize it but lavender is in the mint family.
With pretty purple flowers gracing the plant, lavender is often used for ornamental purposes in gardens and is also used in foods and in drinks, like tea. It is most incorporated, however, as an oil which has an herbal, balsamic scent.
Lavender was used in ancient Egypt for mummification and for perfume. It was widely used by the Greeks too. In addition, it was mentioned in the Bible in the book of John.
Loaded with nutrients, this plant contains vitamin A, calcium and iron. It is extremely effective as an antioxidant, a stress reliever, blood sugar balancer, skin-care agent and sleep enhancer. It is also excellent for treating burns and headaches.
To introduce lavender into your system, you can eat it. The most common recipes are sweets like lavender ice cream. It is fabulous in tea too. Lavender essential oil is adored by many because of its pleasant scent and peaceful effects. Simply soak in a lavender oil bath, administer it topically or inhale it by way of aromatherapy.
Helpful Hints about Herbs
- Quality matters. The quality of ingredients used in any given formulation determines how good the actual product is. Herbal remedies are no exception.
- Quantity matters. Because herbs are all-natural, sometimes the quantity needed to cure or help an issue is greater than synthetic ones.
- Choose organic varieties. If you do not select certified organic herbs and spices, chances are good they may contain GMO (genetically modified organisms), insecticides and other unwanted toxins.
- Inform your physician or health practitioner. If you are taking a prescription, going in for surgery or even having dental work done, let your health care professional know what herbs you are taking. Even with homeopathic medicines, there are some combinations that do not work well together with herbs or require spacing the dosages apart.
- Pregnancy concerns. Pregnant women should proceed with caution when taking herbal remedies. That is not to say you cannot take them but research each one you intend to take. Some have effects that could cause complications for mothers-to-be such as St. John’s Wort relaxes the uterus which could result in premature labor.
- Do your homework. As with anything else you put in or on your body, it’s your responsibility to conduct your own research on the particular herb or herbs you are considering as well as the brand and other details concerning the product.
Now that some seeds have been planted, hopefully, you have gotten a good glimpse into the health benefits of herbs and how they can work for you. The more you dig into their wonders, the more vastly you can reap their healing rewards.