Plants and herbs have been used for millennia to treat a myriad of medical conditions. The first apothecaries (pharmacies) were stocked with botanical ingredients, and the practice of using these plants today is as strong as ever.
Well-established medical organizations in most developed countries recognize the healing benefits of plants and herbs. Pharmacognosy, the study of medicines derived from natural sources, is a growing medical and pharmacological discipline.
The American Society of Pharmacognosy defines the term as “the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical and biological properties of drugs and drug substances.” In this article, we address and summarize some of the more interesting and useful findings by agencies that study pharmacognosy.
Herbs and plants may be used as dried extracts (as capsules, powders, etc.), glycerites (glycerine extracts) or tinctures (extracts mixed in alcohol, such as bitters).
When it comes to medicinal herbs, one of the more effective methods of reaping their healthful benefits, especially for digestive wellness, is to steep teas made from them. Herbal teas should be made with 1 teaspoon of herb per cup of water; steep 10 minutes using leaves or flowers and 20 minutes when using roots. Drink one cup just after eating a meal.
Although there are hundreds of medicinal herbs and plants, we will focus here on eight “super plants” which have proven highly effective in treating a variety of medical conditions and ailments.
Chamomile teas, extracts and ointments are made from the plant’s flower heads. Chamomile is widely recognized for its ability to reduce nausea, the urge to vomit, and gas build-up in the digestive tract. It is also used for its astringent properties; astringent herbs help to tighten tissues and blood vessels, reducing bleeding, healing wounds and counteracting venom. Both German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile have proven to be effective in lessening swelling from stings and hemorrhoids.
Echinacea has tall stems and bears single flowers that are pink and purple. There are 9 varieties of Echinacea, but only 3 are marketed and studied medicinally: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida.
Echinacea stimulates the immune system into action and helps the body fight bacterial and viral infections. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) gives Echinacea a “class 1” safety rating, making it one of the safest homeopathics.
The Aborigines of Australia have used the leaves of the Eucalyptus tree for millennia to kill bacteria, thus help heal wounds, and to reduce fevers. Blue gum eucalyptus, commonly known as the Australian fever tree, is used in homeopathic medicines. Much like Vick’s VapoRub, the oil from the leaves produces a cooling burn sensation which aids in chest congestion and eases breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis. It is also used as a deodorant and insect repellent. It should be noted that Eucalyptus oil should be used only topically and not ingested orally.
Flaxseed is among the most versatile of plants. It has been used for food, medicine and fiber to make clothes and nets. It is an excellent source of dietary fiber, which is good for digestive health, and it is a most unique source of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, with a concentration twice as high as fish oils. Medicinally, it has been shown to reduce cholesterol, high blood pressure, psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions. Flaxseed contains high amounts of lignin building blocks, which play a role in fighting cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Herbalists have singled out garlic as one of the most important botanical medicines. The main active ingredient in garlic is allicin. Numerous studies have found allicin to possess anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Thus, it is extremely effective in boosting the immune system and fighting all types of infections. Pregnant women are cautioned to moderate their intake of garlic, as it has been known to have blood-thinning qualities that are not good for a developing fetus.
Ginger grows underground, so it is sometimes called ginger root. Another versatile plant, ginger has been used as a food, spice and medicine. Ginger helps relieve dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It is effective in suppressing colic in infants. It has been shown ease to relieve sore throats, headaches, and symptoms of the common cold. The AHPA gives ginger a “class 1” safety rating, so, issues such as over-consumption are not a concern.
Licorice is well known as a culinary treat because it contains glycyrrhizic acid, a compound 50 times sweeter than sugar. This compound has been used as a treatment of viral hepatitis and gastric ulcers, as it inhibits the growth of ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria. Over-consumption should be avoided, to prevent possible side effects.
8. St. John’s Wort:
The herb has been found to be effective in treating psychological mood disorders such as depression and anxiety in some. The mechanism of action of St. John’s Wort is its ability to inhibit reuptake (reuse) of certain neurotransmitters, acting much like modern-day anti-depressants like Prozac. Insomnia and seasonal affective disorder have also been shown to decrease with regular use of St. John’s Wort.
By Jamell Andrews