An Introduction to Potential Benefits of Herbs and Plants
This information is designed to give consumers an introduction to some of the more well-known benefits of some common herbs and plant products. The information presented here is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for the treatment, cure, diagnosis or mitigation of a disease or condition. Persons with potentially serious medical conditions should seek professional care.
Aloe Vera (Aloe ferox, A. barbadensis). Internally, concentrate Aloe ferox resin is used as a strong laxative. Externally, the clear gel from the A. barbadensis leaf, is used to treat burns, abrasions, skin injuries, and in cosmetic products. A juice made from the gel is used as a drink by many consumers.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous). Used in traditional Chinese and East Indian medicine for its immune-enhancing and tonic properties. Research has indicated its usefulness as a supportive tool for a variety of chronic immune problems.
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). A European version of blueberry. Bilberry extract is rich in purple/blue pigments having numerous benefits for the eyes and cardiovascular system. In Europe, bilberry extract is used as an antioxidant. Also used to help increase microcirculation by stimulating new capillary formation, strengthening capillary walls and increasing overall health of the circulatory system.
Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana). The bark is used as a stimulant laxative, especially in cases of chronic constipation. The name "sagrada" refers to "sacred bark"—a name given to it by early Spanish explorers in the Pacific Northwest. As an approved, safe and effective laxative, cascara and cascara extracts are found in numerous over-the counter laxative preparations in the U.S.
Capsicum (Cayenne, hot pepper) (Capsicum species). Internally, cayenne acts as a circulatory stimulant, induces preparation, and is used to stimulate digestion. Several over-the-counter products for external use in arthritic and rheumatoid conditions contain capsaicin, the hot principle in the oil of capsicum, as the active pain relieving ingredient. Topical capsaicin preparations are also used for the relief of pain associated with herpes zoster ("shingles").
Chamomile (German) (Matricaria recutita). Used internally, chamomile flowers are antispasmodic and used to relieve digextive upset. A popular remedy for indigestion, flatulence, gastrointestinal spasms, and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Often used as a bedtime beverage, its mild sedative effects have not been adequately scientifically proven. Externally, chamomile extracts are useful for inflammation of skin and mucous membranes.
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon). Recent research suggests that cranberry helps to prevent urinary tract infections caused by E. coli bacteria, particularly in people with a history of recurrent infections. Cranberry is an excellent example of how common foods can have health benefits beyond their nutritional qualities.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The young leaves are widely used as salad greens and in tea as a natural diuretic. The roots are a mild laxative and promote bile flow and liver function.
Dong Quai (also spelled Tang kwei or Danggui) (Angelica sinensis). One of the most widely used herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, it is primarily used in herbal formulas as a "female tonic" to treat muscle cramps and pain associated with difficult menstrual periods. Dong quai should not be used during pregnancy.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and related species). Also called Purple Coneflower and native to the U.S., this plant was the most widely used medicinal plant of the Central Plains Indians, being used for a variety of conditions. The leaf and root are mildly antibacterial, antiviral, and used for wound healing. German research has confirmed, in numerous clinical studies, the usefulness of Echinacea purpurea in strengthening the body's immune system as well as prevention and natural treatment of colds and flu.
Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng) (Eleutherococcus senticosus). This distant relative of true ginsengs grows in Siberia, Manchuria, China and Northern Japan. It has been used by Russian cosmonauts and olympic team members as a general tonic and to reduce physical and mental stress. In Germany, Siberian Ginseng is approved as a tonic to invigorate and fortify the body during fatigue or weakness and to increase work and concentration as well as an aid in patient rehabilitation.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis). Evening primrose oil (EPO) is a relatively recent entrant in the herbal remedy world, having been marketed for only about 20 years. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as gamma linolenic acid (GLA) found in EPO are vital components of cellular structure; a deficiency of EFAs may be responsible for a host of conditions and diseases, including cardiovascular ailments, menstrual irregularities, arthritic inflammation and hyperactivity in children. The oil, usually available in capsule form, and taken orally, has been demonstrated to be effective in the symptoms of PMS.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). Feverfew has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. It has been used as a folk medicine for menstrual cramps since Greco-Roman times. At least three published clinical studies in England in the 1980s confirm the efficacy of feverfew leaves for prevention and moderation of the severity of migraine headaches.
Garlic (Allium sativum). Garlic mildly displays a host of benefits: it is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, hypotensive (lowers high blood pressure), and lowers cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream. Garlic is used in Europe as an approved remedy for cardiovascular conditions, especially high cholesterol and triglyceride levels associated with risk of atherosclerosis. It is also generally regarded as a preventive measure for colds, flu and other infectious diseases.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Ginger is another great example of how a plant can be used as a food, spice or medicine. It has been used to treat nausea, motion sickness and vomiting. Ginger has a long history of use for all types of digestive upset and can be helpful to increase appetite.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Standardized extract of ginkgo leaf increases circulation and has shown antioxidant activity. Hundreds of European studies have confirmed the use of standardized ginkgo leaf extract for a wide variety of conditions associated with aging, including memory loss and poor-circulation. Ginkgo extract is also used clinically in Europe for tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo, and cold extremities.
Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng). One of the world's most famous herbs. Ginseng is classed as an "adaptogen," a relatively recent term coined by Russian researchers to describe ginseng's general tonic properties. Adaptogens are herbs that increase the overall resistance to all types of stress. Other herbal adaptogens include Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng and Schizandra. Asian Ginseng (Chinese and Korean) is renowned for its ability to increase energy and endurance.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Goldenseal root has a long history as a native American herb used by Indians and early settlers for its antiseptic wound-healing properties. It is also used for its soothing action on inflamed mucous membranes. A popular remedy for colds and flu.
Hawthorn (Cratagus oxyacantha). Hawthorn has a long reputation in both folk medicine and clinical medicine as a heart tonic. In Europe, hawthorn berry preparations are widely used by physicians in heart conditions, such as mild forms of angina. Hawthorn is safe to use for extended periods of time, according to European studies.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra and G. uralensis). Licorice is one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world, commonly used in European, Arabian and Asian traditional medicine systems. It is soothing to inflamed mucous membranes; often recommended in treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and cough and asthma rememdies. Licorice extract displays a stimulating action on adrenal glands and is thus useful in fatigue due to adrenal exhaustion. Licorice and its extracts are safe for normal use in moderate amounts. However, long-term use or ingestion of excessive amounts can produce headache, lethargy, sodium and water retention, excessive loss of potassium, and high blood pressure.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). Milk Thistle has a long history of use in European folk medicine as a liver tonic. Silymarin from milk thistle has shown a protective effect against many types of chemical toxins, as well as alcohol. An extract of milk thistle is used to improve liver function, protect against liver damage and enhance regeneration of damaged liver cells. clinical studies have confirmed the usefulness of standardized milk thistle extracts in cases of cirrhosis, toxic liver and other chronic liver conditions.
Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata). Contrary to the implications of its name, passion flower is not a stimulant, nor does it incite passion; instead, it has mild sedative and calmative properties. Taken internally, passion flower is usually combined with other sedative herbs for various types of nervous conditions, including insomnia and related disorders.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita). Internally, peppermint has an antispasmodic action, with a calming effect on the stomach and intestinal tract. As a tea, extract, or in a capsule, peppermint is useful for indigestion, cramp-like discomfort of the upper gastrointestinal and bile duct, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammation or irritation of the gums.
Psyllium (Plantago ovata and P. Major). Psyllium is a major source of fiber. The primary use of psyllium seed and/or psyllium seed husks is as a bulk laxative, especially for cases of chronic constipation. The tiny seeds contain a coating of gelatinous material, which swells upon contact with moisture. This increases the movement (motility) within the colon thus producing a bowel movement. Psyllium husk is an approved over-the-counter laxative.
Saw Palmetto (Sabal) (Serenoa repens; Sabal serrulata). Saw palmetto extract is a popular remedy for enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy—BPH), a condition common in men over 50 years of age. This should be used only after proper diagnosis by a physician. Clinical studies indicate that the extract can increase urine flow and reduce frequency of nighttime urination.
Senna (Cassia senna). Both senna leaves and pods (fruits) were used in ancient Arab medine as safe and effective laxatives. Today, senna is recognized as one of the most popular and reliable stimulant laxatives. Use of senna is generally regarded as safe. However, as with all stimulant laxatives, long-term dependence may develop. Short-term use only is recommended.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Valerian is an effective and reliable sedative and sleep aid. It is effective in conditions of anxiety, insomnia and nervous irritability. Unlike prescription or OTC sleep and anxiety medication, it is not habit-forming, nor does it produce a hang-over-like side effect.
Vitex (Chaste Tree) (Vitex agnus-castus). The small fruits of this Mediterranean tree have been used for menstrual disorders by women since Greco-Roman times. Extract of vitex is a plant preparation which adjusts the monthly menstruation cycle on a natural basis and causes premenstrual discomforts to subside or completely disappear. An extract of vitex is approved in Germany for menstrual disorders, PMS and painful breasts.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). The astringency of the leaves and bark makes witch hazel a popular ingredient for various skin conditions as well as for bruises and varicose veins. It is approved for use in hemorrhoid products.