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Health Benefits of 10 Healing Herbs

By Lindsay Curtis Updated on November 01, 2022

A healing herb—otherwise known as a medicinal plant—is either collected from the wild or intentionally grown for its medicinal, or curative, value. A plant's leaves, bark, stems, roots, seeds, and/or flowers may be used to create herbal remedies. Examples of healing plants for which there is some evidence supporting their ability to either treat or relieve symptoms of certain health conditions include:

  • Ashwagandha

  • Chamomile

  • Echinacea

  • Garlic

  • Ginger

  • Gingko

  • Ginseng

  • Lavender

  • Saint-John’s-Wort

  • Turmeric

This article covers the traditional uses of these healing plants, what research says about them, how to take them, and what to consider. Remember that while herbal remedies may be helpful as complementary therapies, they aren’t cures for all that ails you. In addition, they can pose risks and side effects, and their safety and efficacy are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

ASHWAGANDHA Ashwagandha comes from the Withania somnifera plant, also known as Indian ginseng and Indian winter cherry. The evergreen shrub is native to Africa and Asia and grows in some parts of the Middle East and India. Traditional Uses Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties. The versatile herb is common in Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine system in India) to boost energy levels, decrease anxiety and stress, and reduce pain and inflammation. Research shows this powerful herb significantly reduces cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone), helping reduce stress and anxiety. It is recognized as an adaptogen, a substance that helps protect from stress. Ashwagandha is also used to improve male sexual health, as the herb can boost testosterone levels in males. The root of the woody plant is said to support erectile dysfunction, increase libido (sexual desire), and enhance sexual pleasure. Preparation Ashwagandha is available in capsule, tincture, and powder forms as a dietary supplement. Ashwagandha powder can have an earthy, bitter flavor, so it’s best when mixed into something, such as smoothies, desserts, and coffee or tea. It has traditionally been mixed with honey, ghee, or water. Mix one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of ashwagandha powder into your smoothies or hot beverages. You can take ashwagandha any time of day, though it is best to take it approximately 30 minutes before a meal. Most people do not immediately feel the effects of ashwagandha. It can take weeks for the benefits of ashwagandha to be noticeable. Considerations Ashwagandha is generally safe for most adults. Common side effects include drowsiness, gastrointestinal discomfort, and diarrhea. People who take certain medications, like anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates, should not take them, as the plant may interact with them. Do not take ashwagandha if pregnant, as high doses may induce miscarriage. Chamomile Chamomile is a flower native to Western Europe, India, and Asia. It now grows freely throughout the United States. There are two types of chamomile: German (grows in the Midwest) and Roman (a perennial that smells like apples). Traditional Uses Chamomile is a popular herbal remedy in the United States, commonly used to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, chamomile is "likely safe" when used as a tea. And, it may be safe for short-term use orally. Not enough is known about the long-term safety of using chamomile for medicinal purposes. In Europe, chamomile is used to aid in wound healing and reduce inflammation and swelling. Its proven effectiveness backs up the popularity of this herbal remedy. A 2016 review found that chamomile is a versatile herb. It is commonly used for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antidiarrheal effects.6 It is also beneficial for managing knee osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis, premenstrual syndrome, and gastrointestinal disorders. Preparation Chamomile can be brewed as a tea, applied as a compress, or used topically to treat skin irritation. Chamomile tea has an apple-like fragrance and taste. To prepare the tea:

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of dried flowers per cup of boiling water.

  2. Place the flower blossoms in a tea infuser.

  3. Pour boiling water over the flowers.

  4. Steep for five minutes.

You can add ice to the tea if you prefer a cooler beverage. Chamomile is available as a tea and in capsule form in most health food stores. If using capsules, look for pharmaceutical-grade products. Other grades, such as therapeutic grades, may not be as high in quality. Considerations Chamomile may cause allergic reactions, and some people have reported anaphylaxis (a severe, whole-body allergic reaction that can be deadly) from its use. Avoid using chamomile if you take blood thinners or the antirejection drug cyclosporine. It can negatively interact with these medications. Echinacea Echinacea is a flowering plant in the daisy family. The flower’s large, magenta petals unfurl in early to late summer. It grows in eastern and central North America, and the leaf, stalk, and root of echinacea are commonly used for medicinal purposes. Traditional Uses Echinacea has traditionally been used as a remedy for toothache, bowel pain, snake bites, seizures, skin irritation, arthritis, and cancer. Today, echinacea is a home remedy commonly used to shorten the duration of or prevent the common cold and flu. It is also widely used to promote wound healing. Echinacea is rich in substances believed to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have antiviral and antioxidant effects. Some studies show a minor benefit in using echinacea to prevent upper respiratory infections. But more studies are needed to determine its efficacy in preventing or shortening the duration of a cold. Preparation Echinacea is available in capsule, tincture, and tea (bagged and loose-leaf) forms. There is no recommended daily intake of echinacea. To prepare loose-leaf echinacea tea:

  1. Place flowers, leaves, and teas in a mug.

  2. Boil water and pour 8 ounces of water into the mug.

  3. Let the tea steep for up to 15 minutes.

  4. Strain to remove the plant parts.

  5. Flavor to taste with honey, stevia, or other natural sweeteners.

Considerations Echinacea can be hard on the digestive system and may cause stomach upset. Experts say echinacea should only be used on a short-term basis. Long-term use (eight weeks or more) can affect the body’s immune system and liver. Check with your healthcare professional before using echinacea. It may interact with your medications, particularly medicines that affect your liver. If you are allergic to plants in the daisy family, such as ragweed, marigold, and daisies, you may have an allergic reaction to echinacea. Garlic Garlic is a perennial plant native to Central Asia that is grown for its flavorful bulbs. It is now grown worldwide by many cultures. Garlic is valued both for cooking purposes and its medicinal properties. Traditional Uses Humans have been using garlic for thousands of years. Traditional medicinal uses include preventing infection, lowering blood pressure, treating tuberculosis, colic, liver disease, and intestinal worms, and reducing fevers. The compounds found in garlic have antimicrobial, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows garllic can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Garlic may be effective at preventing certain types of cancer. Research shows that regular consumption of cooked or raw garlic may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Preparation Garlic can be consumed both cooked and raw. It can also be used in powder to season meats, vegetables, soups, and stews. Garlic supplements are available in capsule, oil, and tincture form. Recommended daily dosages vary depending on how you are using garlic, including:

  • 2–5 grams of fresh, raw garlic

  • 0.4–1.2 grams of dried garlic powder

  • 2–5 milligrams of garlic oil

  • 2,400 milligrams of liquid garlic extract

Considerations Speak with your doctor if you plan to supplement with garlic for its health benefits. Garlic can increase the risk of bleeding and should not be used if you are taking blood thinners. For that same reason, do not take large amounts of garlic before surgery or dental procedures. Ginger Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has a leafy stem and yellow-green flowers. Native to Asia and India, ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. The versatile spice comes from the underground stem of the ginger plant and is added to foods and beverages worldwide. In traditional Chinese medicine, the fresh rhizoma (underground stem) of Zingiber officinale Roscoe is used, called Zingiberis Rhizoma Recens. Traditional Uses Ginger has been used extensively since the 1500s in many traditional medicines worldwide.15 Over 2,000 years ago, ginger was so valued and sought after for its medicinal properties that a pound of it was equivalent to the cost of a sheep. It was used to remedy common ailments, such as nausea, pain, and vomiting. Today, ginger has the distinction of being classified as an herb, food, and medicine. Regarding its medicinal properties, ginger is perhaps best known for its ability to help reduce nausea. Research confirms ginger may help relieve nausea and vomiting for people undergoing surgery16 and pregnancy-related nausea. Ginger may also help relieve chemotherapy-related nausea. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, ginger is also an effective pain reliever. One study found that ginger helped reduce pain and increase mobility in individuals with osteoarthritis.

Preparation Ginger is versatile and used in many forms, including fresh, dried, pickled, candied, and powdered. It has a strong and spicy smell and tastes somewhat sweet and peppery. Ground ginger root is what you typically find on spice shelves in grocery stores. It is commonly used for cooking and baking. There are numerous ways to consume ginger, including in tea. You can purchase ginger tea bags in most grocery stores or make them at home with fresh ginger. If you consume fresh ginger, peel the skin with a vegetable peeler before use. Considerations Ginger is considered to be safe when taken orally as a dietary supplement, and it may also be safe when used topically (on the skin). Side effects are generally mild and include diarrhea, heartburn, and abdominal discomfort, particularly when consumed in large doses. Though using ginger during pregnancy is considered safe, talk with your healthcare professional before using it if you want to reduce pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting. Gingko Ginkgo biloba (widely known as ginkgo) is one of the oldest surviving tree species. Native to Asia, ginkgo is one of the top-selling herbal remedies in the United States. Ginkgo leaves are used to create extracts, capsules, and tablets. Ginkgo leaves can also be consumed as tea. The nut is also used in traditional Chinese medicine for wheezing. Traditional Uses Ginkgo leaves have been used for thousands of years for medicinal benefits. These include treating bronchitis, asthma, chronic fatigue, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Some people believe that ginkgo has powerful brain-boosting properties, though more studies are needed to determine if this is true.20 The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes no conclusive evidence that ginkgo helps any medical condition. Preparation Gingko is available for purchase in capsule, tablet, liquid extract, and dried leaves/tea forms. There is currently no recommended standardized dose of ginkgo. Different doses and formulations have been used in various research studies. The right dose for you will depend on your age, medical history, sex, and type of formulation used. It is generally better to start with a lower dose to determine which amount is right for you. It may take up to six weeks to notice any health benefits of ginkgo. Considerations When using a supplement, ensure that only extracts from ginkgo leaves are used to produce the product. The seeds contain a toxin that can cause seizures. Side effects include headache, upset stomach, dizziness, and allergic reactions. Ginkgo may increase the risk of bleeding. It should not be taken with NSAIDs, anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, or tricyclic antidepressants due to potential drug interactions. Ginseng Ginseng is a well-known herb with several health benefits attributed to it. Sometimes referred to as “man-root” because it is shaped like a person, there are many types of ginseng. American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is an herbaceous perennial native to deciduous forests of the United States. Asian ginseng (Panax Ginseng) is native to China, Korea, and eastern Siberia. The botanical name Panax is derived from the word “panacea,” which represents ginseng’s versatile uses for medicinal purposes. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is also called eleuthero or ci wu jia in traditional Chinese medicine. It is less of a tonic than the other types and functions more as an adaptogen. Panax notoginseng, also called radix notoginseng or sanchi, is traditionally used to control bleeding. Traditional Uses Ginseng has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. The herb has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiobesity, and antiviral properties, making it a popular herb for medicinal use even today. Research shows that ginseng helps improve circulation, boosts immunity, and protects against certain types of cancer. The powerful herb has also been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and improve diabetes treatments. Studies show that ginseng improves learning and memory acquisition, making it a popular antiaging herb to support brain health in older adults.25 Ginseng has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and has potency for pain relief and inflammation reduction comparable to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications.26

Preparation There are many ways to consume ginseng to reap its health benefits. If you purchase fresh ginseng, it can be eaten raw or steamed. Freshly sliced ginseng can also be steeped in hot water to make tea. It can also be added to food and is popular in stir-fry meals and soups. However, these culinary uses are too costly if you buy expensive ginseng. Ginseng is also available in health food stores and some drug stores as a dietary supplement. It can be purchased in capsule, powder, and extract forms. There is currently no daily recommended dosage of ginseng, and various amounts have been examined in research studies, ranging from 0.5 to 3 grams per day of fresh ginseng, and 100 to 800 mg of extract. If you use ginseng supplements, follow the dosage directions on the label. Considerations Ginseng is generally safe for consumption with no serious side effects. The most common side effects include headache, gastrointestinal discomfort, and trouble sleeping. There is some evidence to suggest that long-term use of ginseng decreases its effectiveness, so take the supplement for two to three weeks with a one to two-week break to enjoy its benefits. If you take medications for diabetes, monitor your glucose levels closely when consuming ginseng to ensure your levels do not get too low. Talk with your healthcare professional before supplementing with ginseng if you take any medications. Do not take ginseng if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin). Lavender One of the most popular herbs in the world, lavender (Lavandula) is a pleasant-smelling evergreen shrub that grows in low mounds and is native to the Mediterranean. Lavender is in the mint family and thrives in many places around the globe. The versatile herb is used in personal care products, baking, and essential oils, and has become one of the most well-studied herbs due to its potential health benefits. Traditional Uses Lavender has been used by humans for centuries, for everything from perfumes to aromatherapy to medicinal purposes. The herb’s therapeutic properties were traditionally used for treating insect bites and burns, cleaning wounds, and protecting against certain diseases. Evidence suggests that lavender promotes sleep, improves memory, relieves pain, and uplifts mood.29 In animal and human studies, lavender has been proven to have anticonvulsant, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities.30 Lavender is a powerhouse herb that offers many medicinal and therapeutic uses. Thanks to its calming properties, lavender essential oils may be effective at soothing anxiety and promoting a good night’s sleep. The essential oil has also been found to relieve pain and may be helpful in soothing arthritis/joint pain, headaches, back pain, and menstrual cramps. Preparation Lavender is available in many forms, including dried herb, powder, and essential oil. You can grow lavender in your garden if you live in a climate that supports its growth. Lavender is widely used in perfumes, shampoos, and creams/lotions for its soothing scent. The essential oil can be diffused in an air diffuser or massaged directly onto the skin once diluted with a carrier oil, such as almond or olive oil. You can also apply it to your linens or on a cotton ball to inhale it for aromatherapy. Lavender tea is available in premade tea bags, or you can steep dried lavender flower buds in hot water for a caffeine-free tea. Considerations Lavender essential oil may cause an allergic reaction or skin irritation in some people. Always dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil before applying directly to the skin. If you experience headache, nausea or vomiting after use, stop using it immediately. Do not consume lavender essential oil orally, as it may be toxic. Oral consumption of lavender, such as in a tea, may cause constipation, headaches, or increased appetite. Saint-John’s-Wort Saint-John's-wort is a plant with yellow flowers. It is native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, though it now grows throughout the United States. The flower and leaf are used to create herbal remedies and supplements as an alternative treatment for various ailments. Traditional Uses Saint-John's-wort has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and various conditions, including insomnia, wound healing, depression, and kidney and lung ailments. Today, Saint-John's-wort is most popular as an herbal remedy for depression. Studies show it may have a positive effect on mild to moderate depression if used over 12 weeks. Saint-John's-wort is also used to reduce menopausal symptoms and for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and skin conditions.34 It may be used topically to promote wound healing and reduce muscle pain. Preparation Saint-John's-wort is available in dry, oil, and liquid forms, including capsules, tinctures, and elixirs. Each product will come in different doses, and one supplement’s strength may vary. There is not enough data to provide a standard recommended dose of Saint-John's-wort. The appropriate dose of Saint-John's-wort will depend on your age, sex, and medical history. It's best to work with your healthcare professional, pharmacist, and/or an alternative health practitioner. They can personalize your dose to ensure effectiveness and safety. Considerations When taken in large doses, Saint-John's-wort may cause sensitivity to sunlight.34 Speak with your healthcare professional before using this herbal remedy. It can have serious interactions with certain medications. Do not take Saint-John's-wort if you are taking antidepressants, as a life-threatening increase in serotonin may result. Turmeric Native to South Asia, turmeric is an herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the ginger family. It has been used for its medicinal properties for over 4,000 years. Traditional Uses Turmeric is one of the most widely studied herbs. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticancer properties. In Ayurveda and other traditional medicine systems, it is used for upper respiratory infections, the digestive system, and skin problems. Ayurvedic Medicine Ayurvedic Medicines are a major component of Ayurvedic, a traditional-medicine practice that originated in India. Practitioners use herbs to keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance. Turmeric is still a popular herbal remedy. It's touted as aiding in such conditions as allergies, arthritis, digestive disorders, respiratory infections, depression, and liver disease. Research says turmeric may provide therapeutic benefits for skin health as an oral supplement or topical (on the skin) application. Turmeric is also proven effective at reducing joint pain caused by arthritis. One study found that participants who took 100 milligrams a day of turmeric extract experienced reduced joint pain. Preparation Turmeric is used around the world as a cooking ingredient. Turmeric supplements are made from the dried rhizome (underground stem) and are often sold in capsule form. Turmeric paste is made to apply topically to the skin for certain skin conditions. The recommended dosage for turmeric varies, depending on its intended use. Studies often use dosages ranging from 500 to 2,000 milligrams of turmeric daily. The amount you take will vary depending on your age, medical history, sex, and intended use. Some people experience significant symptom relief when taking smaller doses, so start small to determine which dose works best for you. Considerations Turmeric is generally considered safe when eaten in foods, consumed as an oral supplement, or applied to the skin in recommended amounts. Concentrations of curcumin—an active ingredient in turmeric—is higher in supplements than in foods and may cause stomach upset when taken in large doses, as well as diarrhea, skin rash, yellow stool, and headache. Speak with your healthcare professional before taking a turmeric supplement. It may have interactions with some prescription medications and other herbal remedies. Turmeric can enhance the effect of blood thinners, increasing your risk of bleeding. A review found that turmeric may interact with several medications, including antidepressants, anticoagulants, antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents, and antihistamines.


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