various medicinal herbs

The Top 10 Medicinal Plants and Herbs for Your Health

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Humans have been using medicinal plants for thousands of years. Early on in our existence, people discovered that nature has done a pretty good job at providing things for stomach problems, pain, concentration, and more. Though modern medicine has now given us the ability to manage and heal more illnesses, diseases, and conditions than we could have ever thought possible, there is still a space for medicinal plants to help us out. 

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The Power Of Medicinal Plants

Plants are powerful – there’s no doubt about that. From the earliest groups of people all the way to modern day, we have been using plants for a large variety of ailments and discomforts. Many of the plants used in the past are still applicable today, also many have been adapted into modern medicine and modern pharmaceuticals. Knowing how to use medicinal plants can be very helpful in preventing you from having to use other medications, such as painkillers like ibuprofen, more frequently. 

That being said, it is very important that you always check with your doctor before using any kind of herbal medicine or medicinal plant. This is especially important if you are already on any kind of medication, as herbs can negatively interact with them. Herbal medicines and medicinal plants also have side effects and risks. They are not regulated, so you must be careful using them. Finally, they are not a cure-all. If you are experiencing health problems, you need to speak to your doctor. Many health problems, if left unchecked, can cause serious complications.

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1. Echinacea

Grown in Eastern and Central North America, echinacea is a member of the daisy family. Its leaves, roots, and stems are all used in herbal medicine. Though used for a variety of purposes in the past, it is primarily used today to shorten the duration of the common cold and flu. More studies are needed to prove its efficacy, however, it is believed that it relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and has antiviral and anti-oxidative effects. You can take it in the form of a capsule, a tincture, or a tea. (1)

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2. Saint John’s Wort

Saint John’s Wort is a yellow flowering plant native to Western Asia, North Africa, and Europe. Today, it is a popular herbal remedy to help ease depression. Studies have shown that it can have a positive effect on mild to moderate depression over a period of 12 weeks. That being said, it has several possible contraindications and side effects. It isn’t suitable if you are already taking anti-depressants. If you are experiencing depression, talk to your doctor about getting help. (2)

Saint John’s Wort can also be used topically for certain skin conditions, wound healing, and even reduce muscle pain. You can use it in dry, oil, or liquid forms that can come in capsules, tinctures, and more. (3)

Read: 9 Benefits of NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine): The ‘Do-It-All Supplement’ You’ve Never Heard Of

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3. Turmeric

Turmeric is an herbaceous plant from the ginger family native to South Asia. Often it is used in cooking to add color and flavor to dishes, and has a long history of being used to dye fabrics. Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial agent. It has benefits for skin, digestion, allergies, arthritis, respiratory infections, depression, and liver disease. (4, 5)

You can find actual turmeric root in the grocery store. You can use it fresh, but you can also find it in dry powder and supplemental forms. How to take it and how much depends on your age, sex, medical history, how you are using it, and what you are using it for. Its active ingredient, curcumin, can cause stomach upset and various other side effects if taken at too-high doses. With turmeric, especially in supplement form, start with small doses and don’t overdo it. Also, check with your doctor before using it as it is known to have unwanted interactions and reactions with certain medications. (6)

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4. Ginger 

Ginger is native to Asia and India. We know it as a spice that we commonly add to cooking and baking for flavor. It is best known for its anti-nausea and anti-bacterial properties. Also an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, it can help reduce pain and inflammation in arthritis patients. It can be consumed in both a fresh format as well as pickled, dried, and candied. Ginger teas are also popular, particularly for taking when your stomach is upset. (7, 8, 9)

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5. Garlic

Native to central Asia, garlic is something that probably all of you have in your kitchens on a regular basis. After all, it is one of the principal ingredients in most dishes for adding flavor and complexity. What you may not know of, however, are these bulbs’ incredible antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer properties. It has even been shown to benefit those with high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. (10)

Garlic can of course be consumed both cooked and raw. You can also take it in capsule, oil, or tincture form. Talk to your doctor before supplementing with garlic or even just increasing your intake if you are on any medications. It can have unwanted interactions with some.

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6. Gingko

Gingko trees are some of the oldest trees in the world, native to Asia. People have used it for thousands of years to treat bronchitis, asthma, chronic fatigue, and more. Some believe it increases your brain power, however, this has not been studied thoroughly enough to say definitively yes or no. (11) You can take it as a capsule, tablet, or liquid extract. It is important to note that there is no definitive evidence that ginkgo actually helps any specific medical conditions. (12)

Read: 7 Easy Ways to Improve Your Gut Health: Recognize The Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

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7. Ginseng

Ginseng has several origins and different types. There is both American ginseng, native to the United States; Asian ginseng, native to China and Korea; and Siberian ginseng, native to Eastern Siberia. In traditional Chinese medicine, people have used ginseng for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. Research shows that it supports the immune system, improves circulation, reduces blood sugar levels, and may improve certain diabetes treatments. Its anti-inflammatory properties have also shown to be effective for pain relief. (13, 14)

To consume ginseng, you can purchase it fresh and eat it either raw or cooked, or sliced and steeped into a tea. You can also purchase it in capsule or powder form. As always, talk to your doctor before taking ginseng and monitor yourself and any symptoms you may have. If you have diabetes, make sure your blood sugar levels don’t get too low.

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8. Ashwagandha

Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub native to Africa, Asia, and some parts of the Middle East and India. People often use the herb to increase energy and decrease stress, anxiety, pain, and inflammation. According to research, ashwagandha reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. (15) It is also an effective herb for male sexual health for its effects on testosterone, erectile dysfunction, and libido. (16)

You can take ashwagandha in capsules, tinctures, and powders. In its powdered form, try mixing it into smoothies, desserts, coffee, or tea. You can take it at any time of day, however, 30 minutes before a meal is usually the best. You also won’t feel its effects immediately. It can take up to a week to notice them with continued use. Children and pregnant women should not take ashwagandha, and adults should consult a doctor before using it. As always, monitor how your body feels. If you have any side effects, stop taking them.

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9. Chamomile

Chamomile is another herb that people have often turned to for its anti-anxiety effects and to help promote relaxation. It is best taken in the format of tea, though other forms do exist. A 2016 review of the research found that chamomile has antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antidiarrheal effects. It can help relieve certain kinds of arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and premenstrual symptoms. Chamomile can cause allergic reactions, however, and can negatively interact with certain blood pressure and anti-rejection drugs. Speak with your doctor before using it. (17)

10. Lavender

Lavender is a popular plant for both its scent and how it looks. It is often used in personal care products as an essential oil as well as in baking. Evidence suggests that lavender is helpful at promoting sleep, relieving pain, and improving your mood. It has been shown to have antioxidant, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. Aches and pains, premenstrual symptoms, and anxiety are all just a few things that this pretty little herb tackles. (18,19) Teas and tinctures are the most common forms. Again, be aware of allergic reactions and medication interactions.

The Bottom Line

Medicinal herbs have many applications for a wide variety of aches, pains, and ailments. They can be a great tool to have at your disposal for mild symptoms and without always having to turn to modern medications. If you don’t notice your symptoms improving, or if they get worse, you need to speak with your doctor. While medicinal herbs can often help manage symptoms and help improve many conditions, they are not a cure for many or most illnesses, diseases, or conditions. Again, if these go unchecked they could become much more severe. Talk to your doctor and make sure your symptoms are thoroughly looked into to rule out any more serious problems.

Keep Reading: 3-ingredient elixir that you should make this winter to deal with Sore throat, cough, colds, and other throat conditions

Sources

  1. A meta-analysis on the efficacy and safety of St John’s wort extract in depression therapy in comparison with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in adults.” Dove Press. Cui Y and Zheng Y. July 11, 2016.
  2. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Liebert Pub. James W. Daily, Mini Yang, and Sunmin Park. August 1, 2016.
  3. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health.” MDPI. Susan J. Hewlings and Douglas S. Kalman. October 22, 2017.
  4. Effects of preoperative administration of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) on postoperative nausea and vomiting after laparoscopic cholecystectomy.” Science Direct. E.Soltani, et al. July 2018.
  5. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting.” Nutrition Journal. Estelle Viljoen, et al. March 19, 2014.
  6. Efficacy and safety of ginger in osteoarthritis patients: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.” Oarsi Journal. E.M Bartels, et al. January 1 , 2015.
  7. Antiatherosclerotic and Cardioprotective Effects of Time-Released Garlic Powder Pills.” Eureka Select. Vasily P. Karagodin, et al.
  8. Herbal medicine for depression and anxiety: A systematic review with assessment of potential psycho-oncologic relevance.” Wiley Online Library. K. Simon Yeung, et al. February 21, 2018.
  9. Bioconversion, health benefits, and application of ginseng and red ginseng in dairy products.” Springer Link. Jieun Jung, et al. August 17, 2017.
  10. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults.” Sage Journal. K. Chandrasekha, et al. July 1. 2012.
  11. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males.” Sage Journals. Adrian L. Lopresti, et al. March 10, 2019.
  12. A systematic review study of therapeutic effects of Matricaria recuitta chamomile (chamomile).” E Physician. Sepide Miraj and Samira Alesaeidi. 2016.
  13. Lavender and the Nervous System.” Hindawi. Peir Hossein Koulivand, et al. March 14, 2013.
  14. Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Inflammatory Diseases 2018.” Hindawi. Gabriel Fernando Esteves Cardia, et al. March 2018.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

Julie Hambleton
The Hearty Soul Team
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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