Top 5 Herbs for Good Health
Next time you are worried about a health problem, consider heading toward the herb and spice section of your local store. Herbs can promote good health in a range of surprising ways. Some, such as turmeric, have incredible antioxidant value, meaning they can reduce inflammation and stress in the body. Other herbs, referred to as adaptogens, such as ginseng, can aid in reducing the negative effects of cortisol and chronic stress. Many herbal medicines, including garlic and lemon balm, have antiviral and antibacterial properties and are perfect for acute illnesses such as the cold or flu. Herbs can be used for everything from stress and fatigue to high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, weight loss, liver health and more. Read on to see five of our favorite herbs and what they can do for you.
“Both herbal medicine and conventional medicine each have their place in healthcare. Conventional medicine is exemplary in acute emergency care, surgery and life-threatening conditions. Herbal medicines, on the other hand, excel at managing chronic conditions that in most cases don’t need pharmaceutical intervention. Herbs have been clinically shown to help in conditions such as stress management, blood pressure disorders, diabetes, mild depression, women’s reproductive issues, chronic fatigue and numerous other conditions without the side effects that pharmaceuticals often have,” Betsy Costilo, a clinical herbalist from Smile Herb, said.
The edible bulb of a plant in the lily family, garlic has been in use as a medicine and spice in many cultures for thousands of years. While it is purported to treat a range of ailments – stomach cancer, colon cancer and the common cold – it is most commonly used for high cholesterol, heart disease and high blood pressure. Its high antioxidant count can help destroy free radicals, the particles that damage cell membranes, plus it strengthens the immune system. This one is easy to ingest. Whether cooked or raw, fresh or dried, garlic cloves may be powdered and used in tablets, or a liquid extract or oil. Add minced garlic to practically any recipe for some heart healthy bang.
Commonly used in European folk medicine, yarrow boasts flavonoids, plant-based agents that increase saliva and stomach acid, thus aiding with digestion. While few studies have examined it as an herbal medicine, it is most often taken to reduce inflammation, particularly in the digestive tract, as a sedative to relieve anxiety or insomnia, and as a skin application for wounds and minor bleeding (legend has it that its scientific name, Achillea millefolium, came from Achilles, the Greek hero, who applied it to the wounds of his soldiers). Other uses include for heartburn, as a diuretic, for menstrual cramps, to fight infection and to treat loss of appetite. A member of the aster family, yarrow is related to chamomile and can be seen blooming in meadows and along roadsides. The flowers, leaves and stems can all be used medicinally.
Although native to Europe, lemon balm is cultivated the world over for medicine, cosmetics and furniture polish. A member of the mint family, lemon balm has been used to combat stress and anxiety, encourage sleep and appetite, and reduce pain from indigestion, including gas and bloating, since the Middle Ages. It is often paired with other calming agents, such as valerian and chamomile, to cause relaxation, or used topically on cold sores. Supplements are crafted from the leaves of the plant, which are sold as a dried leaf, a tea, as capsules or as oil. The herb contains terpenes, which relax the body; tannins, which are antiviral; and eugenol, which reduces muscle spasm and kills bacteria. Try its essential oil as aromatherapy.
In use as a medicine for 4,000 years, turmeric has been demonstrated in studies to fight infections and some cancers, reduce inflammation and help with digestive difficulties. One of the main ingredients in curry powder, the spice is widely utilized in cooking, plus in mustard and as color for butter and cheese. The Chinese and Ayurvedic herbal traditions employ it as an anti-inflammatory and in treating digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds. The active substance in turmeric, curcumin, is a strong antioxidant that reduces enzymes that cause inflammation in the body, prevents platelets from forming blood clots, and stimulates production of bile, thus improving digestion. Fragrant yet bitter, the spice’s finger-like roots are typically boiled and dried into a yellow powder that can be used to add flavor to recipes or taken as capsules or tea. Apply it directly to the skin as a paste to heal wounds and for eczema.
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, grapes have been employed as medicines and known for their nutritional properties – including in the form of wine. Today, grapeseed extract is used to help the heart and blood vessels, reducing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and poor circulation. It also functions to prevent nerve and eye damage from diabetes, aid with vision problems and prevent cancer. A powerful antioxidant native to Asia, grapeseed increases the level of antioxidants in the blood, destroying the free radicals that contribute to aging, heart disease and cancer. The seed is also bursting with Vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid and OPCs. Try to find it as capsules, tablets and liquid extracts that are standardized to 40 to 80 percent proanthocyanidins or an OPC content of at least 95 percent.
Costilo cautions consumers, however, that herbs are mostly not a quick fix for any ailment. “Herbal medicines work at a very deep, therapeutic level to change human physiology; this process does not happen overnight. Working with an herbalist and herbal therapies requires patience, commitment and a willingness to support the medicines with dietary and lifestyle changes,” she declared.
It is important to remember before purchasing any herb that many studies have shown conflicting evidence concerning the effectiveness of different herbs, and much research remains to be conducted. In addition, many herbs have interactions with other herbs, supplements and medications. So be sure to exercise caution and to consult a health care practioner qualified in the field of botanical medicine. Be on the lookout for side effects, such as nausea, upset stomach, headache, cough and rash.
Nearly 40 years old, Smile Herb is a group of professional herbalists who specialize in herbs of all types, providing more than 2,000 herbal supplements and natural vitamins, plus general information on herbalism.
For more information, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. To purchase these herbs, visit Smileherb.com.
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