To live a fully engaged life, we must make healthy choices to support, heal, and balance the mind and body from head to toe. Luckily, nature has generously provided us with a range of herbs and supplements with healing properties to keep us functioning optimally.

Nourish your hair, skin, and nails

Healthy hair, skin, and nails benefit from using products that include nutrient-rich herbs such as horsetail and nettle. These herbs will strengthen your hair shaft, nourish your scalp, and give your hair an overall healthy sheen. They will also strengthen your nails and promote healthy skin.

Horsetail
Horsetail is high in minerals, and the high silica content helps our bodies form collagen, an important protein found in connective tissue, skin, bones, cartilage, and ligaments.

Nettle
Chlorophyll-rich nettle strengthens and supports the whole body. It’s high in calcium; magnesium; iron; vitamins A, C, and D; zinc; potassium; and silica.

Both horsetail and nettle can be used topically as a hair rinse, but they can also be consumed as teas, tinctures, capsules, or supplements.

Burdock root
Another popular herb for the skin is burdock root, which can help with conditions such as boils, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. The root is used in a tea, tincture, or capsule to help purify the blood of excess toxins.

If you’re lucky enough to live where burdock grows wild you can harvest the nutrient-rich root. Fresh root is also very effective used topically as a poultice for skin irritations.

Essential fatty acids
Plant oils rich in omega-3 and -6, including evening primrose, flaxseed, and borage oils, contain essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in the body and keep the skin healthy.

Supplements specifically designed to support the skin should also include a good balance of nutrients including vitamin A for growth and repair of tissue; vitamins B, C, and D; and trace minerals.

Feed your brain

The brain is a complex organ that needs to be conscientiously cared for. A bicycle helmet is good insurance against brain injury. Whole foods, vitamin supplements, good fats, and herbs are also good insurance to maintain healthy brain function. A healthy diet, exercise, meditation, and joyful living help the brain to function at its optimum.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Including fish in your diet is a great way to get the omega-3s your brain needs and craves. Supplementing with wild salmon, krill, or cod oils also supports healthy brain function.

Thankfully, fish oils have become easier to consume since the days when our wise mothers would insist on that spoonful of yucky fish oil every morning. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation, improve memory, balance moods, and achieve a more focused mental state.

Plant oils from olives, nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and avocados also contain omega-3 and omega-9 fats. There are many delicious ways to include these in your diet.

Ginkgo biloba
A discussion about brain health has to include the leaf of the world’s oldest tree species, Ginkgo biloba, which improves blood circulation and has potent antioxidant properties that help to maintain good circulation to the brain and may enhance memory. It’s been used widely in Europe to treat dementia. Ginkgo can be used as a herbal tea, capsule, or tincture.

Holy basil
The Ayurvedic herb tulsi, or holy basil, has been used in India for thousands of years to promote a long and healthy life and to enhance cerebral circulation and memory. It is said to relieve mental fog, and combined with other herbs such as rosemary and ginkgo, it can help with cloudy thinking, poor memory, and mood swings.

Ease women’s symptoms

Herbal and homeopathic remedies can ease women’s PMS, pregnancy, and menopause symptoms.

Raspberry
The dried leaves of the raspberry plant are famous for their use as a women’s tonic for all stages of reproduction, from the first menstrual cycle to the last, and beyond. A leaf infusion can be used in combination with red clover for aiding both male and female fertility and conception.

The leaves are high in usable minerals and help tone and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus, and can help to regulate the menstrual cycle and prepare the uterus for conception.

During pregnancy the nutrient properties keep the mom-to-be nourished and supported and can ease morning sickness. For menstrual cramping and excessive bleeding, raspberry leaf infusion or tincture can help.

Vitex
Vitex helps to ease symptoms associated with menstrual and hormonal imbalances associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause. It has also been used to reverse excessive menstruation and abnormal growths in the uterus when used as a tea, tincture, or capsule.

Soothe aching muscles

Muscle pain is most often associated with the lactic acid release from being physically active. Herbs such as arnica and willow can help lessen this pain.

Arnica
The active constituents of arnica’s bright yellow flowers are used topically in an oil infusion, creme, or poultice to stimulate and dilate the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. This, in turn, improves circulation to the injured area and promotes the healing of bruises, sprains, strains, muscular inflammation, aches, pains, rheumatic joint pain, and swelling due to fractures.

Note: arnica can only be taken internally as a homeopathic preparation or flower essence to help minimize bruising, pain, and trauma due to its irritant effect on the stomach.

Willow
Willow’s inner bark and leaves contain salicin that is responsible for its starring role in pain relief; its analgesic properties help with pain and inflammation. It can be used in a tincture, capsule, or tea, or used topically in massage or bath oil. Willow bark can help relieve pain and inflammation caused by lower back pain; sciatic nerve pain; osteoarthritis; tendonitis; bursitis; gout; and muscle aches, sprains, and strains.

Support your heart

A healthy heart is what keeps us vital. Antioxidants, herbs, and spices such as garlic and cayenne, eaten daily or taken as a capsule or tincture, are highly effective to help decrease cholesterol and blood pressure, and to promote a healthy circulatory system.

Hawthorn
Hawthorn berries, rich in antioxidants, can help to dilate the blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure and strengthen the heart. This, in turn, increases oxygen to the entire body.

Rosehips
High in vitamin C, rosehips contain bioflavonoids, which make for an excellent heart tonic, nourishing the heart and circulatory system and helping to strengthen capillaries. Studies show it may lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 may help to lower blood pressure and keep the body’s circulation functioning at its optimal level to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the heart.

Omega-3 fatty acids
A recent study on omega-3 fish oils showed that they help to prevent cardiovascular diseases in healthy individuals, and also reduce the incidence of cardiac events and mortality in patients with existing heart disease.

Improve digestion

An optimal digestion system always starts with good food maceration. Chew your food well; your stomach doesn’t have teeth!

Ensure your diet consists of plenty of water, fibre, essential fatty acids, and probiotics. Also include the various herbs and supplements that can help you get the most nutrients out of your food to achieve optimal elimination.

Bitter herbs
Bitter herbs such as yarrow, gentian, and dandelion roots are indicated to aid digestion and can be taken in tea or tincture form.

Slippery elm bark and marsh mallow root
Best prepared as a tea, slippery elm bark and marsh mallow root are great for soothing the digestive tract, and are known to help soothe duodenal ulcers, gastritis, colitis, and chronic diarrhea.

Black walnut
Black walnut tincture or capsules are commonly used for diarrhea and gastrointestinal irritation often caused by parasites or candida overgrowth.

Digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes are effective at helping a compromised and weak digestion to fully assimilate food. Enzymes that you will generally find in a supplement include protease to help digest protein, amylase to help digest carbohydrates, lipase to help digest fats and oils, and maltase to help digest malt sugars and grains.

See clearly

We can keep our eyes healthy, clear, and bright by choosing foods, herbs, and supplements high in vitamins A, C, and E; B-complex vitamins; and minerals such as zinc, selenium, and antioxidant-rich lutein.

Lutein
Lutein is found in broccoli, peas, carrots, potatoes, squash, oranges, egg yolks, and dark leafy greens such as kale and in herbs such as nettle and dandelion. It may help lower the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Eyebright
The herb eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) has a long history as an eye remedy. It can be taken as a tea, tincture, homeopathic pill, or eye drop. Euphrasia eye drops are used to help heal conjunctivitis and eye irritations.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s found in fish oils help to reduce dry eye syndrome and safeguard the retina from oxidative damage.

Strengthen your teeth and gums
To keep teeth and gums healthy, floss, brush regularly with natural toothpaste, and try the traditional Ayurvedic practice of oil pulling.

Oil pulling

Credited with strengthening teeth, gums, and jaws, oil pulling has also been said to prevent cavities, bleeding gums, and bad breath because it helps to pull harmful bacteria from the mouth. Studies have shown that oil pulling is as effective as mouthwash in the fight against bad breath.

Method

  1. After brushing and flossing, swish a tablespoon of coconut, olive, or sesame oil in your mouth.
  2. Pull oil through your teeth for up to 20 minutes.
  3. When finished, spit out the oil, as it contains toxins and bacteria pulled from the mouth.

Relieve joint pain

As we age, so do our joints. There are many possible causes of joint pain, including injury to the ligaments, bursae, or tendons around the joint or inflammation of the joint caused by arthritis.

Curcumin
Along with omega-3 fish oils, one of today’s biggest stars in treating joint inflammation is curcumin, found in the Indian spice turmeric. A recent study compared the active ingredients in curcumin with ibuprofen for pain relief of knee osteoarthritis. Curcumin relieved pain and helped improve joint movement as well as ibuprofen.

Horsetail
Horsetail is effective in mending broken bones, treating and preventing osteoporosis, and as a general tonic to keep the framework of the body healthy.

Soak your feet
Our feet carry us many thousands of miles during our lifetime, so when they are tired, sore, ulcerated, infected, cracked, dry, or itchy, this can stress our entire body. A footbath is a simple, relaxing, and effective way to help heal the feet.

It’s easy—put the kettle on, pour toe-temperature hot water into a bowl, and add some Epsom or sea salts, a drop or two of tea tree oil, and soak feet for up to 20 minutes.


Herbal glossary

Teas
Herbal teas are light infusions made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds, fruits, or shredded roots of a plant.

Infusions
Herbal infusions differ from herbal teas. The primary difference is a longer steeping time that makes the infusion generally darker in colour and fuller in taste. It also allows more of the plant’s water-soluble constituents, such as minerals, vitamins, and various other medicinal properties, to be released.

Decoctions
Decoctions are made from the tougher parts of the plant, such as the roots and bark, from which constituents tend to be harder to extract. They are made by simmering in a saucepan for up to 20 minutes.

Rule of thumb
To make a tea, infusion, or decoction follow these guidelines:

  • If using dried herbs: add 1 tsp (5 mL) dried herbs to 1 cup (250 mL) boiling water.
  • If using fresh herbs: add 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh herbs to 1 cup (250 mL) boiling water.

Tinctures
Tinctures are very concentrated, have a long shelf life, and are made with alcohol or glycerin to extract the medicinal properties of the plant. Tincture drops can be added to juice, water, tea, or smoothies. People who prefer not to ingest alcohol can add the tincture to a steaming hot cup of water or herbal tea—the hot liquid will cause most of the alcohol to evaporate.

Poultices
Poultices are made with fresh or dried botanicals. They’re used to regenerate, soothe, and heal tissue; stimulate circulation; relax and warm muscles; and draw out toxins and foreign objects from the skin. Poultices are made by making an herbal infusion or decoction and placing the herbs in a cheesecloth or cotton cloth that is folded and placed over the affected area.

Essential oils
Essential oils are concentrated, complex, and powerful plant extracts that are 40 to 100 percent stronger than herbs. They are generally made by steam distillation. For instance, distillers of commercial rose oil report it takes approximately 3,500 kg of roses to produce 1 kg of oil.

Freeze-drying
This process for preserving fresh herbs leaves essential oils, phytonutrients, polysaccharides, pigments, and enzymes intact.

Distillates
Created by the steam distillation of herbs and plants, distillates may also be called hydrosols, floral waters, and essential waters.

About the Author

Beverley Gray is a herbalist and author of The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North (Aroma Borealis Press, 2011). She owns the Aroma Borealis Herb Shop in Whitehorse, Yukon. aromaborealis.com