alive logo

Power Herbs


A number of herbs have been attracting attention because of their outstanding healing powers. Some of these have been used in Western medicine for a long time but have been studied more extensively in recent years.

A number of herbs have been attracting attention because of their outstanding healing powers. Some of these have been used in Western medicine for a long time but have been studied more extensively in recent years. Others have come to us from the herbal treasury of other cultures such as China or the Amazon. These herbal medicines have amazed researchers with their ability to heal a wide variety of conditions with virtually no side effects.

Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)

In 1994 cat's claw, a vine of the South American rainforest, was officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a medicinal plant. The natives of the Peruvian rainforest had been using cat's claw (U?e Gato) for many centuries to treat tumors, inflammation, rheumatism, urinary tract infection, gastric ulcers and menstrual irregularities. It was also used for contraception. It had to be taken during the menstrual cycle and was said to retain its effect for three years.

Various modern studies have suggested that the herb may be valuable in the treatment of AIDS, allergies, arthritis, asthma, bursitis, cancer, candidiasis, chronic fatigue, diabetes, environmental poisoning, genital herpes, herpes simplex (cold sores), herpes zoster (shingles), intestinal disorders, lupus, menstrual irregularities, PMS and skin disorders. The plant is named after its spikes, which resemble cat's claws. The vine clings to trees, climbing upwards and reaching considerable length and thickness. The roots and the inner bark are the parts used for healing.

The herb was brought to the attention of the Western world in the seventies when an Austrian researcher took the herb to the University of Innsbruck for analysis and study. Austrian research established that toxicity of the herb is low even in large doses. It was found that cat's claw contains a whole list of powerful alkaloids and that at least two of its glycosides had never before been observed in nature.

Four of the alkaloids were identified as potent immuno-stimulants. In people who consumed tea made of the roots, active monocytes (a type of immune cells) increased from thirty-five to fifty percent in a single week. Phagocytosis, the destruction of foreign organisms by white blood cells and macrophages (the "Pacman"-like scavenger cells of the immune system), were also significantly enhanced. In addition, the research established that red blood cells were much less apt to break down in people who had been given a standardized extract of cat's claw. Many Europeans take the standardized extract, called claw thorn (Krallendorn), in the fall as a preventive immune system stimulant.

European research also established that the anti-tumor activity of cat's claw, first noticed by the native people, is due to its strengthening effect on the immune system. In Austria and Germany, Krallendorn is now being used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including cancer and AIDS. Cancer patients who took cat's claw tea recovered more rapidly or were able to tolerate radiation treatment better than others. There are numerous anecdotal reports of people being miraculously healed from cancer by cat's claw. AIDS patients being treated with Krallendorn showed remission of symptoms and remained symptom-free for five and more years. Studies also established a reduction in the side-effects of AZT.

The herb has also been employed in the treatment of allergies and neurobronchitis. Patients with serious allergic asthma who took the herb for a year were symptom-free and had no recurrences for over three years.

Patients with gastritis who took the alkaloid-rich root tea were symptom-free after only three to eight days. Equal results were observed with duodenal ulcers. However, to achieve profound and lasting healing, patients had to take the tea for at least three months. Some doctors believe that cat's claw can clear up other deep-seated, hidden and chronic infections, including those that can cause severe adhesions capable of distorting organs such as the uterus, prostate, bowel or liver.

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, the herb also alleviates rheumatism and arthritis without side-effects.

Since active ingredients vary vastly from plant to plant and even in the same plant, finding a reliable source for the herb or taking the standardized extract is advised. The recommended dose is three to six grams a day, and up to twenty grams a day for severe conditions.

Cat's claw, a herb which grows wild in the Peruvian rainforest, is useful for helping the immune system deal with viral infections and autoimmune disorders. The name cat's claw comes from the shape of the woody vine of the herb which resembles the claws of a cat. The glycosides it contains possess strong antiviral properties. Another powerful herb, echinacea, contains echinacosides that strengthen the immune system against invading viruses. Echinacea is perfect for short-term use, as it is metabolized by the body in less than three hours. Cat's claw takes over where echinacea leaves off and continues to boost your immune system for many hours.

Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens or C. annum or C. minimum)

Capsicum's effectiveness and versatility derives from the fact that it supports circulation from the heart to the finest capillaries without speeding up the pulse.

There are three forms of capsicum, differentiated by their British Thermal Unit (BTU), which measures the amount of heat produced. The mildest form, with a rating of one BTU or less, is paprika. Next, with a rating between one and twenty-five, is red pepper. The hottest form, with a rating of over twenty-five BTU, is cayenne, the capsicum most effective in healing. Its active ingredient is capsaicin. The herb should be taken as a dried powder. Consuming it in foods that have been cooked for extended periods of time or eating the raw peppers does not have the desired medicinal effect. The herb is available from health food stores in the form of capsules, a powder or a main ingredient in topical creams. For acute ailments, take one capsule a day. To prepare a tea, pour one cup of hot water over one teaspoon of cayenne, cover and steep for ten minutes. Do not strain. Sip slowly. For chronic conditions, take one-third of a teaspoon three times a day, increasing to the recommended dosage of one teaspoon three times a day over several months. The herb is available in a tincture. This is not recommended for internal use. The following are some of cayenne's many health-promoting uses:

Most significant is cayenne's effect on the heart and circulatory system. Taken daily, the herb stimulates circulation and prevents heart attacks, strokes, depression and headaches of all kinds, including migraine. People slowed down with shortness of breath experience remarkable improvement in vitality, activity level and endurance. The herb also helps overcome non-specific lack of energy, fatigue and sluggishness.

As a warming stimulant, cayenne breaks down obstructions and gets the blood flow and metabolism working smoothly again. Because of its regulatory influence on blood flow, the herb returns either high or low blood pressure to normal and exerts a healing effect on varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Cayenne is also effective in stopping internal or external hemorrhaging. It can be used in first aid on profusely bleeding cuts. It is also able to stop the bleeding of stomach ulcers and heal the stomach lining. Similarly, it alleviates the bleeding in Crohn's disease. Start with a low dosage and increase over time. Novice users find it difficult to believe that this extremely hot herb will actually heal a bleeding stomach and intestinal tract.

Cayenne is an excellent remedy for colds and flu. As a diaphoretic (perspiration inducer) it helps to remove toxins from the body and to lower fevers naturally. As an anticatarrhal (mucus eliminator) it helps to clear sinuses and breathing passages.

Used in a liniment, plaster or poultice, cayenne increases circulation to the surface of the skin and draws out deep-seated congestion or inflammation. It is useful for boils, sprains, bursitis, psoriasis, toothache, swelling, the joint pain of arthritis, muscle aches and sore throat (used in a gargle and as a poultice around the neck). In Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss recommends the following liniment: Gently simmer one tablespoon of cayenne in one pint (two cups) of apple cider vinegar for ten minutes. The liniment is rubbed directly on the affected area. For poultices or plasters, simply mix cayenne with water or honey, apply to the affected area and cover securely with a flannel cloth. Mixed with fresh mashed leaves of plantain, cayenne has the ability to draw splinters and other foreign objects from the body.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is a healing herb that was highly prized in ancient Greece, Egypt and China. Historically, it has been used all over the world to treat coughs, toothaches, earaches and poor circulation. Before the advent of antibiotics, garlic was widely used to combat infections. In both wars it was employed in hospitals and on the battleground to treat infected wounds and prevent gangrene.

Today, garlic has come to public attention for its amazing ability to combat more than half a dozen major health problems of the modern age: cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, immune-deficiency diseases, infectious diseases, free-radical damage and toxic metal poisoning. Garlic is now available as a supplement that preserves or enhances the potency of the herb.

Volumes of scientific research testify to the versatility and potency of this herb.

Tracing the history of civilization, it is very interesting to note that garlic was at first a “tool of magic power” in the hands of the physician-priest or medicine man. Only gradually did the spell-binding nimbus in the art of exorcism die out. Today this strong-smelling bulb has estsblished itself as a most valuable medicinal remedy in every househould.

Goodbye Garlic Breath

Love natural garlic but hate how it affects your breath? You don't have to use garlic supplements–after your natural garlic dish, chew on a fresh sprig of parsley to freshen your breath. To remove the garlic aroma from your fingers, rub them with natural toothpaste, then rinse.

Antibiotic Action

The antibiotic effect, demonstrated in the two wars, has been reaffirmed many times but has attracted new interest as more and more drug-resistant bacteria are emerging. In 1994, the San Francisco University Hospital conducted a study testing all the bacteria collected on the premises. Researchers were amazed to find that garlic killed all of the bacteria, including the drug-resistant ones. The antibiotic action is due to the allicin content of garlic.

Antifungal Effect

Fungal infections are often difficult to treat because conventional drugs can be highly toxic if given in sufficient doses. In the laboratory, a group of mice treated with garlic had a blood stream free of candida (the fungus causing yeast infection) only forty-eight hours after treatment started, while a control group had no reduction. Garlic is also effective against microsporum and trichophyton.

Antiparasitic and Antiprotozoal Action

Garlic has been used successfully to treat tapeworm and hookworm infestation in humans and animals. Successful treatment of protozoa has been known since Albert Schweitzer used garlic to cure amoebic dysentery in his African clinics. Protozoal infection causes many of the illnesses in AIDS patients and current drugs are extremely toxic, further damaging the immune system.

Antiviral Action

Neurologists from the Second Medical University of Shanghai reported that they had treated viral encephalitis with garlic. Test-tube studies have shown that garlic is effective against the influenza B virus and herpes simplex 1 and 2.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Recent Chinese population studies have shown that the more garlic is consumed in a given area the less cancer occurs among the population. In human experiments, garlic inhibited powerful cancer-causing nitrosamines, which are by-products of digestive processes.

Radiation Protection

Patients with colon cancer often suffer chronic injury to the colon from radiation therapy. In an experiment at the University of Texas, mice fed diallyl sulfide (a component of garlic) three hours before radiation treatment had “significantly inhibited” radiation damage. The more of the sulfide they ingested, the better they were protected from damage. In another study, rats highly susceptible to a type of esophageal cancer had no tumor formation when they received diallyl sulfide before exposure. At Pennsylvania State University, garlic as a food supplement prevented breast cancer in laboratory animals. Fresh garlic was not effective. Researchers believe that the organic sulphur compounds of garlic prevent carcinogens from reaching cell DNA.

Free-Radical Protection

Garlic protects against free-radical damage. The protection comes from the amino acids found in garlic.

Protection from Environmental Poisons and Toxic Metals

The liver normally eliminates toxins from the body. However, with the growing onslaught of environmental poisons, the liver can become overstressed and even damaged. In several studies, garlic has been shown to enhance the activity of the liver and protect it from damage even when it is exposed to highly toxic substances. Researchers believe that the antioxidant selenium in garlic as well as its main antioxidant sulfur compounds including the enzymes S-allyl cysteine and S-allyl mercaptocysteine are responsible for the protective effect. Garlic also has a direct effect on toxins in our body because its sulfhydral compounds bind with heavy metals and make them harmless.

Cardiovascular Protection

Garlic works in a number of ways to protect the body from cardiovascular disease. First, garlic inhibits the production of excess cholesterol and, in addition, lowers existing cholesterol levels. In a six-month study, garlic was given to sixteen people with high cholesterol, while sixteen similar subjects received a placebo. No changes were observed until the end of the third month, which almost led to the suspension of the study. However, by the end of the six-month study, cholesterol had dropped to normal in sixty-five percent of the garlic group, with no change in the placebo group. Another benefit seen in the study was the fact that the “good” cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) kept rising while the “bad” cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) declined. The study also points to the fact that herbal medicine therapy requires patience when there are no immediate results. Second, garlic can lower high blood pressure. In Japan, garlic is widely prescribed to control hypertension. Studies have shown that oral ingestion of garlic lowers blood pressure for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. People with low blood pressure (hypotension) also benefit from garlic, since the herb seems to normalize blood pressure rather than simply lower it. Third, garlic promotes blood flow and dissolves blood clots. Clots are formed by an interaction of platelets and fibrin, which trap red blood cells.

Fourth and finally, garlic also benefits people with existing heart disease. In a three-year study at India's Tagore Medical School, 432 heart patients at risk for a second heart attack were divided into garlic and non-garlic groups. Results were significant among the garlic group: second heart attacks dropped by thirty percent in the second year and by sixty percent in the third year. Mortality rate dropped fifty percent in the second year and sixty-six percent in the third year. It seems that taking garlic continuously reverses atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) over the years.

As if the above healing properties were not sufficient, studies have shown garlic to be effective in these areas: balancing insulin need; healing ileitis (inflammation of the lower portion of the small intestine); alleviating lupus symptoms; alleviating depression; curing ear infection and helping to eliminate poisons in pets. Garlic has shown to be helpful for the following conditions and more: conjunctivitis, eye infections, ear infections, sinus infections, flu, vaginal yeast infections, pimples and acne.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

The ginkgo tree was widely distributed over the temperate regions of the world at the time of the dinosaurs. Individual trees can probably survive for two to four thousand years. Ginkgo is Japanese for “silver apricot.” Biloba means “two lobes” and describes the shape of the leaf, the medicinal part of the plant. The leaf cannot simply be harvested and used in a tea. Ginkgo is only effective in concentrated form as a standardized extract of twenty-four percent flavonoids and six percent terpene lactones. The recommended dosage is forty milligrams of the standardized extract three times a day. Ginkgo biloba has been proven safe and effective in over three hundred clinical studies. As with all herbs, ginkgo works synergistically. Using the complete extract is more effective than employing any of its isolated components.

The herb is best known for its ability to increase circulation to the brain. In Germany, it is the most prescribed medicine for Alzheimer's patients. Ginkgo seems to be beneficial in all types of dementia, increasing alertness and memory. Due to its positive influence on mood, it can also alleviate the depression associated with Alzheimer's and increase sociability. It appears that for people who are just starting to experience a decline of mental functions, ginkgo may delay further deterioration, allowing these patients to maintain a normal lifestyle for many more years. For people in more advanced stages of Alzheimer's, ginkgo is still capable of bringing improvement of mood and alertness.

Many of the positive effects of ginkgo are due to its flavonoids, which strengthen capillaries and allow more blood to reach the brain. The other active ingredients, the terpene lactones, inhibit platelet aggregation and the formation of blood clots, preventing strokes. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, which increase peripheral blood flow at the expense of cerebral blood flow, ginkgo achieves increased peripheral and cerebral blood flow all at the same time.

Ginkgo also has a major effect on the sympathetic (involuntary) nervous system, which includes brain cell functioning. It seems to be able to reactivate the cerebral cortex, preventing memory loss and increasing alertness. This effect was also observed in healthy individuals, who improved significantly on a memory test after taking six hundred milligrams of ginkgo.

As a powerful antioxidant, ginkgo protects the blood vessels, heart, brain and myelin sheath (the protective cover of nerves) from the destructive activity of free radicals. The protection of the myelin sheath has led to the successful use of ginkgo in multiple sclerosis.

Ginkgo also stimulates the synthesis of several neurotransmitters, among them dopamine, which carries messages from the brain to muscles, organs, glands and other body structures. Ginkgo also activates the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are involved in the proper functioning of the major networks of the body, involving every important function of the organism.

Due to increased circulation, common conditions of the inner ear improve as well. In one study, ginkgo was taken by patients suffering from age-related hearing loss, vertigo (dizziness) and tinnitus (ringing of the ear). Most patients with tinnitus experienced significant improvement within twenty days, and the vertigo disappeared completely. Forty percent also experienced improved hearing. If there was recent deafness from head injury or noise damage, good results were achieved in sixty percent of the patients and ringing of the ear improved in seventy-four percent of the patients, even in severe cases.

Ginkgo has also been studied for its effect on vision. The studies showed that the herb increases blood flow to the retina and prevents or improves macular degeneration.

In studies of migraine headache sufferers, significant improvement or complete remission was seen in eighty percent of the cases.

Because of its terpenes, ginkgo is also helpful for allergies. The terpenes, which are unique to ginkgo, prevent platelet aggregation by inhibiting the platelet activating factor (PAF), a factor that is also involved in asthma and inflammation. Studies have shown that ginkgo can prevent allergic flare-ups. A double-blind study of asthma patients showed that after three days of taking 120 milligrams of ginkgo extract, the subjects were able to withstand an allergic challenge with no side-effects. Another study showed that due to the PAF antagonists in ginkgo, asthma patients experienced decreased broncho-constriction, fewer hospitalizations and decreased need for cortisone.

Ginkgo has also achieved positive results in cases of impotence. Sixty patients took sixty milligrams of ginkgo for twelve to eighteen months, with fifty percent experiencing reversal of the condition and forty-five percent experiencing some improvement.

Further double-blind studies showed the following results for patients treated with ginkgo versus a placebo group: improvement of peripheral pain: sixty-six vs. thirteen percent; intermittent claudication (painful legs due to poor circulation): sixty-four versus nineteen percent; warmth to lower limbs: sixty-four versus nineteen percent; badly healing ulcerous lesions: one hundred versus zero percent; painful attacks of Raynaud's disease: thirty-three versus zero percent.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Ginseng has been used in China for over four thousand years. Today, the world's largest ginseng production farm is in British Columbia, Canada, with about ninety percent of the crop going to Asian buyers. In China, ginseng is considered a “superior” medicine, meaning that it does not target a single condition but balances the whole system and activates Qi, the life force and foundation of health. In the West we are just discovering “adaptogens,” broadly balancing remedies, that help the body adjust to often opposing challenges. German scientist C.A. Meyer, who named the herb in 1842, hinted at its broad application by naming it panax, the Greek word for cure-all (panacea).

Studying ginseng is somewhat confusing because there are so many different types, including the Siberian ginseng, which is not a true ginseng.

There are three different kinds of ginseng: Asian white ginseng (Chinese and Korean), red ginseng (mostly Korean but also used as the standard in Japan) and Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng). The names red and white ginseng do not describe different subspecies but refer to different preparation methods: For white ginseng, the root is peeled and then dried. For red ginseng, the root is not peeled but treated with scalding steam for one and a half to four hours and then dried.

In traditional Chinese medicine, red ginseng is considered the hottest, that is, most stimulating of the ginsengs. It is used for people over forty years old, whose hormonal systems are slowing down and who may need some fire to restore balance. It is also used in revitalizing and even reviving patients. The Pharmacopeia of the People's Republic of China gives the following indications: “Prostration with impending collapse, marked by cold limbs and faint pulse, to benefit the spleen and the lung, to preserve the production of body fluid and to calm the nerves.” Other medical uses are for mental exhaustion, impotence, asthma, immune function in cancer, and for digestive disturbances to support the whole system, especially in the elderly.

White ginseng is thought to be cool and is used for younger people whose system may need an extra boost. It is also given to very weak people to strengthen them enough for treatment with stronger medication.

American ginseng is the coolest of the three, even considered cold. It is prized in China because it has a more cooling and therefore a more balancing effect than white ginseng, which is still mildly stimulating in comparison. American ginseng has the ability to cool down an overheated system, restoring its balance. (Heated means that the adrenals and thyroid are working too hard). At the same time, it strengthens the adrenals and the digestive system to impart vitality. Herbalist Christopher Hobbs thinks that American ginseng is ideally suited for the overheated systems of Americans, who live a fast-paced, stressful life, and habitually ingest stimulants such as coffee, cola and white sugar.

Finally, there is Siberian ginseng or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus). This is not a true ginseng species, but comes from the same general family (Araliaceae). Twenty years of concentrated research have shown Siberian ginseng to have amazing adaptogenic properties, meaning that it normalizes the body and helps it adapt to challenges. It is very effective for strenuous sports activities and physical or mental crises. It also helps people in general who are run-down and depleted.

Scientific research of panax ginseng has shown a number of effective applications:

A three-year study conducted at the University of Munich showed that ingestion of a standardized extract (four percent ginsenosides) had a positive effect on the performance of athletes. A later study by the same researchers showed that athletes training ten hours a week and taking ginseng extract two times daily increased their oxygen absorption as compared to a placebo group. The ginseng group also recovered faster and had less serum lactate, which is an indicator of muscle fatigue. A 1991 double-blind, crossover study with male sports teachers showed that the ginseng group had lower oxygen consumption, lower carbon dioxide production and lower lactate levels, indicating that they were expending less energy to achieve the same results as the placebo group. Other studies show enhanced mental performance in attention, mental processing, reaction time and visual/motor coordination.

Ginseng has been used medicinally by the Chinese for thousands of years. They thought it so valuable for helping a great variety of complaints that it was given the botanical name “Panax,” which means “all healing” and is related to the word panacea.

PDF Table of Herbal Preparations



Taking Care of the Body’s Supercomputer

Taking Care of the Body’s Supercomputer

Suzanne MethotSuzanne Methot