Discover healing herbs and plants from around the world
Interested in herbal medicine but don’t know where to start? These seven plants have been used for generations and are loved by many for their extraordinary health-promoting properties.
Making the most of the beloved but fleeting summer season is vital. In addition to outdoor escapades, why not harness the adventurous spirit of the summer by getting acquainted with exotic herbs and healing botanicals? These seven supplements have been used for generations, are loved by many, and possess health-promoting properties.
Famous for giving curry its signature golden hue, turmeric is a plant related to ginger that is often used in cooking.
Scientific studies have shown curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant that may help reduce inflammation and prevent cancer. Researchers are also investigating its potential to treat osteoarthritis and digestive upsets.
In addition to being available as a spice for recipes, turmeric is most commonly available in capsules from health food stores.
Turmeric has traditionally been used to dye textiles. Many people still use it today to dye fabrics or Easter eggs naturally.
This one’s not a herb; spirulina is a type of blue-green algae.
Often described as a superfood, spirulina certainly contains more than its fair share of nutrients—vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and even protein. Perhaps surprisingly, it is made up of more than 62 percent amino acids. Although more research needs to be done, researchers also think spirulina may help boost the immune system and protect the liver.
Commonly found in pill or powder form at health food stores, spirulina should be purchased from a high quality company, as it has the potential to be contaminated with toxins.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization saw so much potential in spirulina that it published a 2008 paper documenting spirulina’s ability to be an important food for people—and livestock—of the future, especially during humanitarian emergencies.
This root is a member of the buttercup family native to North America.
With many studies documenting black cohosh’s effectiveness in the treatment of menopause and premenstrual symptoms, this herb has the reputation of being for women. However, preliminary research suggests that black cohosh’s uses may extend further. Although more research is needed, black cohosh may help with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as osteoporosis.
Black cohosh is available from natural health retailers in tinctures, capsules, and even a dried preparation that can be made into a tea. It’s important not to confuse it with blue cohosh.
Long before it was available at health food stores, First Nations people used black cohosh to help relieve menstrual and menopausal symptoms such as cramps and hot flashes.
Although famous for its use in recipes, oregano is actually a potent herb, and oil extracted from it has many therapeutic properties.
Oil of oregano has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and potential cancer-preventive properties. Carvacrol, an active ingredient in the oil, is a strong antioxidant. Taken internally, oil of oregano is often used to treat respiratory disorders. It is applied to the skin to treat fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot.
Although also available in pill form, oil of oregano is typically found—and used—in tincture form.
Researchers believe that oil of oregano may help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Native to the eastern United States, saw palmetto is a small palm tree.
Saw palmetto is typically used to treat men’s health concerns—namely, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Also known as an enlarged prostate gland, BPH is a relatively common condition in older men that can cause uncomfortable urinary symptoms.
Saw palmetto is found in capsule form at many health food stores. Look for fat-soluble extracts that contain 85 to 95 percent active ingredients (fatty acids and sterols).
Saw palmetto was traditionally used medicinally by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
As its name suggests, milk thistle is a flowering herb. It has been used for millennia by people in the Mediterranean region.
Milk thistle is famous for its potential to help aid liver function—numerous studies suggest that it can help protect the liver from toxins and help the liver repair itself. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers are currently studying it in hopes of uncovering anticancer properties.
It is available as pills, as well as in liquid form. Some research suggests that milk thistle formulated with phosphatidylcholine (a substance found in eggs, sunflowers, and other foods) may help boost milk thistle’s absorption.
Milk thistle is sometimes called silymarin, which refers to a mixture of milk thistle’s active components.
Chlorophyll isn’t technically a plant. Rather, it is the pigment that gives plants their green colour and helps them carry out photosynthesis.
This plant pigment powerhouse boasts potential antioxidant and anticancer effects. Since the 1940s, it has also been used for wound healing and as an internal deodorant.
In supplement form, chlorophyllin—a derivative of chlorophyll—is generally used because it is more stable and less expensive than chlorophyll. Green algae such as chlorella are also available at health food stores as sources of supplemental chlorophyll.
Researchers use chlorophyll maps to study the ocean’s health, as chlorophyll allows scientists to track the amount and location of phytoplankton.
While the term “herbs” may conjure up thoughts of seasonings and salad dressings, herbs are much more diverse—and powerful—than that. Herbal medicine has been practised for millennia in different countries and cultures. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian societies practised herbal medicine, and even today it is estimated that 80 percent of the population use herbs in their health care.
In herbal medicine, herbs can be used in forms such as capsules, teas, tinctures, or topical preparations. To learn more about using herbs medicinally, consult a naturopath or licensed herbalist. People in these professions are trained in the art and science of using herbs for their health-promoting properties, as well as their possible interactions and contraindications. In addition, always check with your regular health care practitioner before taking a new supplement, including a herbal product.