For centuries, cultures around the world have relied on traditional herbal medicine to meet their health needs. Despite the medical and technological advances of modern times, the global demand for herbal remedies is growing. The industry is estimated to generate about $60 billion annually. Some natural remedies can be more affordable and accessible than conventional drugs, and many people prefer to use them because they align with their personal health ideologies . Still, you may wonder if herbal options are effective.
Here are 9 of the world's most popular herbal medicines, including their main benefits, uses, and important safety information.
Echinacea, or echinacea, is a flowering plant and a popular herbal remedy. Native to North America, it has long been used in Native American practices to treat a variety of ailments, including wounds, burns, toothaches, sore throats and upset stomachs. Most parts of the plant, including the leaves, petals, and roots, can be used medicinally - although many people believe the roots have the strongest effects. Echinacea is usually taken as a tea or supplement, but can also be applied topically. These days, it's mainly used to treat or prevent colds, though the science behind this isn't particularly strong. One review of over 4,000 people found a potential 10-20% reduction in the risk of colds from taking echinacea, but there is little evidence that it cures the cold once it is caught. Although there is insufficient data to assess the long-term effects of this herb, its short-term use is generally considered safe. However, side effects such as nausea, abdominal pain and rash are occasionally reported. Echinacea can be found in most supermarkets and health food stores, although it can also be purchased online.
Ginseng is a medicinal plant whose roots are usually steeped to make tea or dried to make powder.
It is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation and increase immunity, brain function and energy levels. There are several varieties, but the most popular are the two Asian and American types - Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius. American ginseng is believed to cultivate relaxation, while Asian ginseng is considered more stimulating.
Although ginseng has been used for centuries, there is a lack of modern research to support its effectiveness. Several studies in test tubes and animals suggest that its unique compounds, called ginsenosides, have neuroprotective, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and immunosuppressive properties. Nevertheless, human studies are needed. Short-term use is considered relatively safe, but the long-term safety of ginseng remains unclear. Potential side effects include headaches, poor sleep and digestive problems. Ginseng is available in most health food stores as well as online.
3 - Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba, also known simply as ginkgo biloba, is an herbal medicine derived from the panna tree. Native to China, ginkgo has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is still a best-selling herbal supplement today. It contains many powerful antioxidants that are believed to provide several benefits. The seeds and leaves are traditionally used to make teas and tinctures, but most modern uses use the leaf extract. Some people also like to eat the raw fruit and toast. However, the seeds are slightly toxic and should only be eaten in small amounts, if at all. Ginkgo is said to treat many ailments, including heart disease, dementia, mental difficulties and sexual dysfunction. However, studies have not shown it to be effective in treating any of these conditions. Although it is well tolerated by most people, possible side effects include headaches, heart palpitations, digestive problems, skin reactions and an increased risk of bleeding. You can shop for ginkgo online or in supplement stores.
Elderberry is an ancient herbal medicine typically made from the cooked fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant. It has long been used to relieve headaches, nerve pain, toothaches, colds, viral infections and constipation (10).
It is now marketed primarily as a treatment for symptoms associated with the flu and cold. Elderberry is available in syrup or lozenge form, although there is no standard dosage. Some people prefer to make their own syrup or tea by boiling elderberries with other ingredients such as honey and ginger. Test tube studies show that its plant compounds have antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral properties, but human studies are lacking. While several small human studies show a reduction in the duration of flu infections, larger studies are needed to determine if it is more effective than conventional antiviral therapies. Short-term use is considered safe, but unripe or raw fruit is toxic and can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Keep an eye out for this herbal remedy when you're next at the health store, or buy it online.
5. St. John's wort
St. John's wort (SJW) is an herbal medicine derived from the flowering plant Hypericum perforatum. Its small, yellow flowers are commonly used to make teas, capsules or extracts. Its use dates back to ancient Greece, and SJW is still frequently prescribed by doctors in parts of Europe. Historically, it was used to promote wound healing and alleviate insomnia, depression, and various kidney and lung diseases. Today, it is largely prescribed to treat mild to moderate depression. Many studies conclude that short-term SJW use is as effective as some conventional antidepressants. However, there are few data on long-term safety or efficacy for people with severe depression or suicidal thoughts. SJW has relatively few side effects, but can cause allergic reactions, dizziness, confusion, dry mouth, and increased sensitivity to light. It also interferes with many medications, including antidepressants, birth control, blood thinners, some painkillers, and some cancer treatments. Individual drug interactions can be deadly, so if you are taking any prescription drugs, consult your doctor before using SJW. If you decide to try it, SJW is available online and in many stores.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an herb that belongs to the ginger family. Used for thousands of years in both cooking and medicine, it has recently attracted attention for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is the main active compound in turmeric. It can treat many conditions, including chronic inflammation, pain, metabolic syndrome, and anxiety. In particular, numerous studies show that supplemental doses of curcumin are as effective at relieving arthritis pain as some common anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. Both turmeric and curcumin supplements are generally considered safe, but very high doses can lead to diarrhea, headaches or skin irritation. You can also use fresh or dried turmeric in dishes such as curries, although the amount you typically consume in food is unlikely to have a significant healing effect. Instead, consider purchasing supplements online.
Ginger is a commonly used ingredient and herbal medicine. It can be consumed fresh or dried, although its main medicinal forms are tea or capsule. Like turmeric, ginger is a rhizome or stem that grows underground. It contains many beneficial compounds and has long been used in traditional and folk practices to treat colds, nausea, migraines and high blood pressure. Its best-established modern use is to relieve nausea associated with pregnancy, chemotherapy and medical surgery. In addition, test-tube and animal studies reveal potential benefits in treating and preventing diseases such as heart disease and cancer, although the evidence is mixed. Some small human studies suggest that this root may reduce the risk of blood clot formation, although it has not been proven to be more effective than conventional therapies. Ginger is very well tolerated. Negative side effects are rare, but large doses can cause a mild case of heartburn or diarrhea.
You can find ginger supplements at your local supermarket and online.
Sometimes called "nature's valium," valerian is a flowering plant whose roots are thought to induce calmness and a sense of peace. Valerian root can be dried and consumed in capsule form or steeped to make tea.
Its use dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was used to relieve anxiety, tremors, headaches and heart palpitations. Today, it is most commonly used to treat insomnia and anxiety. However, the evidence supporting these uses is not particularly strong. One review found valerian to be somewhat effective in inducing sleep, but many of the study results were based on subjective reports from participants. Valerian is relatively safe, although it can cause mild side effects such as headaches and digestive problems. It should not be taken if you are taking other sedatives due to the risk of side effects such as excessive fatigue and drowsiness. Look for this herb online as well as in various health food stores.
9 - Chamomile
Chamomile is a flowering plant that is also one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world. The flowers are most commonly used to make tea, but the leaves can also be dried and used to make tea, medicinal extracts or topical poultices. Chamomile has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for nausea, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, urinary tract infections, wounds and upper respiratory infections. This herb contains over 100 active compounds, many of which are believed to contribute to its many benefits. Several test tube and animal studies have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant effects, although insufficient human studies are available. However, several small human studies suggest that chamomile treats diarrhea, emotional disturbances, and cramps associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. Chamomile is safe for most people, but can cause an allergic reaction - especially if you are allergic to similar plants such as daisies, ragweed, or calendula. It can be found in most grocery stores or ordered online.
If you're considering taking herbal supplements, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure proper dosage, understand potential side effects, and watch out for reactions with other medications.
Another important factor to consider is that herbal medicines are not strictly regulated like other drugs.
In some countries, such as the United States, herbal manufacturers do not have to provide proof of efficacy or purity before marketing their products. As a result, some supplements may incorrectly list ingredients or even contain compounds not listed on the label.
Therefore, opt for brands that have been tested for quality by other organizations, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia or NSF International.
Many people around the world rely on herbal medicines to treat illnesses. There are countless varieties, but some of the most popular are ginkgo, ginseng, ginger, turmeric, and chamomile. While their claims tend to be very broad, many of their purported benefits lack strong scientific evidence. Keep in mind that, as with conventional medicines, herbal remedies can interact negatively with other drugs. Therefore, it is recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider before adding a new herb or supplement to your routine.