Saturday, July 19, 2008

20 Best Herbs to Heal Everyday Ailments and Chronic Diseases

Today, many people looking for alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter drugs are turning to herbs for relief from everyday ailments and chronic diseases. But, with so many herbs to choose from, how can one be sure which are the most useful and effective? For our Fifth Anniversary issue, Veggie Life clears up some of the confusion by gathering the most effective, well-researched herbs we've covered since our debut. There's a brief synopsis of each herb, including when and how to use them and recommended dosage for optimal healing power.

(Aloe vera)

Aloe vera's soothing and healing properties make it a common remedy for rashes and burns. The gel in the leaves is applied directly to burned skin to disinfect and accelerate the healing process. Known for its hydrating properties, aloe moisturizes the skin without the use of oils. This makes aloe a great remedy for stopping the peeling after a sunburn. Simply slice open a fresh leaf from the plant or buy the pure gel or extract from a natural food store. You can also store a leaf in the freezer to provide immediate relief for painful kitchen burns.

(Capsicum frutescens and Capsicum annum)

For centuries, man has sought effective medicinal plants for the treatment of various types of arthritis. Capsicum (cayenne pepper, or chile pepper, also referred to merely as red pepper) offers relief. Applied externally, over-the-counter creams and ointments containing the active capsaicin extract are often effective in relieving the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

To use commercial creams containing capsaicin, apply externally four or five times daily for a period of at least four weeks. Creams containing 0.025 or 0.075 percent capsaicin are effective in the treatment of pain.

(Matricaria chamomilla)

Chamomile is renowned for its medicinal and household uses. The apparently endless list of conditions it can help all fall into areas that its relaxing, carminative, and anti-inflammatory actions can aid. It's an excellent gentle sedative, useful and safe for use with children. Anxiety, insomnia, indigestion, and inflammations (such as gastritis) are often eased with chamomile. Take four to eight grams (two to four teaspoons) of the flower heads made into a tea in one cup of boiling water, or the equivalent in the extract form, three times a day or more.

Used externally, chamomile can be used to treat skin inflammations, sunburn, hemorrhoids, insect bites, and eczema. As a mouthwash, it helps alleviate mouth inflammations and toothaches. As a beauty aid, chamomile has various uses: Rinsing the face weekly with chamomile tea helps keep the skin smooth, especially in bad weather. For added luster, chamomile adds highlights and gloss to fair hair. To condition and soften hair, boil chamomile flowers for 20 minutes and use the cooled tea as a hair rinse.

(Echinacea angustifolia) or (Echinacea purpurea)

Also known as the purple coneflower, the herb echinacea has been used traditionally for a variety of conditions ranging from wounds and infections, to colds and sore throats. Recently, modern science has confirmed in the laboratory and in clinical studies that these herbs do indeed have immune boosting effects. Echinacea's phytochemical compounds stimulate white blood cells and lymphocytes to attack infected areas and destroy the invading organisms. Because of the extensive research echinacea has received in recent years, herbalists can safely and confidently recommend taking echinacea at the early stages of a cold or flu virus.

A decoction of echinacea can be prepared by adding one to two teaspoons of the dried root to one cup of water and bring it slowly to a boil. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. This decoction should be taken three times a day. Tinctures of echinacea, one gram tablets, or herbal combination formulas containing echinacea along with other traditional herbs (hyssop, peppermint, and thyme) can also be effective cold remedies. Look for these preparations at your local natural food store.

(Ephedra spp.)

Ma huang, the classical Chinese name for ephedra, has been used by Chinese healers for thousands of years to treat asthma, colds, congestion, and coughs. This is due to the plants active chemical ephedrine-an effective nasal decongestant also used for relief of constriction and congestion associated with bronchial asthma.

Caution should be exercised when using Ephedra medicinally, especially among those with any kind of heart ailment. Ephedrine can raise blood pressure, and cause palpitations, nervousness, insomnia, headaches, and/or dizziness. The recommended dose is 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried herb steeped in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drink the tea three times a day to relieve congestion.

(Oenothera biennis L.)

Evening primrose oil is used for treating PMS. The seed oil of evening primrose is high in the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Over 120 studies in 15 countries have reported on potential use of evening primrose oil for easing imbalances and abnormalities of essential fatty acids, especially during PMS. Dose of evening primrose oil is in the range of three to six capsules a day taken with meals when used as a GLA supplement. Caution: about two percent of those who take evening primrose oil may experience stomach discomfort, nausea, or headache.

(Tanacetum parthenium)

This remarkable herb has been used throughout history for the treatment of headache, stomach ache, menstrual cramps, and for ailments normally treated with aspirin. Eating two or three leaves daily of this aromatic herb for long periods was found to reduce the pain and frequency of migraines.

However, feverfew will not stop your migraine in progress, but, with prolonged use, may prevent further ones from occurring. It has also shown promise in easing the pain caused by chronic inflammation such as arthritis.

This perennial herb can be consumed in extract, tea, or capsule. One problem with capsules is they might not contain the said amount of feverfew. Dr. Varro Tyler, author of The Honest Herbal (The Haworth Press, 1993) recommends taking up to six 300 to 400 mg tablets daily. He says taking this much feverfew is perfectly safe.

(Zingiber officinale)

The feeling of nausea is a symptom that can accompany a wide range of organic or metabolic disorders and emotional trauma. Ginger is used for all types of nausea, including morning sickness and motion sickness. It has a warming effect and is supportive to the digestion while stimulating circulation.

Ginger has a protective effect on the stomach and liver as well, and is the best spice to use for people with liver and digestive problems. It is taken as a powder in capsules for alleviating nausea (2 capsules 3 times daily), as a tea by simmering dried or fresh ginger slices, or as a tincture (2 droppersful 2 to 3 times daily).

(Ginkgo biloba)

Ginkgo has received a lot of attention lately. This phytomedicine is derived from the leaves of an ancient tree, Ginkgo biloba. Many clinical studies have shown the benefits of ginkgo leaf extract on improving circulation to the smaller blood vessels in the brain and extremities. Studies suggest ginkgo leaf extract improves short-term memory, increases concentration, quickens information recall, and enhances alertness.

Ginkgo may also be effective in treating medical conditions common to older people, many of which relate to poor blood flow to the brain. German studies indicate effectiveness in the treatment of Alzheimer's-related memory loss; in fact, ginkgo may actually slow the progression of the disease.

Administration of ginkgo leaf extracts for several weeks or months has been found to be useful in improving circulation in the management of memory-impairing conditions. The flavonoids in the leaf are also powerful free radical scavengers. Ginkgo comes in tablets, capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures, and extracts. Dosage of standardized ginkgo leaf extracts falls in the range of 120 to 240 mg daily, divided into two or three doses. Consult with your doctor before using ginkgo for cardiovascular disease.

(Hyssopus officinalis)

Many cultures have used hyssop for coughs and congestion. Hyssop is valued for its ability to loosen phlegm in the lungs and throat and is especially good for children's sore throats. Hyssop also helps with fevers. Research confirms that hyssop's volatile oil does relieve mild respiratory problems caused by colds.

Make a tea from fresh hyssop leaves and flowering tops by steeping a heaping teaspoon (or one teaspoon dried) in one cup of boiling water for twenty minutes. Drink the tea hot to relieve congestion, and cool for use as an expectorant. To increase the decongestant properties of hyssop, add a teaspoon of sage while steeping and sweeten with honey.

(Piper methysticum)

This exotic herb from the South Pacific is known for exerting a relaxing effect on the central nervous system. A member of the pepper family, kava kava has been used for over 3,000 years for its medicinal effects as a sedative, muscle relaxant, diuretic, and as a remedy for nervousness and insomnia. Several European countries have approved kava kava preparations in treating nervous conditions due to detailed pharmacological data and favorable clinical studies. Kava kava can be used in small doses as a mental stimulant, but at higher doses it will slow down mental awareness. Several clinical trials have shown a standardized kava kava extract to be effective in treating anxiety.

Dose is one to four grams of the rhizome, decocted in one cup of water, taken three times a day or equivalent preparations. A standardized extract providing 45 to 70 milligrams of kava lactones, taken three times a day, can be useful for anxiety conditions. For sedative effects, a dose providing 180 to 210 mg of kava lactones can be useful for treating insomnia when taken one hour before going to bed.

(Silybum marianum)

Throughout history milk thistle has been praised for its curative abilities. Researchers have learned that a compound called silymarin increases the ability of the liver cells to regenerate through a process known as protein synthesis. When the liver is congested, common symptoms that arise include soreness in the liver area, painful digestion, gas, constipation, a marked distaste for oily foods, as well as headaches and irritability.

Silymarin is not soluble in water, therefore milk thistle is not effective in the form of a tea. For preventive care, take 140 mg three times daily for 6 to 8 weeks, then the dose can be reduced to 280 mg per day for an indefinite period. Look for products that are standardized to 80 percent silymarin.

(Ganoderma lucidum and Lentinula edodes)

For thousands of years, mushrooms have been valued throughout the world as both food and medicine. Reishi is, without a doubt, one of the most famous medicinal mushrooms. In the last 20 years, reishi has been tested in human clinical studies and determined to be beneficial in treating a wide variety of disorders, including: neurasthenia, insomnia, and duodenal ulcers. Reishi has also shown favorable results in treating hepatitis, chronic bronchitis, coronary heart disease, allergies, cancer, and altitude sickness.

Reishi can be taken in liquid extract or powder form. The dose for a tincture is 10 ml three times a day or in 1g tablets three times a day.

Unlike reishi, shiitake is a prized mushroom with a delicious taste and texture. It is used medicinally for diseases involving depressed immune function-including cancer, AIDS, environmental allergies, candida (yeast) infections, and frequent colds and flu. Shiitake is also beneficial for soothing bronchial inflammation, regulating urine incontinence, and reducing chronic high cholesterol.

Although shiitake mushrooms are a common ingredient in Asian cooking, to get the amount you would need for medicinal doses you would have to eat 90 grams per day, which might cause stomach upset. Therefore, LEM, a polysaccharide-rich extract from shiitakes, which is concentrated and easily absorbed, is preferred as medicine. The best dose of LEM may be between 2 to 6 grams per day in two or three divided doses. Mushroom supplements can be found in natural food stores.

(Salvia officinalis)

Sage has long been hailed the herb of health. Sage is an antioxidant and antimicrobial whose volatile oil kills bacteria and fungi, even those resistant to penicillin. Sage also dries up phlegm and relieves coughs and throat infections. Sage has been used since the Middle Ages to cover those pesky strands of occasional gray.

Use sage in teas mixed with mint, chamomile, or other herbs to cut the strong flavor. For a tea, steep one and three quarters teaspoons of sage in one cup of water for 10 minutes. Drink three times a day, but do not use for longer than a week as sage can cause convulsions in very high doses. Sage tea can cause contractions of the uterus, so pregnant women should not use it in medicinal doses.

(Serenoa repens)

Studies have shown saw palmetto to be effective in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. Saw palmetto berries were used as a treatment for enlargement of the prostate until 1950, when physicians began to question their effectiveness and removed them as an official drug from The National Formulary. However, recent studies suggest that the herb's earlier use as a treatment for prostate enlargement does indeed have merit. A number of clinical trials conducted in Europe have demonstrated that standardized fat-soluble extracts of saw palmetto berry appear to be very beneficial in the management of symptoms associated with BPH. These standardized extracts seem to help increase urinary flow, reduce residual urine, ease the beginning of urination, and decrease the frequency of urination.

To achieve benefits from saw palmetto, men must use preparations containing fat-soluble saw palmetto berry extracts standardized to provide 85 to 95 percent fatty acids and phytosterols. The recommended effective dosage is 160 mg twice daily, providing a total of 320 mg of extract per day.

(Stevia rebaudiana)

Stevia is an economical natural sweetener with virtually no calories or aftertaste. Also called the "sweet herb of Paraguay," stevia is a perennial shrub of the aster family with incredibly sweet, small leaves. The leaves when dried and ground fine can be used as a natural sugar substitute. A teaspoon of dried stevia leaves is sweeter than a cup of sugar-without the calories. This sugar-free natural sweetener is especially helpful for people who are diabetic, prone to yeast infections, or trying to lose a few extra pounds. In South America, stevia leaves are sold as a blood sugar regulator for diabetes and hypoglycemia. It has also been touted as a bacteria inhibitor that helps fight tooth decay and gum disease.

Add stevia powder or liquid a pinch or drop at a time to tea, coffee, dairy products, or juices to sweeten to taste. Liquid or powdered stevia is sold in natural food stores as a dietary supplement.

(Hypericum perforatum)

St. John's wort is one of the most popular herbal remedies for mild to moderate depression. A report a few years ago in the British Medical Journal declared it equal to conventional antidepressives with significantly fewer side effects. In Europe it's used as an alternative to synthetic drugs, not only for depression, but also for sleep disturbances and nervous unrest. The Official German Federal Health Agency Commission E monograph for St. John's wort lists psycho-vegetative disturbances, depressive states, fear, and nervous disturbances as clinical indications for its use.

Dose is four to eight grams (two to four teaspoons of herb) made into a tea, with one cup of water, three times a day or its equivalent extract. This is an herb that achieves best results when used over a period of time (four to six weeks).

(Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian is one of the most useful relaxing nervines available to us. It may safely be used to reduce tension and anxiety, over-excitability, and hysterical states. It's an effective aid in treating insomnia, and producing a natural, healing sleep. One important study showed valerian extract significantly reduced the time it took to fall asleep, improved sleep quality, and reduced nighttime awakening in insomnia sufferers.

Dose is 2 to 8 grams of dried root made into a tea, with one cup of water, 3 times a day. For an effective mild sedative, 150 to 300 mg of a standardized valerian root extract may be taken in tablet form 30 minutes to an hour before retiring.

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