Long before drug stores popped up on every corner with their vast arrays of over-the-counter and prescription medications, people were using plants as medicine. While science and medicine have made many advances, for some ailments, it is nice to get back to nature and use simple ingredients. There are many plants widely available today known to benefit your health. Some of them may currently be growing right in your garden. Check out this list of medicinal plants that you can use to improve your health. Keep in mind that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” As with any substance that has medicinal properties, side effects and drug interactions are possible.
Your feline friend isn’t the only one who can benefit from the medicinal properties of this herb. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family and is often included in teas because of its soothing, calming effect on humans. Try blending your own herbal brew at home and sip it to relieve stress. Catnip may also relieve coughs, aid in digestion, and treat skin conditions. Check with your doctor if you have kidney or liver disease, as catnip can be dangerous with these conditions. Pregnant women should not use catnip.
Chamomile is a daisy-like member of the Asteraceae family. The flowers of this plant can be dried and brewed into tea. A soothing cup of chamomile tea may be the perfect way to relax at bedtime. Other possible benefits of chamomile tea may be improved digestion, better blood sugar control, improved heart health, and increased immunity. Brew up a calming mug of chamomile tea with chamomile flowers, boiling water, and a dash of honey. Individuals with a ragweed allergy may be allergic to chamomile.
11. Cayenne Pepper
This hot chili pepper is a member of the Capsicum family. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper has medical uses in addition to giving your favorite spicy dishes an extra kick. Capsaicin is used in ointment or cream preparations to treat the pain of arthritis. While not all researchers agree, some studies suggest that eating foods with cayenne pepper helps burn fat and suppress appetite. Some people find relief from the congestion of coughs and cold by ingesting cayenne pepper, either mixed with honey and water or added to their tea.
Those bright yellow flowers that delight children and frustrate landscapers are more than just weeds to be eradicated from your yard. The dandelion is another member of the Asteraceae family. These plants are actually highly nutritious. A dandelion salad made of the greens contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and a soluble fiber called inulin. Inulin helps maintain a healthy digestive system. Dandelion root can be eaten as well. It is thought that dandelion may have anti-inflammatory properties, may help to control blood sugar levels, and may reduce cholesterol. Caution: those with a ragweed allergy may be allergic to dandelion as well.
Yet another member of the Asteraceae family is echinacea. Echinacea, also called the American coneflower, was used by Native Americans, who called it “elk root.” They began using it as a medicine when they noticed that elk would eat this root when they were ill or injured. Native Americans used it to treat general illnesses. Today, many people use echinacea to treat or prevent symptoms of the common cold. There are many echinacea products available on the market as herbal remedies. Other unsubstantiated uses for echinacea include indigestion, chronic fatigue, gum disease, pain, and inflammation.Related: 9 Powerful Herbs to Kill Infections
This flavorful relative of the onion has been used as a medicine for centuries. Garlic had its place in both medicine and cooking in ancient Egypt. The ancient Greeks used garlic for many purposes, including treating respiratory illnesses, indigestion, and fatigue. Additionally, athletes used garlic as a performance enhancer in ancient times. Today, people use garlic for certain cardiac conditions, the prevention of certain types of cancer, and to prevent osteoarthritis. Some swear by a soothing bowl of garlic soup to ward off symptoms of the common cold.
The spicy, pungent ginger root is popular in cooking and is also good for your health. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in ginger include gingerols, beta carotene, capsaicin, and curcumin. Phenols in ginger aid with digestion. It seems to relieve nausea, decrease inflammation, and make a deliciously warming addition to tea when suffering from colds. Some claim that ginger reduces muscle pain. It is possible that ginger can decrease cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and help regulate blood sugar levels. You can brew up a cup of delicious ginger tea by adding fresh ginger to a cup of boiling water.
The beautifully-scented lavender plant is an herb that is a common ingredient in beauty products and shampoos. Lavender essential oil is a popular component of aromatherapy, providing relaxation and relief from anxiety. Lavender is associated with a restful night’s sleep, and a sachet of dried lavender under your pillow may help you drift off to sleep. This herb may be effective in treating fungal infections, wounds, and anxiety disorders. Consult your doctor if you are taking sleeping pills or certain blood pressure medications, as lavender may interact with them.
The leaves of the peppermint herb, either dried or fresh, frequently add flavor in cooking and in brewing teas. The dried flowers are used as a flavoring for foods, as is the essential oil of the plant. Peppermint may aid in digestion, ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and calm skin irritations. People use peppermint to treat headaches, nausea, and vomiting. When peppermint essential oil is used internally or on the skin, you must dilute it in a carrier oil. Peppermint does interact with many prescription and over-the-counter medicines, so consult your doctor before using this natural medicine.
Historically, people have used Salvia plants, known as sage, to treat many ailments. Recent studies have shown that sage may have a place in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Sage may improve memory and learning in patients in the early stages of this crippling condition. Other possible medical uses of sage are for improving mental performance, healing cold sores, and treating high cholesterol. There are several groups of patients who should not take sage. They include pregnant women, diabetics, and surgical patients. People with blood pressure disorders, hormone-sensitive disorders, or seizures may need to avoid this plant as well. Check with your doctor to see if sage is safe for you.
The nutrient-rich leaves of this bright green vegetable are packed with protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, and iron. Swallowing your medicine can be as easy as consuming a tasty, leafy green bowl of this superfood. The antioxidants in spinach appear to help with diabetes management by lowering blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, eating spinach may prevent cancer, lower your blood pressure, and increase bone density. The fiber and water content promote good digestive health, and vitamin A promotes healthy skin and hair. Patients on diabetes medications and those taking blood thinners should check with their physicians, as interactions can occur.
2. Tea Tree Oil
The Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia is the source of the tea tree essential oil so popular today. This oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties that make it attractive for treating certain topical infections. People have used tea tree oil to treat acne, athlete’s foot, and nail fungus. Additionally, tea tree oil appears to repel lice and kill their nits. Mix tea tree oil and lavender in a spray bottle of water to disinfect hats and scarves in order to prevent lice. Tea tree oil can cause skin irritation and an allergic reaction in some people. Never take this oil by mouth, as it is poisonous when swallowed.
The Mediterranean herb thyme appears to have antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal potential. The leaves, flowers, and essential oil have all been used as medicines. Historically, thyme was used for embalming, to prevent plague, and to prevent poisoning. Thymol, an ingredient found in thyme, is used today in antiseptic agents. Thyme may be beneficial for acne, skin problems, and yeast infections. Additionally, it may also act as a natural preservative for foods. Since thyme may slow blood clotting, those on blood thinners or with bleeding disorders should consult their physicians.Related: 6 Herbs That Help Keep The Thyroid In Tip-Top Shape