Nature has highly potent remedies for most of the ills that plague us, and modern science is busy exploring herbal remedies for all kinds of diseases, testing them on animals and humans. Not surprisingly, those that come out with flying colors after experimental studies are rediscoveries of the healing herbs that were very much part of our ancient traditions.
Herbs are increasing in popularity and even being married with conventional treatments as their value becomes more understood and respected. Although one must be careful in their use of medicinal plants, there are some herbal treatments that are very useful to have at home, as part of a living medicine cabinet. Here are eight to consider.
1. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Commonly called “pot marigold,” Calendula officinalis has been used as an excellent remedy for various bacterial and fungal infections of the skin, as well as a healing salve for minor cuts and scrapes. The petals used to be plucked straight off the flowers to apply directly to wounds to stop bleeding and to accelerate healing. Calendula oil can be used to treat wounds and sores. It is widely used in homeopathic skin ointments and in creams to treat acne and diaper rash. A tea of calendula blooms is often used as a detoxifying liver tonic. The bright orange-yellow flowers are edible, too. Just sprinkle a few petals to garnish salads and rice dishes. They can be dried for storage as well. Many flowers in the genus Tagetes also go by the name marigold, so if you’re growing pot marigold for medicinal purposes, make sure you have the right plant.
2. Cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos)
If you suffer from urinary tract infections, cranberries are a good option to promote urinary tract health. Researchers once thought that the little red berries help to make the urine more acidic which creates an environment that is unwelcoming to bacteria that cause infection. However, this thinking has shifted and it is now thought that cranberries contain a substance that does not allow bacteria to adhere to urinary tract walls. It may be the rich antioxidants in the berries that accomplish this or the fact that they create a slippery coating on the urinary tract walls.
Urinary tract infections are painful and happen most frequently in women. Regular consumption of pure cranberry juice is a great idea to promote urinary tract health. For your medicine cabinet consider keeping some cranberry extract on hand, especially if you are prone to infection.
3. Garlic (Allium sativum)
The pungent bulb of Allium sativum is vital for cardiovascular health; it reduces cholesterol, promotes blood circulation, and prevents clots by thinning the blood. It acts as a detoxifier, removing heavy metals like lead from our body, even reducing their absorption from the gut. It also has anti-cancer properties against cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, bladder and prostate gland. Eating one or two garlic cloves a day may bestow all these health benefits. Garlic extract in capsule form can be used if bad breath resulting from the ingestion of fresh garlic cloves bothers you too much. While it is as effective in promoting heart health, the anti-cancer effect may be lost during processing.
4. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is the rhizome of Zingiber officinale, a tropical herb that can be grown in pots in temperate regions, too. Its strong medicinal value has been known since ancient times and it can be used either fresh or dried. Even though they differ slightly in taste and smell, their medicinal properties of fresh and dry ginger are more or less the same. Ginger tea settles the stomach when you have nausea or vomiting. It’s the best companion of people who suffer from motion sickness. Pregnant women with morning sickness can safely use ginger to get immediate relief. Just biting on a small piece of ginger every now and then may be enough to conquer the feeling of nausea. A teaspoon of fresh ginger extract mixed with equal amount of raw honey can take the edge off of a sore throat quite well.
5. Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
The manifold health benefits of drinking green tea nearly make it a panacea of all ills. Green tea is brewed from the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis bush. Unlike black tea, the leaves are not subjected to any fermentation process before they are dried. After brewing the tea in hot water, the tea leaves are filtered out, except in the case of finely powdered tea called Japanese Matcha tea. Lowering of cholesterol and slight weight reduction are the immediate, tangible effects of drinking 2 to 3 cups of tea daily.
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The anti-cancer property of green tea and anti-aging benefits of regular tea consumption are the focus of many studies now. High concentration antioxidant polyphenols, carotenoids and other potent phytochemicals are responsible for the beneficial effects of tea. The caffeine content of tea is less than half of that in coffee. Tea has a unique amino acid called L-Theanine which relaxes the brain while increasing alertness at the same time.
6. Lavender (Lavendula agustifolia)
Every medicine chest should have a stock of these tiny fragrant blooms, as should every garden that can grow them. Lavender tea can relieve headaches and when taken at bedtime, is relaxing and ensures uninterrupted, restful sleep. The essential oil of lavender acts as a mood enhancer and helps relieve anxiety and depression. Diluted with water, it makes a refreshing face wash. It is effective in soothing burns and insect bites. Lavender honey can accelerate wound healing. Dried flowers are widely used in sachets and potpourris for their refreshing perfume. These edible flowers can add a bit of color and flavor to cakes and cookies as well.
7. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
This pleasant-tasting member of the mint family is much more than a mouth freshener. It is traditionally used for making herbal tea but peppermint tea can relieve abdominal discomfort and bloating due to indigestion. Do not consume more than two cups of this potent brew though, as it can cause heartburn. People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) benefit from taking peppermint oil in capsule form to avoid irritating the upper gastrointestinal tract. Topical application of peppermint oil is effective in relieving muscle soreness. If you grow this herb in the garden, chewing a few leaves after a heavy meal will not only refresh your breath but will do your stomach some good, too. The dried leaves can be stored for up to six months.
8. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is another easy-to-grow, aromatic herb that should have a place in every medicine cabinet. It shows promise as a protective measure against seasonal colds and flu and the fresh leaves or dried bunches can be used to prepare a tea to relieve stomach problems like indigestion and bacterial infections. Essential oils in the herb, such as thymol, act against many of the common stomach bugs like E.coli, Staphylococcus and Shigella. Tannins in the brew make it a quick remedy for diarrhea, especially in children. The anti-fungal properties of thyme oil also seem to be s useful remedy for vaginal yeast infections. Thyme oil is an active ingredient in mouth washes like Listerine.
Having these eight herbs in your home will prepare you for whatever ails your family.