The Herbal Medicine Cabinet
No matter how careful we are, when it comes to illness and injury, it's virtually impossible to go through life unscathed. Modern medicine often has the solutions we need, but in non-emergency situations, you might be surprised as to what nature's pharmacy has to offer. Many turn to herbal medicine because it doesn't disrupt your body's own healing process and oftentimes goes directly to the root cause of an illness or injury, as opposed to just treating and/or masking the symptoms. Natural remedies also tend to have fewer side effects than many over-the-counter and prescription medications.
So stock up your herbal medicine cabinet with these top natural solutions for the next time you feel that cold coming on, or you're suffering the after-effects of an extra-vigorous workout!
Our Herbal Medicine Top Picks
Aloe Vera (Aloe vera):
The leaves of the aloe vera plant contain a gel with astringent properties that acts as a powerful wound healer. When applied topically, aloe vera gel makes blood vessels contract, helping to stop fluid discharge. At the same time, its anti-inflammatory properties in this popular herbal medicine help ease swelling and inflammation. Aloe also works to kill fungi, bacteria and viruses, while promoting cell regrowth and healing of the skin. Aloe vera is great for wounds of any type, but works especially well for burns, including sunburn.
Arnica (Arnica montana):
Arnica is a plant whose flowers and roots have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help decrease swelling. Widely available as a gel or cream, arnica works to increase circulation in the areas where it's applied and can be used topically to help bruises heal faster. Arnica also alleviates muscle pain and pain caused by injuries like strains or sprains. Arnica is not for use on broken skin.
Charcoal (Carbo vegetalis):
Created from the burning of organic matter, charcoal is a fine powder whose large surface area allows it to absorb toxins and gases in the digestive tract so they aren't absorbed by your body. Taken in capsule form or as a powder mixed in water, it can be a great help for eliminating toxins and poisons in the gut, as in cases of food poisoning. Charcoal can also help soothe heartburn and gas.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita):
When taken in a tea or tincture, chamomile flowers' sedative properties make it a good choice when you need to relax, or to help you fall asleep. Anti-inflammatory and a mild anti-bacterial, this versatile herbal medicine can also aid digestion and works wonders for an upset stomach. You can also use it topically, either in a bath or applied directly to the skin, to help with inflammation or skin problems.
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon):
Taken in capsule or tincture form or drunk as a juice (be sure to get sugar-free!), the berries of the cranberry plant have powerful antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Cranberry is great for prevention and even treatment of urinary tract infections, as it stops bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. Cranberry may also prevent bacteria like H. pylori from colonizing in the stomach, possibly helping to protect against stomach ulcers.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.):
Usually taken as a tea or tincture, echinacea root helps boost the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells circulating in your bloodstream, helping to combat both internal and external infection. Echinacea may help you heal faster from colds and other illnesses and can help alleviate fever associated with infection.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra):
Often found in capsule or tincture form, or as a syrup, the berries of the elderberry tree can help lessen the duration of a cold or illnesses like the flu by stopping the viruses that cause these maladies from spreading within your body. Elderberry can be used as a preventative herbal medicine, or to shorten the duration of an existing illness.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus):
Eucalyptus leaves in the form of an essential oil are known for their anti-bacterial and anti-viral actions. Added to water and inhaled as a steam, eucalyptus oil can help soothe respiratory problems, congestion, sinus issues and other cold symptoms. Dilute eucalyptus essential oil with a little olive oil and rub it on your feet and chest, similar to commercial menthol rubs, to help break up congestion. Do not use eucalyptus oil internally.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale):
Ginger root can be taken in its crystallized form, or as a capsule or tea. An all-around great digestive aid, ginger soothes digestive discomforts like nausea and morning sickness, and can also alleviate motion sickness. Ginger is an anti-spasmodic, helping to relieve intestinal spasms. Ginger also works to fight gas in the digestive tract.
Maca (Lepidium peruvianum):
Maca root is most effective in either capsule or tincture form. It's great for your mental well-being, because it possesses both anti-depressant and anti-stress properties. Maca has also been shown to boost overall energy. A great solution for maintaining healthy hormonal balance, maca can increase testosterone levels in men and progesterone in women. Studies have also shown that maca enhances fertility, helps with low libido and improves sexual performance. In some studies, maca was even proven to increase sperm count and sperm motility, and it also exhibited great promise in relation to sexual concerns like problems maintaining an erection.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita):
Peppermint leaves are most often used in an essential oil or tea. Peppermint essential oil can help soothe headaches when diluted with olive oil and dabbed behind the ear or on the temples. Peppermint tea is a nice choice for ensuring good digestion and like ginger, it can also help alleviate nausea.
Although it's not technically an herbal medicine, a probiotic supplement is a natural remedy that helps keep your immune system strong. Probiotics are crucial if you've recently taken antibiotics because they help to replenish the friendly bacteria in your gut and intestines. Probiotics also work wonders in combination with cranberry for treating urinary tract infections.
Psyllium (Plantago psyllium):
Psyllium seed husks are usually found in loose form or in a capsule and are well-known for their colon-cleansing properties. Because the husks are water-soluble, when added to water they dissolve and expand, creating a gel-like drink that soothes inflammation, absorbs toxins and acts as fiber in the colon. Psyllium is a safer choice than other laxative herbs like senna or cascara sagrada because it works by acting as a fiber rather than directly stimulating bowel activity, which can be detrimental to colon health in the long run.
Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra):
The bark of this tree or shrub works to soothe mucus membranes and also has expectorant properties, making it a great herbal medicine for sore throats or digestive discomfort. Slippery elm can be found in lozenges, as a tea, or in a powdered form which can be used to make a soothing and healing drink.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana):
Witch hazel is an antibacterial/antiseptic herb whose bark and leaves are made into a liquid extract that's supremely helpful for cuts and scrapes of any type. Its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties also make it a great skin and face toner, cleansing the pores and protecting against acne.
*This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of conventional medical treatment.