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Herbalism and Common Medicinal Herbs

Updated on July 11, 2016
A mortar and pestle with various herbs
A mortar and pestle with various herbs

A Brief Synopsis

In this article I will explain how to use a variety of herbs as remedies for common health problems. Some of these herbs you may know, some of these herbs you may not, but all of these herbs can be used as a medicine if you take them properly.

Keep in mind that these herbs are not a replacement for modern medicine. Even if certain drugs today are based on these traditional treatments, the modern drugs are specially made and processed with far fewer side effects. Take what your doctor tells you to take.

Also, this is not magic or witchery. This is early medicine created and used before modern drugs. Chanting and waving a wand around while taking these herbs will not help. It may make for a good YouTube video but very little else.

Herbalism
Noun
the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants, now especially as a form of alternative medicine.
Definition supplied by Google

The Myths Surrounding Herbalism

Unfortunately I can't debunk every myth surrounding the art of herbalism. There are just too many of them going around. Even worse, there are crazy people who apparently have no other job than to make up more myths about herbs. I'll try and get rid of the main myths.

As mentioned at the start, herbal remedies are not a replacement for modern medicine. While some modern cures and treatments can trace their origins to herbalism, they are far more refined than anything you'll get on your spice rack. An herbal remedy may soothe an upset stomach for a while but a doctor's prescription will get rid of the problem altogether.

Herbalism is not a safe and sound practice. I'll personally attest to that. Just like the drugs they are used in these remedies can conflict with one another. You may overdose on them. They do have nasty side effects. If used improperly they can lead to your death. Remember that a medicine is just a poison that's used correctly.

Lastly, please remember that the herbs listed in this article are your enemy. Most of them evolved trying to stop animals from eating them and a lot of their medical uses stem from this evolution. Be very careful when dealing with herbs and if possible always consult a doctor before doing so. These herbs are not nature's gift to your health.

The Benefits of Herbalism

While these herbs may not be magical or some sort of panacea, they do have an extraordinary benefit. Each of these medicinal herbs are cheaper than their over-the-counter counterparts that you can buy in stores and pharmacies. Whether you can grow them in your home country or you have to buy them from a store, you'll likely pay very little to acquire plenty of medicinal doses. The refined medicines will almost always be more expensive (unless, of course, there is a current fad surrounding one of the herbs).

As an example, garlic currently has a weighted average price per pound of $2.69 USD according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Marketing Service. Most of the medicinal equivalents to garlic would cost several times that for only a month's worth of pills (a pound of garlic will serve your medicinal needs for months).

Remember, this is not a suggestion that you avoid modern medicine. Herbs are generalist medicines at the very best of times and come with their own nasty side effects.

The Aloe Vera Plant
The Aloe Vera Plant

Aloe Vera

A plant I'm sure you are all very familiar with. It is commonly used in different cosmetic products with alleged benefits. But aside from that, it's also taken by a lot of people as a cure for minor burns and wounds. The jelly-like substance inside the waxy leaves of the plant is the part you're after.

Other Uses of Aloe Vera

Aside from minor cuts and burns, dried aloe latex can be taken orally as a laxitive. It can also be applied to the skin to help with swelling and bruising. There is support that Aloe Vera can also improve blood glucose levels when eaten which may help people with heart disease or diabetes.

Applied to the skin, the plant can also be used to ease cold sores and psoriasis as long as the inflammation or damage isn't too severe. It has been shown to help victims of frostbite but this mostly deals with the pain rather than the fact that the skin is dead.

Aloe Vera Toxicity

Aloe Vera isn't just helpful, the Aloin inside the gel is highly toxic. Eating too much of it or ingesting any part of the plant that comes into contact with the gel in a large dose may damage your liver. You likely won't get a big enough dose from topical or skin-only use even if you're using it on a burn or swelling.

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A blueberry bush bears fruit
A blueberry bush bears fruit

Blueberries

Now here's a plant you know and love, and I hope you've eaten it before! Blueberries are great at curing constipation and instantly getting rid of vitamin C deficiency. Both the berries and the leaves of the plant can be used for this. The plant is an all around super fruit!

Other Uses of Blueberries

Aside from treating constipation and vitamin C deficiency, blueberries are also anti-inflammatory in nature. Eating the fruit can help treat ulcers in both your mouth and stomach, swelling of the gums due to infection or injury, swelling due to a urinary tract infection, and even help get rid of sore throat.

However, the effects stop at easing the symptoms as blueberries do not have anti-bacterial or anti-microbial properties. Whatever caused the problem in the first place is likely still there.

Blueberry Toxicity

As far as toxins go blueberries are safe. You may have to visit the toilet a few times more than normal but not much worse. The Vitamin C they are so famous for is unlikely to be overdosed on since it is water soluble and vanishes with urine.

However, should you manage to overdose on the vitamin common side effects include heart burn, nausea, insomnia, and kidney stones. Still nothing fatal but nothing pleasant to say the least. Avoid megadoses of Vitamin C people!

The flower cloves are produced from
The flower cloves are produced from

Cloves

Another known herb for the article! Even though cloves are more common in food, the herb gets a place in medicine as well. Oil of clove can be used to soothe tooth aches when you have to wait for a dentist to provide serious relief. Cloves won't cure the problem but it will take away the pain.

Other Uses of Cloves

Aside from tooth aches, oil of clove is useful for stomach aches and indigestion due to its ability to increase stomach acid. The oil also has anti-inflammatory properties but it degrades very quickly when ingested. This makes the only way to reap this benefit is to apply it topically to the swollen areas.

Cloves Toxicity

The same chemical that gives cloves their medical use is also a lethal toxin in the wrong dose. Eugenol can damage the liver and cause a lot of harsh symptoms. Unless you eat cloves three meals a day you likely won't have this issue but when using the oil as a cure there's a chance of this overdose.

A blooming chamomile flower
A blooming chamomile flower

Chamomile

This may not be an herb you're aware of even if you've seen it. Chamomile refers to several different flower breeds all of which can be used as a treatment. A tea made from the leaves and flowers of Chamomile can help ease a person into sleep even if they have a disorder such as insomnia keeping them awake. The effects vary with a lot of factors such as if the insomnia is compounded or caused by other mental disorders.

Other Uses of Chamomile

Besides its use as a sleeping potion, Chamomile can also be used for short term anxiety relief. The effects vary with the subject and whether they are allergic to the herb. Chamomile tea also has the ability to soothe the symptoms of bile reflux thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant. This can be great for those with heartburn or those who are simply feeling a mild burn in their stomach area.

Chamomile may help ease the symptoms of Acid Reflux for a time but the effects are temporary and will eventually wear down. Modern medicine is required along with diet management to treat that particular sickness in the long-term.

Chamomile Toxicity

Chamomile can cause the uterine walls of pregnant women to contract which may lead to a miscarriage. Drinking or eating Chamomile while pregnant is not safe and not suggested. Furthermore, while the plant isn't toxic per say it does affect the brain which means it's a bad idea to drink it with alcohol or anti-depressants. Never take chances with herbs that affect the mind.

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A bucket of harvested fennel seeds
A bucket of harvested fennel seeds

Fennel Seeds

Popular in food I'm almost certain that you have fennel seed on your spice rack if you have one. Fennel seeds have long been used to treat bad breath after eating food with a strong odor or to cover the symptoms of an illness. In certain Arabic countries these seeds hold the same role as an after-dinner mint in America.

Other Uses of Fennel Seeds

Besides bad breath, fennel seed is also used to help relieve menstrual cramps. Fennel seed oil has also been given to infants with colic as an herbal cure. Research for both of these is not complete so results may vary. Talk to your doctor first!

Fennel Seed Toxicity

Fennel seeds contain a potential toxin known as Estragole. It may hurt the genetic material in human cells and even cause cancer. Fennel doesn't have a great amount of this poison but using too much is not a good idea. More research is needed on this poison but handle with care for now.

Some harvested Ginseng roots
Some harvested Ginseng roots

Ginseng

If you ever took an energy drink or certain teas you have eaten ginseng. This herb is a powerful stimulant and can be used in a similar way to coffee and caffeine. Basically, it keeps you awake for a very long time. In the right doses ginseng can be more effective at this than caffeine though caffeine has other health benefits.

Other Uses of Ginseng

Ginseng has been shown to fight fatigue in cancer patients following several weeks of continued use. Some claim that Ginseng is also an effective treatment for Erectile Dysfunction, a curse that plagues many men as the grow older. Unfortunately, this claim isn't backed by any scientific evidence and remains unproven at this point in time.

Processed Ginseng often contains a structure that mimics Estrogen. This is especially common in Ginseng processed in America and may be either beneficial or toxic depending on the individual circumstances of the patient.

Ginseng Toxicity

Although not toxic, Ginseng's medical effects can cause problems as well as remedy. The most common problem of taking too much Ginseng is insomnia. The lack of sleep can fade away after a few days but may persist for longer. No matter what the case, Ginseng is not safe to feed to children.

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A can of Ginger Ale
A can of Ginger Ale

Ginger

I'm getting paid for this right? No? Damn't...

You won't find ginger in your home unless you're growing it yourself. Its most common use is in soft drinks and some cooking. Ginger can be used to treat nausea and vomiting when used in conjunction with other medicines for the same purpose. Research has shown that this effect can be used for chemotherapy patients suffering from medically induced nausea.

Other Uses of Ginger

Ginger can also help ease motion sickness in cars, boats, and planes. It may soothe pain from osteoarthritis but the use of the herb for that is still being studied.

Ginger Toxicity

Ginger isn't toxic per say, but it does have an effect on the body that some would call adverse. Taking too much ginger root will excite the nerves in the body causing restless pacing, twitching, and other symptoms known as the Ginger Jitters. Heavy caffeine and ginseng users will be used to these side effects.

Peppermint candies in a basket
Peppermint candies in a basket

Peppermint

Alright so the picture isn't what I'm talking about. The peppermint I'm talking about is a green leafy herb which is a mint hybrid. You can buy or grow dried peppermint leaves no matter what the climate if you make sure to not let them take over your yard. As an herbal remedy the most common use of peppermint is to ease stomach pain.

Other Uses of Peppermint

Peppermint can also be used to cure spasms in your throat and stomach as it relaxes smooth muscles. It may help with indigestion but results can vary and there are more potent treatments in this article for that. The powerful scent of peppermint oil can help clear the sinus cavities but will have no effect if you're too stuffed up to breathe in.

Peppermint Toxicity

While peppermint does have some toxicity the amount you would be required to consume would be more than most adults could handle. Should you manage to eat that amount you may suffer from diarrhea and vomiting.

A flowering st. john's wort plant
A flowering st. john's wort plant

St. John's Wort

Some think of this herb as a weed or a pretty flower but in the right hands it's a potent herbal medicine. St. John's Wort is commonly used as an an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug. It's one of the few treatments which is safe for minors thanks to how few side effects the flower has.

Other Uses of St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort may also be used to ease the symptoms of some infections and swelling. The most common ones are from pulled muscles or joints. Unlike its anti-anxiety use, this does not need any build-up time and can take effect the same day.

St. John's Wort Toxicity

The St. John's Wort herb may be good at curing depression but it's known to cause problems with other mental illnesses. Talk to your doctor before using it unless you like the idea of taking an herb which can create mania.

A flowering flax plant
A flowering flax plant

Flax

You'll more likely have flaxseed oil than the flax flower in the kitchen. It's most common use is to treat stomach and intestine problems but the flaxseed rather than the oil is used for this. You may need to go to a specialty store.

Other Uses of Flax

Flax may help cure clogged arteries and high blood pressure due to cholesterol but this requires daily use of the herb. It has no medical use outside of constipation and stomach problems, or at least none that are proven.

Flax Toxicity

Flax does contain some toxic chemicals but when using it for herbalism or for most types of food you will not get a big enough dose to harm yourself. Eating a large amount of flax still isn't a good idea.

A bulb of Garlic
A bulb of Garlic

Garlic

Everyone should know what this is by now. If you've ever had a fancy Italian meal then you've eaten at least 12 or maybe 16 cloves of garlic. While certainly not the cure-all some people would market it as, this herb can be used to deal with a number of problems. For starters it can help with stomach pains caused by bacterial or viral attacks.

Other Uses of Garlic

Aside from the immediate effects of stomach relief, garlic can be used over time to maintain the elasticity of the arteries in older humans. This can lead to improved overall living conditions but requires consistent and a fairly long period of use to see any real benefit.

If taken orally the herb can be used to lower blood pressure. Again, this requires consistent use of garlic for long periods of time before the consumer will notice any real benefit.

If applied topically to areas that are infected by a fungus, the anti-fungal properties of garlic can reduce the time required for a fungal infection to pass. This can be very useful against athletes foot but few fungus are resistant to the effects of garlic in the first place.

Garlic Toxicity

Garlic is considered dangerous to consume in medicinal doses if you are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant. The same anti-microbial properties in garlic that you desire are dangerous to developing fetuses and children alike. Speaking of which, don't give children medicinal doses of garlic either! Wait until about the age of 16.

Garlic has a tendency to irritate the intestines and stomach which can cause pain, nausea, or vomiting. Do not take Garlic if you aren't certain of what is causing your stomach pain.

Garlic's ability to lower blood pressure can be dangerous if you already suffer from a disorder that causes it. Do not consume medicinal garlic (or uncooked garlic in any form) if you suffer from such a disorder.

A field of flowering Echinacea plants.
A field of flowering Echinacea plants.

Echinacea

This herb has become more widely known thanks to the recent fads and crazes surrounding it. While it is certainly medicinal it's not the miracle herb that a lot of people, mainly sales people, want you to believe. Echinacea can be taken orally to shorten the length of a common cold and reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Other Uses of Echinacea

Echinacea can also be taken orally once per day to help reduce anxiety. Unfortunately, severe anxiety and anxiety that stems from certain sources may not be treatable using this method. This is best used for anxiety that is on a lower spectrum than St. John's Wort is recommended for.

The herb can also stimulate red blood cell production in certain individuals which may improve exercise performance. However, this is not supported heavily by scientific evidence and remains only a suggested effect of Echinacea with minimal support.

Echinacea Toxicity

This herb doesn't necessarily contain a poison but some of its effects can be nasty to certain people. Avoid Echinacea if you have a known heart condition as the herb can cause an irregular heartbeat which may end with you having a heart attack.

Avoid using Echinacea for long periods of time as research shows that it may be linked to a condition where white blood cells clot together in the bloodstream. That's if it doesn't simply cause a low white blood cell count altogether.

In extreme cases the herb can result in kidney failure. Frankly as much as I would love to discuss every single side effect of this herb, since it would make this a multi-thousand word article and probably rank much better in search engines, this should be the point where your head snaps up and you realize that you shouldn't take a lot of herbal remedies without consulting your doctor first.

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© 2012 Michael Ward

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    • sukhneet profile image

      Sukhneet Kaur Bhatti 17 months ago from India

      I personally feel that nature is a best healer and leading a herbal life is a mantra to a prolonged and better lifestyle.

    • profile image

      greg 4 years ago

      neat hub i didn't know a lot of this stuff.

    • profile image

      MedicineStudent 4 years ago

      Interesting! I like this layout better compared to the way you had it earlier.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Very informative and well-balanced explanation of herbalism. Voted up and useful.