History and uses : Medical panacea or ubiquitous weed? While there's little doubt about the tastiness of a dandelion leaf salad or a glass of dandelion wine, this common plant has medicinal use as well. Once recommended for kidney, liver and gallbladder problems, it is best known as a mild laxative, an appetite stimulant and a diuretic. The leave also contain high levels of potassium.
The bane of lawn tenders across North America, dandelions were transported to the New World by European settlers, then brought to the Prairies as food for the bees.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaf and root. The starch inulin (about 25%), bitter principles, sesquiterpenes.
Echinacea ( Echinacea angustifolium & E. purpurea )
History and uses : Commonly found growing wild in the Prairies, echinacea has long been known to the native peoples, who use it to treat toothaches, snakebites and insect bites.
Today echinacea is still used, and research has shown that it may have value in fighting infections and healing wounds. It is also used to stimulate the immnune system, and may help ease colds and sore throats.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves and roots. Echinacoside, polysaccharides, isobutyl amides.
Elder ( Sambucus nigra )
History and uses : Elder has a long and varied history. Archaeologists have traced it's cultivation to ancient Europe. Legends have associated this flowering shrub with witches and spirits, while folk practitioners have used it as an insect repellent, a purgative and a blood purifier. Many people have at one time tasted elderberries in such foods as preserves and pies. Some may even have sampled a glass of homemade elderberry wine.
Today, elder flowers are brewed in tea, which is mainly prescribed as a mild stimulant and to induce perspiration. The tea is thought to be the most effective when the elder flowers are mixed with peppermint leaves and yarrow flowers. In addition, elder extracts are included in a number of commercially available cold remedies. While elder flowers are safe, avoid the roots, stems and leaves, and use only ripe berries.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Flowers. Triterpenes,flavonoids.
Elecampane ( Inula helenium )
History and uses : Known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, elecampane was among the many herbal preparations prescriberd by Hypocrates. It's Latin name may be a reference to Helen of Troy, who in one version of the story is said to have been holding a bunch of elecampane when abducted by Paris.
Elecampane may help soothe itchy skin and minor cuts, and it has been used to induce perspiration in the case of cold or flu. However, the herb's real value is as an expectorant. Prescribed for chronic coughs and bronchitis, elecampane has also been recommended for the treatment of asthma. Researchers are taking a close look to see if the herb has a chemical compound that may be an antibiotic.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Root. Inulin, a starch (up to 44%), volatile oil and sesquiterpenes.
Eucalyptus ( Eucalyptus globulus )
History and uses : The eucalyptus tree came to the Americas and other continents by way of Australia, where it's the mainstay of the koala's diet. You have already experienced it's healing properties The leaves from the eucaluptus tree contain a pungent oil that helps clear sinuses and soothe mucous membranes. For this reason it is a popuplar ingredient in throat lozenges, toothpastes, mouthwashes and balms.
Bronchial congestion may be relieved by mixing a few drops of the oil with boiling water, and then inhaling the rising steam. When applied directly to the skin and scalp, eucalyptus oil is said to help ease sore muscles, chapped skin and dandruff.
Warning: Take care to avoid getting eucalyptus oil in the eyes, as it can be extremely irritating. If it happens immediately rinse eyes with clean water.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaf. Essential oil, primarily composed of eucalyptol.
Evening Primrose ( Oenothera biennis )
History and uses : This fragrant plant, which waits unil early evening to open it's flowers, has something of a reputation as a cure-all. Fans of evening primrose swear that it promotes weight loss, lowers blood cholesterol and blood presssure,and is effective in treating numerous other common ailments.
Evening primrose is native to North America and grows wild in fields, roadsides and waste areas. Native peoples from the Great Lakes region used the entire evening primrose plant as a sedative and a painkiller. It has also been used to treat a variety of ills, from asthmatic coughs to stomach problems. Today oil from the seed is taken orally for atopic asthma (asthma due to allergy). atopic eczema and migraines. Most recently, it has been claimed that the oil is effective in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome. Other research suggests that evening primrose oil may have anticlotting factors, and so may be useful in the prevention of heart attacks that are caused by a blood clot blocking a blood vesel.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Seed.Fatty oil containing the essential fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid)
Fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare or F.officinale )
History and uses : Most people are only aware of fennel's use in salads, soups and stews. It's licorice-like flavour was much in demand as early as the Middle Ages, but even before that, early practitioners, including Hypocrates, were prescribing parts of the plant to increase milk supply in lactating women. And others thought that fennel could provide protection against witches and all manner of spiritual intruders.
Today, fennel is primarily known for it's soothing properties. A carminative, it is recommended to ease stomachaches and to aid digestion. Taken in a tea or in extracts, fennel has also been used as an aid to stimulate the appetites of anorexics.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Seed (actually the dried ripe fruit). Volatile oil (about 8% of the seed), consisting mainly of anethole.
Fenugreek ( Trigonella foenum-graecum )
History and uses : A prized healing herb in ancient Egypt, India, Greece and Rome, fenugreek has at times been prescribed for tuberculosis, bronchitis, sore throats, diabetes, anemia, rickets and waning sexual desire. It has also been used as an expectorant, a laxative and a fever fighter. While it is no longer considered a cure-all , fenugreek is known today for having some effective medicinal properties. The secret lies in the seeds, which contain mucilage, a slimy substance that soothes and protects sore or inflamed tissues. Poultices, ointments and lotions containing fenugreek are recommended for treating skin irritations and wounds, while a tonic brewed from the seeds is said to ease stomach ailments. However, fenugreek has a pungent odor that lasts for days.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Seed.Mucilage (up to 40%), oil.
Feverfew ( Tanecetum parthenium )
History and uses : One of the earliest references to feverfew was in the writtings of the Greek herbalist Dioscorides. In the first century AD, he recommended the herb for "all hot inflammations and hot swellings," which may have been a reference to arthritis. Feverfew was also used to treat menstrual cramps and headache pain, as well as to aid digestion, repel insects and soothe insect bites. But the herb's popularity waned, even among dedicated herbalists.
Recent research is now restoring feverfew's reputation as a pain reliever. Studies of migraine sufferers indicate that feverfew is effective in reducing the number and severity of headaches, as well as alleviating the nausea and vomiting that often accompany them. In addition, some claims have been made about feverfew's effectiveness against rheumatoid arthritis, but these claims are as yet unproven.
The bestway to get feverfew's benefits is by eating two or three of the fresh leaves daily. The leaves must be taken for a prolonged period, as it may take some time for the herb's medicinal properties to become effective. Eating feverfew leaves, either fresh or freeze-dried, has been shown to be safe. The only adverse reactions appear to be temporary mouth ulcers in a small percentage of users.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaf. Parthernolide.
Garlic ( Allium sativum )
History and uses : For centuries an amazing array of magical and medicinal powers has been attributed to garlic. It has been used as protection against vampires as well as to enhance sexual prowess. The Egyptians prescribed garlic to build up physical strength, while the Greeks used it as a laxative. Garlic is given some credit for providing immunity to those who ate it during the plague years in Europe. The Chinese have traditionally used it to lower elevated blood pressure.
Early in this century, garlic was used to treat tuberculosis, and as an antibiotic for battle wounds during WW II. Although today most people think of it as a culinary ingredient rather than a potent medicine, scientists have not totally ignored garlic's potential as a healing agent.
Louis Pasteur, the great 19th century French chemist, was the first to prove garlic's antiseptic properties, and since then hundreds of studies have established the value of garlic as an effective destroyer of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. Modern day antibiotics such as penecillin may have overshadowed garlic as a remedy; yet it is still regarded by many herbalists as an effective preventive for colds, flu and other infectious diseases. Garlic is also used to treat some lower tract problems, such as gas pains and intestinal worms.
Recent research has also shown that garlic has great potential for treating cardiovascular conditions. Various controlled studies have shown that it can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in blood. Experiments also indicate that garlic affects the blood in another important way - by reducing the blood's ability to clot. The herb's capacity to lower high blood pressure has also been proven in tests involving both laboratory animals and humans.
Scientific attention has also turned to garlic's potential as an anticancer agent. Experiments with animals suggest that garlic may inhibit or even reverse the growth of certain tumor cells. In another area of research, some studies involving the immune system indicate that garlic may stimulate immnune functions by making "killer cells" more active against invading microbes, and perhaps cancer cells as well.
Garlic is considered a safe herbal remedy. No one is immune to garlic's distinctive odor, which lingers on the breath and the skin. In large amounts, garlic may have toxic effects, such as stomach ulcers and anemia.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Bulbs. Before a bulb of garlic is crushed or chopped it contains few medically active compounds. But once it is cut chemical reactions occur that create dozens of new compounds. Two of the many newly formed sulfur-containing compounds are allicin, which gives garlic it's antibiotic properties, and ajoene, which is an anticoagulent. Allicin is responsible for garlic's strong odor.
Many of garlic's medicinal compounds are destroyed through processing, some studies suggest, and so it may be best to use fresh garlic, and not dried or powdered forms.
Ginger ( zingiber officinale )
History and uses : Known to most people as a food and a spice, ginger has been used medicinally for centuries. Practitioners of Chinese medicine discovered it's healing properties at least 2500 years ago, and in China it remains popular for treating colds, nausea, seafood poisoning and other ailments. But ginger was valued in Greece, India and many other countries as well. For example, Tibetans used it to help those recuperating from illness and in Japan a ginger-oil massage was given to help alleviate spinal and joint problems.
Today, ginger tea is still prescribed for stomachaches and to aid digestion. A mild stimulant, it is also used to help promote circulation,especially on cold winter days. But current research has come up with some novel ways of using ginger. For instance, powdered ginger has been shown to be more effective for treating motion sickness than some well-known commercial remedies. One added benefit is that ginger does not cause drowsiness, as do many over-the-counter remedies.
A common folk remedy recommends ginger for the treatment of burns. Fresh gingerroot is mashed to release it's juices, which are then applied to the burned area. Some who have tried the remedy report that relief is instantaneous, and that a single application will suffice for easing the pain of minor burns.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Rhizome (undergroung lateral root). Essential oils, gingerols, shogaols, zingerones (phenylalkylketones)
Ginkgo ( Ginkgo Biloba )
History and uses : The oldest species of tree in the world, dating back to ancient history, the ginkgo is native to the Far East. So it is not surprising that the Chinese have made the best use of the tree's healing properties. Practitioners of Chinese medicine have traditionally used the ginkgo's fan-shaped leaves to treat bronchial, asthmatic and pulmonary conditions.
Today, ginkgo is the subject of considerable study in Europe, but increasingly in North America too. It has been shown to dilate arteries, veins and capillaries, thereby increasing peripheral circulation, as well as blood flow to the brain. For this reason, ginkgo may have potential for treating senility, short-term memory loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and a range of vascular diseases. Ginkgo extracts are regularly prescribed in Asia and Europe to improve mental functions.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaf. Flavonoid glycosides and diterpenes (including some unique terpene structures called ginkgolides)
Ginseng ( Panax ginseng )
History and uses : A Chinese text dating from the first century AD describes ginseng as "enlightening to the mind, and increasing the wisdom. Continuous use leads to longevity." This description of ginseng's powers is strikingly similar to claims made today. For instance, ginseng tea is often taken by people who believe it will promote long life and soften the effects of aging.
A subject of considerable scientific study around the world, ginseng has captured the interest of doctors, researchers and herbalists alike.Ginseng is most commonly use as a tonic to enhance general health and stimulate the central nervous system. In tests to lower blood cholesterol, ginseng has shown positive results.
Other studies report that ginseng prevents heart disease, inhibits blood coagulation and protects cells from radiation damage. The Chinese have long used ginseng as an aphrodisiac, but there are no studies lending support to this claim. With the herb receiving more and more clinical attention worldwide, ginseng may well be the source of important discoveries in future years. In general, thousands of years of ginseng usage attest to it's safety when used in reasonable amounts.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Root. Saponins called ginsenosides.
Goldenseal ( Hydrastis canadensis )
History and uses : Goldenseal root has a long history of use among aboriginal peoples. The Cherokees, for example used it for sore eyes, mouth ulcers, tuberculosis and edema. They also mixed it with bear grease for use as an insect repellent. Settlers, too, learned of it's antiseptic and wound-healing properties, and it was later included in a commercial tonic for gastric ailments.
Today, the herb is relatively rare and expensive, the result of both over-zealous harvesting and drought. While goldenseal doesn't have the following that it once had, it is still recommended for some disorders. For instance, goldenseal root is reported to cleanse the liver and blood, as well as to restore digestive functions, and so is sometimes prescribed for alcoholics. In addition, in some circles it is a popular remedy for colds and flu. The tea, which is extremely bitter, is commonly recommended for mouth sores, including cracked, bleeding lips and cankers. When used as an eyewash, the tea may soothe the itchiness of certain allergies. In fact, a popular eyedrop intended to reduce eye irritation contains berberine, a major alkaloid of goldenseal. It works by constricting blood vesels in the eyes.
The responsible use of goldenseal is considered safe in reasonable amounts. Though there is little real evidence of any adverse reactions, some herbalists caution against the use of the herb during pregnancy, as it may cause uterine contractions.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Root and Rhizome. Alkaloids hydrastine, berberine, canadine and hydrastinine.
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