History and uses : A common tree in the English countryside, hawthorn has long been used in folk and clinical medicine to treat heart ailments. Experimental studies have determined that hawthorn works in two ways: it dilates blood vesels, which eases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, and it strengthens the heart itself. In Germany, physicians commonly prescribe preparations with hawthorn for minor heart conditions, especially those due to the effects of aging.
Hawthorn also acts as a mild sedative, so it may be useful when heart problems are brought on by stress or nervousness. However, hawthorn extracts are cumulative, so it must be taken over an extended period for the full effect. Hawthorn is considered a safe and effective medicine, but if you suspect that you have heart problems, see a physician before embarking on self-treatment.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaf, flowers and fruit. Flavonoids.
Hop ( Humulus lupulus )
History and uses : A well known soporific and flavoring, hop has been used for centuries by herbalists and brewmasters alike. Some native peoples took the blossoms for their sedative effects, and also dried the flowers for use in a toothache remedy.
Today, hop is prescribed in cases of nervousness, mild anxiety and sleeplessness. In addition, as an antispasmodic, it may ease diarrhea and intestinal cramps. Hop may be taken as a tea (often in combination with valerian and other sedative herbs), in extracts, capsules and it's safety has been confirmed by centuries of use in brewing and as a food flavoring.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Lupulin, a chemical complex found in the glandular hair of the strobiles (flower cones). Volatile oil, flavonoids, resins including bitter acids.
Horse Chestnut ( Aesculus hippocastanum )
History and uses : Native to Asia and southeastern Europe, horse chestnuts were long used ny the Turks, not for their own ailments, but for their horses' respiratory problems. By the 18th century, horse chestnuts had been introduced to North America, and native peoples began exploiting the fruits of these stately trees for human use. They discovered that when crushed, the fruits eased the pain and inflammation of hemorrhoids.
Today, horse chestnuts are used in the treatment of a number of circulatory problems, including varicose veins, blood clots and hemorrhoids. An extract sold commercially is popular in Europe for arthritis and other complaints - and there is some scientific evidence that horse chestnuts may indeed have anti-inflammatory properties. Horse chestnut extract is also available as a salve, which may be applied to ease sore muscles and leg cramps. These remedies are widely available in Germany and are just beginning to be marketed in North America.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Fruits. A mixture of saponins collectively called aescin.
Hyssop ( Hyssopus officinalis )
History and uses : A traditional herb used since Biblical times, hyssop has long been popular for treating mild respiratory problems. In folk medicine, hyssop tea or garle is taken as an expectorant, and also to relieve colds, coughs, horseness and sore throats.
A member of the mint family, hyssop is a carminative, meaning that it aids digestion and helps to relieve gas. Some claim that it speeds the digestion of fat, and recommend drinking hyssop tea with fatty meats or fish. In addition, extracts of hyssop are used in liqueurs and candies.
Used externally, hyssop may be useful for treating sores. One caveat about this herb: it has been erroneously reported that hyssop leaves contain penicillin. They do not.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Herb. Volatile oil, hyssopin, tannin, flavone glycosides, a terpenoid called marrubin (also found in horehound)
Juniper ( Juniperus communis )
History and uses : The juniper berry has many fans, though few are actually seeking it's medicinal benefits. Best known as the flavoring in gin, sauerkraut and other foods and spirits, the fragrant berries are also an active ingredient in many herbal formulas.
Aboriginal peoples drank juniper berry tea to reliev stomachaches, arthritis and colds. While they are still taken for these ailments, juniper berries arer primarily used for their diuretic action.
Experts caution against the use juniper berries during pregnancy as they may stimulate uterine contractions. Because of their diuretic action, extended use (more than six weeks) may cause problems for people with weak or damaged kidneys.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Berry. Volatile oil, sugars, ascorbic acid, tannins, jumiperin
Lavender ( Lavandula officinalis )
History and uses : Known as an herb of love in the Middle Ages, lavender's fragrant flowers continue to inspire devotion. The blossoms are a familiar ingredient in many herbal sachets,and lavender-filled pillows have long been used for their purported calming effects.
Lavender flowers may also be brewed in tea. The aroma is soothing, and the mild carminative action of the blossoms may be useful for settling an upset stomach that often accompanies nervousness and irritability. The flowers are also reported to stimulate bile flow, and so are sometimes included in herbal formulas recommended for liver and gallbladder problems
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Flowers. Volatile oil, tannins, coumarins, flavonoids.
Lemon Balm ( Melissa officinalis )
History and uses : Lemon balm has a long history of use, not only for it's mild medicinal benefits, but also because of it's pleasant lemony aroma. For instance, the Arabs relied on it to treat depression and anxiety, while the English included it in furniture polish.
Lemon balm is now widely used in herbal teas, both for it's flavor and it's mild carminative and sedative properties. The tea is recommended to induce perspiration and relieve fever due to colds and flu, and to ease menstrual cramps, insomnia, headaches and nervousness.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Herb. Volatile oil and polyphenols.
Licorice ( Glycyrrhiza glabra & G.uralensis )
History and uses : Licorice is one of the world's most widely used medicinal plants. Many people think of it as a flavoring for candy, but in fact most "licorice" sticks sold in this country are flavored with anise oil. Licorice itself was used by the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Chinese to treat coughs and chills, and research has shown that it does have expectorant, antiallergic and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, licorice contains mucilage, a substance that coats and soothes inflamed membranes, and so may be useful for treating ulcers and constipation.
Today, licorice is the subject of much study, primarily for it's active compound glycyrrhizin. This substance produces the herb's anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects. But there is also some evidence that licorice may be useful for preventing and healing gastric ulcers, and it may offer an effective treatment for chronic hepatitis. In addition, licorice extracts stimulate the adrenal glands, and so have been used for patients suffering from Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency), a particular boone for those who are allergic to the conventional medication. Further studies have shown licorice to counter the effects of two tumor-producing agents. It may also supress the enzyme that leads to tooth decay from sugar.
In general, licorice and it's extracts are safe for normal use. However, long-term or excessive ingestion can produce serious side effects. Symptoms include headache, lethargy, sodium and water retension, loss of potassium, high blood pressure and possible heart failure. Such reactions, however, are rare, a fact demonstrated by licorice's widespread use in herbal teas, and as a flavoring in foods and tobacco.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Root and rhizome. Glycurrhizin (an extremely sweet triterpene glycoside), flavonoids and isoflavonoids, coumarins, polusaccharides.
Ma Huang ( Ephedra sinica )
History and uses : For thousands of years, practitioners of Chinese medicine have relied on ma huang tea to treat asthma, flu and even arthritis. In the early part of this century, Chinese scientists isolated two important alkaloids from the herb: ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. These alkaloids clear up mucus, open clogged breathing passages, stimulate the central nervous system and are now commonly used in many over-the-counter and prescription allergy and asthma medications.
Ma huang is considered safe in reasonable doses. However, because it can raise blood pressure, it is best avoided by those with high blood pressure. A North American cousin, mormon tea (Ephedra nevadensis), is similar to ma huang, but contains no ephedrine. The herb is found the US southwest, and is used to treat arthritis pain.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Herb. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Marshmallow ( Althaea officinalis )
History and uses : No longer used in the puffy white candy that bears it's name, marshmallow is known primarily for alleviating sore throats and other ailments. The roots of the marshmallow contain mucilage, a gelatinous substance found in plants. When mixed with water, marshmallow root helps soothe irritation and inflammation due to dry coughs, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, colitis and other problems. When used as a gargle, marshmallow may provide instant relief to inflamed throat tissues. Marshmallow root may also be taken to ease constipation, and when applied topically, to soothe skin abrasions.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Root. Mucilage.
Milk Thistle ( Silybum marianum )
History and uses : Milk thistle has a long history of use in European folk medicine, and was frequently prescribed as a liver tonic and digestive aid. In addition, lactating women were sometimes given the herb to stimulate production of their milk. While this last use has been disproven, medical science has confirmed milk thistle's effectiveness in treating certain types of liver disease. Some studies have shown that extracts of the herb are beneficial for treating cirrhosis, hepatitis and some other chronic liver problems.
Milk thistle's active ingredients are a complex of compounds known collectively as silymarin. These substances protect the liver against certain chemical toxins, and increase the function and regeneration of the organ. In addition, silybin, one of the compounds contained in the herb, is an antidote to the deadly deathcap mushroom, whose poisons act to destroy the liver cells. But to be effective, the antidote should be administered intravenously.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Seed. The extract of the seed contains a complex of three flavolignans collectively refered to as silymarin.
Mullein ( Verbascum thapsus )
History and uses : People have long made use of the long-stemmed mullein to heal, to soothe and even to protect. For instance, according to Homer, the Greek hero Ulysses used the herb to protect himself from the temptress Circe, and in other times it was used to counter the chrms of witchcraft
Less romantized today, mullein, which contains mucilage, is used as an expectorant, as well as to soothe inflamed mucous membranes. Mullein is an old European remedy for chest conditions, and is still considered useful for treating sore throats, chest colds and horseness. When applied topically, it may offer relief for burns, chilblains and arthritic joints. Mullein also has astringent properties, and so is useful in healing open wounds. In earlier times, traditional herbalists soaked yellow mullein flowers in oil, which was then used to treat earaches.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. Mucilage.
Myrrh ( Commiphora molmol )
History and uses : Prized since ancient times for it's fragrance and healing properties, myrrh is perhaps best known for it's frequent mention in the Bible. The most famous reference is Mathew 2:11, where myrrh is one of the gifts brought to the infant Jesus by the wise men. Later Mark reported that before Jesus was crucified, he was offered a sedative consisting of a cup of wine laced with myrrh, which He refused. Finally, after His death, Jesus' body was prepared with large amounts of myrrh and aloe.
Today, myrrh is still popular for it's resinous scent, but herbalists have many other uses for it as well. The herb has astringent and antiseptic properties, meaning it is useful for cleansing and healing wounds, including bedsores. Myrrh is also a common ingredient in mouthwashes and gargles, and is prescribed for sore throats, gingivitis and sore gums.
As in Bible times, myrrh is a popular incense, and it can also double as a mosquito repellent since the smell of burning myrrh drives these pests away.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Gum resin. Volatile oil, resins, gums. Myrrh is used as a food flavoring.
Nettle ( Urtica dioica )
History and uses : Brush against the leaves of the "stinging nettle", and you'll quickly discover the key to this herb's nickname. The bristly hairs covering the leaves are actually miniature tubes filled with an irritating liquid. When a person or animal brushes against the leaves, the hairs inject their fluid, producing an itchy, burning rash that may last for hours.
But, while harvesting the plant may pose some problems, dried nettles have long been used by herbalists, mainly as a diuretic. In addition, nettles have astringent properties, and when applied to the skin they may relieve eczema and numerous other skin problems.
More controversial is their use for treating arthritic conditions. According to some users, when nettle leaves are allowed to sting the skin over sore joints, arthritic pain is eased instantly. Apparently, nettles act as counterirritants, relieving pain in the afflicted area. A recent study on freeze-dried nettles (in capsule form) indicated potential benefits for hay fever sufferers, but evidence was not overwhelmingly convincing.
Dried nettles are considered safe for internal consumption, but the skin rash produced by the fresh leaves may be very irritating to some people.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Herb. Chlorophyll (large amounts), histamine, acetylcholine.
Passion Flower ( Passiflora incarnata )
History and uses : Aboriginal peoples made poutices from the leaves of the passion flower, which they applied to bruises and other injuries. Today, the whole plant - leaves, stems and intricate blossoms - is used medicinally.
Although the name suggests otherwise, passion flowers have been found to have mild sedative effects. For reasons not yet fully understood, the plant depresses the central nervous system. For this reason, when taken in tea, capsules or extracts, passion flowers may be useful for treating insomnia and nervousness, and for lowering high blood pressure.
Passion flowers are usually combined with other sedative herbs in mixtures prescribed for a variety of nervous conditions. In addition, the plant has anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it useful in the treatment of arthritis.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Entire herb (floer, stem, leaf).Flavonoids and an alkaloid.
Peppermint ( Mentha piperita )
History and uses : The Greeks may have crowned their heroes with wreaths of laurel, but they relied on peppermint for curing their ailments. One of the oldest of all medicinal herbs, peppermint was used for everything from hiccups to "sea serpent" stings. The Greeks were not alone in recognizing this aromatic plant's many virtues. In Medieval times, many people depended on it's aroma to rid their houses of vermin and noxious odors, and some suggested mixing peppermint leaves with salt as a treatment for dog bites and rabies.
Today, peppermint is better known for it's soothing effects on the stomach. An antispasmodic and a carminative, the herb is useful for relieving indigestion, nausea and intestinal gas. In addition, peppermint tea is recommended for headaches as a mild sedative, and even to treat some upper respiratory conditions. Applied externally, oil of peppermint may help relieve muscle and nerve pain. To ease bronchial symptoms, some herbalists recommend putting a few drops of the oil into boiling water, and inhaling the menthol fragrance.
Peppermint tea is considered to be quite safe when consumed in normal quantities. The consentrated oil should be used sparingly, with internal use being limited to just a few drops.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaf and distilled oil. Menthol.
Psyllium ( Plantago ovata & P. major )
History and uses : Called the "mother of herbs" in an Anglo Saxon poem, the leaves of this hardy roadside plant have long been used to soothe minor bites and stings. They were also applied to blisters, and their astringent properties were said to stop bleeding. In the New World, aboriginal peoples used psyllium leaves to treat abrasions, sprains, gout and as a wash for sore eyes.
Today, psyllium is still widely used. However, it is not prized for it's leaves, but for it's tiny seeds. The seeds are coated with mucilage, a gelatinous material that swells upon contact with moisture. For this reason, psyllium seeds and their husks are a popular bulk laxative, one that is especially useful for cases of chronic constipation.
Psyllium is but one member of the large plantain family, and the leaves of several related species are still used for minor insect bites and stings.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Seed, seed husks and leaves. Mucilage (10 to 30 %), primarily in the seed husk.
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