History and uses : A well-known culinary herb, rosemary also has a long history of medicinal use. European herb practitioners used it as a tonic and stimulant, as well as to treat stomach upset, digestive disorders and headaches. The richly scented camphor oil in it's leaves is said to invigorate the circulatory and nervous systems, and so rosemary is frequently given to older people and those recovering from illness. Rosemary hair tonic is sometimes recommended for preventing baldness. As with most culinary herbs and spices, rosemary is considered safe when used in reasonable amounts.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. Volatile oil containing camphor and other compounds, flavonoids, phenolic acids.
Sage ( Salvia officinalis )
History and uses : The powdery green leaves of the sage plant have, at one time or another, been offered as a cure for just about anything. In the Middle Ages, the herb was popular for colds, fevers, epilepsy and constipation, while aboriginal peoples used it to heal sores and to clean their teeth.
Today, sage is best known for it's astringent and drying properties, and is especially useful for easing colds symptoms. When used as a mouth rinse or gargle, sage may help to alleviate the irritation of cankers and sore throats.
As with most herbs, sage should not be taken during prenancy (except as flavoring in foods). Professionals caution that prolonged use of sage oil or extract may result in convulsions. Herbalists contend that excessive use of sage tea can reduce milk output in lactating women, but this has not been confirmed by scientific studies.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. The oil contains thujone, cineole and camphor.
Saw Palmetto ( Sabal serrulata / serenoa repens )
History and uses : Saw palmetto is a popular remedy for urinary tract disorders, particularly in males. It is often said that any man who lives long enough will suffer from prostate problems. This nagging disorder makes one of the most basic of human functions, urination, difficult. Some studies suggest that saw palmetto berries and extracts may ease prostate symptoms. In Germany, saw palmetto extracts are also used to treat obstructions of the bladder. The berries and extracts are considered safe, and produce no adverse side effects.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Fruit. Essential and fixed oils, a liposterolic compound, and high molecular weight polysaccharides.
Scullcap ( Scutellaria lateriflora )
History and uses : Scullcap, a sedative herb, has traditionally been used to treat hysteria, nervousness and as an antispasmodic for muscle spasms and tension. In the 19th century it gained a reputation as a rabies cure, and was dubbed "Mad Dog" scullcap. Indeed, it was effective in easing the muscle spasms associated with the disease, but it did not produce a cure.
Today, scullcap is widely used in herbal formulas (often in combination with other calming herbs such as hop and valerian) prescribed to treat a range of problems, including mild anxiety and epilepsy. It is considered safe in reasonable amounts.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Entire plant. Mainly scutellarin, a flavonoid, iridoids, tannins and volatile oil.
Shepherd's Purse ( Capsella bursa-pastoris )
History and uses : This plant is named for it's pouch-shaped seed pods. Herbalists have traditionally recommended Shepherd's purse to stem internal and external bleeding. However, some researchers believe it may be a white fungus often found growing on the plant that has the remarkable antihemorrhagic properties.
Shepherd's Purse has also been used for urinary tract infection and to lower fevers.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Herb. Flavonoids, polypeptides.
Slippery Elm ( Ulmus fulva )
History and uses : Aboriginal peoples used slippery elm as a salve for skin injuries, such as burns and chapped lips. And, in fact, their remedy has been shown to have validity. The bark of the elm contains mucilage, a gelatenous substance that swells in water. When applied to wounds, or when taken internally, the mucilage coats the injured area, bringing soothing relief.
Today, slippery elm is often used in lozenges to ease sore throat pain and smoker's cough. In addition, a powdered form of the bark is useful in treating burns, boils and minor wounds. Slippery elm is considered non-toxic and safe for external and internal use.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Bark. Mucilage.
St. John's Wort ( Hypericum perforatum )
History and uses : Traditionally used to drive off demons and evil spirits, St John's Wort has recently shown promise against a more tangible enemy: viruses. In fact, the plant is being tested as a possible treatment for HIV infection, the deadly virus that attacks the immune system. Hypericin, a pigment in the plant, has been shown in experiments to have anti-HIV activity.
Beyond these novel uses, St John's wort has anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and sedative properties, and has been useful for treating a range of ailments, from depression and bed-wetting to colds and arthritis. Use topically in a salve, the herb may be applied to open wounds, and it does seem to promote healing.
St John's wort is relatively safe for human use.However, hypericin, the plant's red pigment, causes photosensitivity (supersensivity to the sun's rays) in livestock that graze large quantities of the herb. For this reason, in the 1970's it was deemed unsafe by the USFDA, although it still enjoyed widespread use elsewhere. Even in the US, there is a growing body of opinion that holds the herb is safe for human use, as long as quantities ingested do not approach those of cows and sheep grazing on the open range.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : All above-ground parts of the herb. Hypericin and essential oil.
Thyme ( Thymus vulgaris )
History and uses : Thyme is considered by herbalists as one of nature's most powerful antiseptics. It's active ingredient, thymol, is germicidal and has found wide use in toothpastes and mouthwashes, as well as some topical ointments. Thymol is also an expectorant and cough supressant, and is a common ingredient in syrups prescribes for coughs and bronchitis.
The herb itself may be brewed in tea, and some herbalists recommend it as an excellent gargle for sore throats and tonsillitis. In addition, thyme's carminative properties make it a good choice for upset stomach, although the taste is a little strong for some people.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. Thymol.
Turmeric ( Curcuma longa )
History and uses : Primarily used as a spice, turmeric lends it's fragrance and flavor to many Indian curries. But it has also enjoyed long use for it's purported health benefits. In India, an extract of turmeric is sold as an eyewash for conjunctivitis. In addition, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic practitioners combine turmeric with other herbs to relieve gas, liver problems, toothaches, sores and a number of other conditions.
Some research seems to confirm turmeric's use for protecting the liver. There is also evidence that the ingestion of the active compound curcumin may protect the liver by increasing bile secretion, which aids in the digestion of fats.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Rhizome (underground stem). Volatile oil, curcumin.
Uva Ursi ( Artostaphylos uva-ursi )
History and uses : The leaves of this evergreen shrub, also known as a bearberry, have been used for centuries to treat a range of ailments. Aboriginal peoples mixed uva ursi with tobacco leaves and smoked it, and made a poultice of the leaves for use on sprains and sore muscles. But mainly uva ursi has been regarded as a diuretic.
It's real value lies in it's antiseptic activity in the urinary tract, but only under alkaline conditions. Uva ursi teas, capsules and extracts are useful for treating inflammations of the tract, as well as cystitis. The leaves also contain a fair amount of tannin, and taken over time may irritate the stomach. Some people tolerate uva ursi more easily by adding an equal amount of peppermint leaves to the mixture. Uva ursi is safe for short-term use, but should be avoided during pregnancy.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. Arbutin.
Valerian ( valeriana officinalis )
History and uses : A popular and reliable sleep aid, valerian has not always been used for it's sedative properties. In ancient Greece is was prescribed for digestive problems, nausea and urinary tract disorders, while native peoples relied on another species of valerian for treating cuts and wounds.
However, recent research has lent support to valerian's use as a sedative. Studies have indicated that active ingredients in the plant's pungent root both depress the central nervous system and relax smooth muscle tissue (involuntary muscles, such as those that control the intestines and the blood vesels.)
In controlled tests, the herb has been shown to lessen the time needed to fall asleep, and it also produces a deep, satisfying rest, similar to that of many commercial sleep aids. In addition, valerian doesn't cause "sleep hangovers" the next morning, nor does it produce dependancy as some prescription sleeping pills can.
But valerian is not just useful for inducing sleep. It has also been found effective for calming nervous stomachs, and may be taken during the day to relieve symptoms of stress.
Tinctures and capsules are widely available, and are especially popular in Europe. But valerian is also effective in other forms, including teas and liquid extracts - although many people are put off by valerian's strong smell.
Cats, on the other hand, are wildly attracted to the pungent roots of valerian, which contain a chemical similar to one that may be found in catnip.
Valerian is generally considered safe but, like most medicinal herbs, should not be used to treat infants. In addition, pregnant women should consult their obstetricians before using valerian or any other herbals.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Root. Essential oil, valeric acid, and chemically unstable compounds called valepotriates.
Wintergreen ( Gaultheria procumbens )
History and uses : Once a popular flavoring in candies and gum, wintergreen has also enjoyed long use as a herbal remedy. Indian peoples,including the Sioux, Penobscot and Nez Perce nations, use wintergreen tea to treat arthritis pain and sore muscles. Later, the settlers used the leaves of the herb for similar purposes, as well as to alleviate headaches and colds.
In the 1800's pharmacologists discovered that the plant's essential oil is composed approximately 90% methyl salicylate, a chemical closely related to aspirin. It's the oil that gives wintergreen it's anti-inflammatory, midly analgesic properties. Today, wintergreen is widely used in over-the-counter balms and ointments for the temporary relief of arthritis pain, sciatica and muscle pain. In addition, when brewed in tea, wintergreen is sometimes used as a diuretic.
Wintergreen tea is considered safe in reasonable amounts. When applied to the skin, oil of wintergreen preparations are also considered safe, although they may cause skin irritations. Taken internally, oil of wintergreen is poisonous, except in very small amounts. Artificial flavorings have now replaced the natural oil in most "wintergreen" sweets.
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. Essentialoil (Approximately 90% methyl salicylate)
Witch Hazel ( Hamamelis virginiana )
History and uses : The leaves and bark of this flowering shrub have long been used in traditional medicine, and the plant's forked branches are often the material of choice for divining rods. While witch hazel's effectiveness for dowsing is dubious, the astringency of the leaves and bark (due to the high tannin content) does make the plant a reasonable choice for treating various skin conditions.
Today, witch hazel is a common ingredient in a soothing lotion bearing it's name, as well as in commercially available eye drops, aftershave lotions and cosmetics. In addition, witch hazel preparations have been found to be effective for treating hemrrhoids. When used externally, witch hazel has no adverse side effects
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Leaves. Tannins.
Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium )
History and uses : A fragrant, flowering plant that is popular in potpourris and herbal preparations, yarrow is said to have been used by the Greek hero Achilles (hence it's genus name) to stop the bleeding of his warriors' wounds. Aboriginal peoples and pioneers also used yarrow for it's healing properties, both as a tea to treat digestive disorders and fevers, and as a poultice to treat cuts and burns. They also chewed the leaves to relieve toothache pain.
Modern medicine has not yet confirmed yarrow's use as a blood coagulant, but recent research seems to demonstrate it's value as an antispasmodic. Yarrow's astringent action is also useful in cases of diarrhea and dysentery. In addition, the herb has been used as an anti-inflammatory (to treat arthritis), a diuretic and as an antieptic.
Some herbalists recommend steeping an infusion of yarrow leaves and flower tops, which is drunk to reduce fever or to stimulate appetite. A poultice made from the flowers or the whole plant may be applied to swollen joints,as well as to cuts and wounds. While yarrow use is considered safe, it should noty be taken by pregant women
Plant Parts & Active Compounds : Flowers. Volatile oil, sequiterpene lactones, flavonoids.