In an awakening world, there appears to be a surging desire to return to Mother Nature for healing.
And indeed, herbal medicine has the power to prevent and treat disease, and to create whole health.
What’s old is new again as Americans reconnect with traditional ways to renew, revitalize and restore the body, mind and soul — rather than pharmaceutical drugs, which warn of dire side effects.
Often dismissed as quackery in the U.S., herbal remedies are deeply rooted in medical history.
As early as 3000 BC, ancient Chinese and Egyptian writings describe medicinal uses for plants. Ancient doctors methodically collected information about herbs and developed distinct pharmacopoeias to treat a variety of ailments.
Nearly 80 percent of the world today uses botanicals — herbal teas, tinctures, elixirs, essential oils and supplements made with leaves, seeds, berries, roots, bark or flowers — for some aspect of primary health care.
America? Not so much.
But that’s changing. From mint to marijuana, there are hundreds of botanicals that serve many vital medicinal and health purposes. Potent medical plants you’re likely to find in the wildernesses or even your own backyard can be anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, antiseptic and antibacterial — or expectorants, fever reducers or antihistamines.
In the U.S., more than 1,500 botanicals are sold as dietary supplements. Top-selling plants include echinacea, lavender, frankincense, turmeric, peppermint, garlic, goldenseal, ginseng, Reishi and Maitake mushrooms, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, aloe, valerian, green tea, ephedra, calendula and cranberry.
Herbal remedies can address a constellation of maladies such as allergies, inflammation, asthma, eczema, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, menopausal symptoms, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer.
Health-care practitioners of various disciplines often recommend herbs as a gentler, more natural ways to address a wide variety of largely preventable medical conditions.
Addressing health problems
Calming chamomile tea treats anxiety, cramping and muscle pain. Echinacea, from the coneflower, was used centuries ago by the Native Americans; today many take echinacea to help fight off colds as it can boost one’s immune response. Ginkgo biloba reportedly improves circulation and brain activity.
Ginseng has been used for thousands of years as a natural energy booster. St. John’s wort is an herbal alternative to prescription medications for relieving anxiety and depression.
Herbal remedies can support the immune system, build stronger bones, speed-bump aging, encourage hair and nail growth or keep hair from losing its color.
Marigold (calendula) has been employed medicinally for centuries to treat conjunctivitis, blepharitis, eczema, gastritis, minor burns, warts, sprains and other minor wounds, cramps, coughs and snake bites.
Today even scientists are recognizing the power agents in some essential oils.
Calendula’s concentrated flavonoids, they say, can act as antioxidants, which can protect cells from damage caused by oxidation, which can in turn cause cancerous cells to shut down.
Talk to your doctor — or homeopath or functional medicine practitioner or even chiropractor — about how powerful herbal medicines might help you.
And before taking any supplement, find out if it can interact with any illnesses you have, therapies you’re undergoing or any other drugs you may be taking.
Wendell Fowler is a chef, a syndicated food columnist and the author of Eat Right Now: The End of Mindless Eating.
Deep Roots: Plants as Medicine
Examine the history and future of plant-based medicine around the world in this exhibit sponsored by Minnesota’s LeafLine Labs.
Visitors can uncover the variety of uses and preparations of herbal medicine across cultures, and can reflect on the advances made in plant medicine as scientific understanding has evolved.
Where: The Bakken Museum, Minneapolis
Cost: Included with museum admission of $10–$5 (free for ages 4 and younger)