With innovations appearing in our lives seemingly every day it seems that new breakthroughs in science are the only ones we trust. New is always considered better.
With this prevalent thinking those who espouse the wisdom of the ancients are ignored and perhaps even ridiculed, right up until the point when modern science backs them up. Sometimes looking to ancient knowledge as a source and then checking with modern science can yield useful results.
One of the recent winners of the Nobel Prize for medicine discovered a breakthrough drug after poring over 2,000 ancient herbal recipes. Dr Tu Youyou’s discovery, the anti-malarial artemisinin, derived from wormwood, is credited with saving millions of lives.
With that said, some — such as the plants in the nightshade family — might be avoided. And, some people might experience adverse effects from some herbs, just as they would from other manufactured medicines. Finally, mixing herbs and medications might not be a wise idea, so check with your doctor before you attempt to treat anything with herbs.
Modern medicine relies on plants more than many of us realize, says Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD, senior attending pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital and chief editor of publications for the Natural Standard Research Collaboration, which evaluates scientific data on herbs.
“Practically all of the most widely used drugs have an herbal origin,” Ulbricht says. “The number one OTC medication, aspirin, is a synthetic version of a compound found in the willow tree. Many statins are based on fungi; and Tamiflu originated from Chinese star anise.”
The following list is a small sample of some herbs that might help relieve some of your adverse symptoms.
- Aloe: The clear gel within the leaves of this plant is a superior remedy for burns. Use it for thermal burns, sunburns or any skin irritation. Aloe Vera juice is intended for internal use, and its main use is to help heal ulcers and other intestinal irritations. The juice is not pleasant for the most part, but you only need a teaspoon after meals. Otherwise, the juice becomes a laxative.
- Artemisinin: Is known to stop the ability of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis becoming dormant, a stage of the disease that often makes the use of antibiotics ineffective. Artemisinin is isolated from the plant Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood, an herb employed in traditional Chinese medicine .
TB usually takes up to six months to treat and this is one of the main reasons the disease is so hard to get under control. However the use of the ancient herb could be key to shortening the course of therapy because it can clear out the dormant, hard-to-kill bacteria. This could lead to improving patient outcomes and slowing the evolution of drug-resistant TB.
- Black Cohosh : Also known as “Squawroot,” the root extract has been long known to eleviate menstrual cramps. Recent experiments suggest that the tea made from this root contains sedative and anti-inflammatory effects. Black cohosh is toxic in large doses, and pregnant women should avoid this herb.
- Black Cumin Seeds: The black cumin seed or “Nigella Sativa” is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and has been used as medicine predominantly by Muslim cultures. However, the plant dates back to before the rise of Islam and was used by other non-Muslim cultures too.
“Habbat ul Sawda” as the seeds are known in Arabic, were mentioned by Muhammad in the Quran and he is believed to have said, “in the black seed is healing for every disease but death.” In Arabo-Islamic culture the seeds are prescribed as a medicine for various ailments including fever, asthma, chronic headaches, diabetes, digestion issues, back pain, infections, and rheumatism. When used externally it can help to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
The seed is believed to have 100 healthy components and is a significant source of fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Many studies have been completed in recent years and prove the seed’s strong anti-inflammatory response, anti-leukemic properties, cardio-protective, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, and immune-modulatory properties.
The efficacy of the black cumin seed oil is mostly attributed to its quinone constituents and essential oils components. Quinone promotes healthy oral health and helps manage oral diseases . It has also been linked to enhanced learning and improved memory in elderly patients. The seeds also help improve the immune system and aid in cancer prevention.
- Blackberry Root : Blackberry root bark has been used as an herbal remedy for diarrhea. Users can find tinctures in health food stores. If so, then a teaspoon every two to four hours may do the trick.
- Cayenne: Christopher Columbus first introduced cayenne to the Old World and since then cayenne has become a culinary and medicinal staple. Cayenne has been known to relieve toothache, a digestive aid, and a way to alleviate pain as an ointment. Capsaicin is the ingredient of note, used externally to relieve arthritic pain.
- Chamomile: This tea is a great home remedy for upset stomachs as it can help relieve heartburn, indigestion and colic. It also is a mild relaxant and sedative, good to drink before bedtime.
- Cinnamon: This herb will warm you up, as it promotes circulation. If you have a job where you need to sit all day long, use cinnamon tea to get you going rather than coffee.
- Comfrey: Use the root of this plant to make a poultice for wounds that never seem to heal, such as bed sores, brown recluse spider bites and diabetic ulcers. Once a day, mix powdered comfrey root with aloe vera gel to make a paste, pack it into the wound and cover with a bandage.
- Corydalis yanhusuo: A recent study supports the efficacy of an ancient Chinese herbal remedy that has been used for centuries in the treatment of pain. The remedy comes from Corydalis yanhusuo, a flowering herbal plant that grows in Siberia, Northern China and Japan. So far almost 500 different compounds have been tested for their ability to relieve pain.
The Corydalis yanhusuo plant is a member of the poppy family, and has been used as pain reliever for most of Chinese history; but unlike opium, the medicine is a non-addictive analgesic that works via a compound that can relieve acute, inflammatory, and neuropathic or chronic pain. The study was found to be especially effective on injury-induced neuropathic pain, which currently has no adequate treatment.
When the roots of the plant are dug up, ground, and then boiled in hot vinegar, they produce dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), which acts like morphine, but does not work through the morphine receptor in the human body. Instead it acts on the other receptors that bind dopamine.
- Dandelion: Dandelion tea is used to help relieve kidney and liver disorders. It is not toxic, so no worries about overdosing.
- Donkey milk: Was once hailed by the ancients as an elixir of long life, a cure-all for a variety of ailments, and a powerful tonic capable of rejuvenating the skin. Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, reportedly bathed in donkey milk every day to preserve her beauty and youthful looks, while ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote of its incredible medicinal properties. Now it seems that interest in donkey milk is experiencing a renewed interest.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation acknowledges that donkey milk has “particular nutritional benefits”, with a protein profile that may make it more suitable for those allergic to cow’s milk . Moreover, donkey milk is the closest known milk to human breast milk with high lactose ratios and low-fat content.
It is also rich in vitamins, contains anti-bacterial agents, reported to be 200 times more active than in cow’s milk, and anti-allergens, which are believed to be responsible for alleviating psoriasis, eczema, asthma, and bronchitis.
- Echinacea: Antibiotic, antiviral and immune-enhancer. This native American plant is a fine first-line treatment for colds and flu. At the first sign of trouble, begin taking echinacea and continue until the illness runs its course. Children under 10 can take half the adult dosage.
- Eucalyptus: These evergreens are native to Australia, and the oils from the leaves have long been known to relieve chest congestion and bronchial problems. If you don’t like the eucalyptus teas, simply pour hot water over a few leaves and inhale the steam twice per day. Try sage teas for a sore throat.
- Evening Primrose Oil : This oil, along with black currant and borage oils contain a fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid). GLA is an effective anti-inflammatory agent with none of the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs. These oils also promote healthy skin, hair and nail growth. But, it takes some two to three months of continuous use for these oils to take effect.
- Fennel Seed: Forget those over-the-counter gas pain relievers. Chew a half-teaspoon of fennel seeds – also known as Star Anise – after each meal or when you feel bloated to help expel gas from your intestines.
- Frankincense: Several thousand years ago, people knew how to use frankincense to cure several ailments. It was also one of the commodities that fueled the Incense Route . Ancient physicians found that frankincense had antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties, and therefore prescribed it as a cure for a variety of ailments, including indigestion, cough, and halitosis (bad breath).
Thanks to chemical analysis of this product, we now have a better understanding of the components found in frankincense and the healing effects they may have on the human body. For example, monoterpenes such as alpha- and beta-pinene are an important component of frankincense. It has been found that this compound helps to eliminate toxins from the liver and the kidneys.
Due to its antiseptic property, frankincense oil could also be applied to wounds to prevent them from developing infections. Frankincense may even be ingested to aid the recovery of internal wounds. And in 2010, scientists reported that frankincense stopped cancer from spreading and caused cancerous cells to close themselves down. But the compound in frankincense responsible for this has not been identified yet.
- Garlic: Known as an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer and cardiovascular tonic. Chop or chew two cloves daily to release the sulphur compound that contains the antibiotic effects for colds.
- Ginger: My father has tried everything to relieve arthritic pain, so when he read that powdered ginger would help, he was game. Within thirty days after taking capsules twice per day, the pain was gone. He continues to use it to this day. Ginger tea also is good for head and chest congestion.
- Ginseng: Long known as an aphrodisiac, ginger actually helps to increase energy levels. But, too much can cause headaches or insomnia.
- Horse Chestnut : Horse chestnut has been used to treat spider and varicose veins when used as a topical application. It is sometimes sold under the name Escin.
- Horseradish: If you can tolerate freshly prepared horseradish, or if you prefer horseradish prepared as hot mustards or wasabi, enjoy as much as you can tolerate to help liquefy bronchial congestion.
- Lemon Balm: Lemon balm appears to calm an overactive thyroid (Graves’ disease), according to Eric Yarnell, ND, an assistant professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University. It also fights viruses; recent studies indicate that lemon balm cream speeds healing of oral herpes lesions and reduces the frequency of outbreaks.
Get the benefit: For lemon balm’s calming effects, try a daily tea made with one-half to one full dropper of tincture or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb steeped in 1 cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes, says herbalist Linda Different Cloud, a PhD candidate in ethnobotany at Montana State University.
- Lobelia : Also known as “Indian tobacco,” lobelia is used as a remedy for asthma. The standard “recipe” is one part capsaicum (cayenne) tincture to three parts lobelia tincture. Take twenty drops of the mixture in water at the start of an asthmatic attack and repeat every half hour for a maximum of three doses.
- Mint : Mints, including peppermint, is a digestive remedy used for heartburn, indigestion and nausea treatments. Try the teas and drink as much as you want.
- Mullein : More prevalent in the western U.S., mullein is a tall common weed that produces large leaves and a flowering spike as it matures. Smoking the leaves is a treatment for respiratory ailments, including chest congestion and dry bronchial coughs. If you’re not up to smoking the leaves, then try a tincture, with a dropper-full in warm water every four hours.
- Nightshade : Although nightshade sounds eerie, nightshade plants include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers. Rather than eat these foods, you might want to avoid them if you want to relieve arthritic pain.
- Onion: They are considered cure-alls in many cultures. In Middle Eastern traditional medicine, they were prescribed for diabetes. During the early 20th century in the United States, William Boericke, MD, recommended onions for respiratory and digestive problems in his influential medical treatise, Homeopathic Materia Medica. Believing that onions would help improve athletic performance, ancient Greek Olympians scarfed them down, drank their juice, and rubbed them on their bodies before competitions.
Research proves: A stack of new studies has confirmed many old-time uses of onions. Their thiosulfinates (sulfur compounds responsible for their smell) reduce diabetes symptoms and protect against cardiovascular disease. Quercetin, a flavonoid found in onions, prevents the inflammation associated with allergies and also protects against stomach ulcers and colon, esophageal, and breast cancers.
- Plantain: Tradition says: Plantain, or Plantago major, a low-growing, oval-leafed plant found all over the globe, is a traditional remedy for skin ailments.
Research prove that the plant’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties help heal breaks in the skin, researchers have found. Its soothing effects work internally too: Psyllium, the seed of one type of plantain, is the source of the fiber in some laxatives.
- Psyllium Seed : These seeds come from a plantain species and are used as a source of fiber. These seeds are the source of many popular commercial laxatives, but you can purchase the powdered variety without all the additives at most health food stores. The only precaution is to drink plenty of water if you take this remedy, otherwise the remedy may become a blockage issue.
- Roseroot: Ancient Greeks, Vikings, Caucasians, prehistoric Siberians and Mongolians, and ancient Chinese emperors were all taken with the medicinal properties of the wild herb Rhodiola rosea (golden root or roseroot). Many centuries after it was introduced to Siberia, people there still say those who drink roseroot tea will live to be 100. In ancient times, Siberians found the root so valuable they would trade it for wine, fruit and honey.
Since 1960, more than 180 studies have been done to gauge the efficacy of roseroot in promoting health. Now medical research shows that oral R. rosea extract versus conventional antidepressant therapy of mild to moderate” depression.
The latest research has found that the ancients were right to be enamored with roseroot: It works not just in reducing some symptoms of depression, but it also gave “significant reductions in fatigue, depression, and performance ratings” in two groups tested in another study.
- Saw Palmetto : This plant is used extensively in Europe to treat symptoms aligned with benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement of the prostate). This use can be traced back to the Mayans.
- Spirulina : Spirulina and chlorella are two varieties of freshwater algae, which are dried and sold as dark green powders or tablets. They are touted as miracle substances, but other than the claim that this is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians, there is little evidence that spirulina is a health cure for any ailment.
- Tea Tree Oil : This oil is a great treatment for skin and nail fungal infections. Just paint the oil on affected areas two or three times a day.
- Willow Tree Bark: Both the Ancient Egyptians and Hipocrates recommended using the bark of a willow tree for pain relief. Its effectiveness was eventually proven in a study by the Royal Society in 1763.
But it was not until 1915 that drugs giant Bayer started selling it over the counter as aspirin. It is now the subject of between 700 and 1,000 clinical studies each year.
And recent advances have shown it is far more than just a painkiller. From reducing the risk of strokes to indications it could help prevent cancer, aspirin is the traditional remedy that keeps on giving.