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Nature’s 10 Most Powerful Medicinal Plants and the Science Behind Them

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Herbal studies are now proving the effectiveness of plants for medicinal purposes…

Today, we live in a time when manufactured medicines and prescriptions prevail, but is a time approaching when they won’t be the only approach to healing?

Even with all of these engineered options at our fingertips, many people find themselves turning back to the medicinal plants that started it all: herbal remedies that have the ability to heal and boost physical and mental well-being.

In fact, at the beginning of the 21st century, 11% of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization were “exclusively of flowering plant origin.” Drugs like codeine, quinine, and morphine all contain plant-derived ingredients.

While these manufactured drugs have certainly become paramount in our lives, it can be comforting to know that the power of nature is on our side, and these herbal choices are available to complement our health practices.

But the extent of the power they hold is also still being explored. These alternatives aren’t cure-alls, and they aren’t perfect. Many carry the same risks and side effects as manufactured medicines. Many of them are sold with unfounded promises.

However, both plants and supplements, which aren’t regulated for safety or quality, can have questionable dosage and might have a risk of contamination. Keep this in mind before choosing supplements from the shelf.

These plants have the most numerous high-quality studies and are safer choices among herbal remedies.

We hope this guide will act as a starting point to those who wish to integrate herbal remedies into their lives and arrive armed with knowledge. As always, speak with your doctor before starting any new health treatment.

Ginko

As one of the oldest tree species, gingko is also one of the oldest homoeopathic adaptogenic plants and a key herb in Chinese medicine. The leaves are used to create capsules, tablets, and extracts, and when dried, can be consumed as a tea.

It’s perhaps best-known for its ability to boost brain health. Studies say that gingko can treat patients with mild to moderate dementia, and can slow cognitive decline in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent research is looking into a component that can help diabetes, and there continue to be more studies, including an animal study that says it might influence bone healing.

INTERESTING FACT

The gingko tree is considered a living fossil, with fossils dating from 270 million years ago. These trees can live up to 3,000 years.

Turmeric

With its brilliant orange hue, it’s impossible to miss a bottle of turmeric sitting on a spice shelf. Originating in India, turmeric is believed to have anti-cancer properties and can prevent DNA mutations.

As an anti-inflammatory, it can be taken as a supplement and it’s been used topically for people with arthritis who wish to relieve discomfort. It’s used worldwide as a cooking ingredient, which makes it a delicious, antioxidant-rich addition to many dishes.

According to recent research, turmeric is also showing promise as a treatment for a variety of dermatologic diseases and joint arthritis.

INTERESTING FACT

Turmeric has been used as a medicinal herb for 4,000 years. It’s a tentpole of an Indian alternative medicine practice called Ayurveda.

Echinacea

Echinacea is a lot more than those pretty, purple coneflowers you see dotting gardens. These blooms have been used for centuries as medicine in the form of teas, juice, and extracts. Today, they can be taken as powders or supplements.

The best-known use of echinacea is to shorten symptoms of the common cold, but more studies are needed to verify this benefit and to understand how echinacea boosts immunity when a virus is present.

Generally, save a few potential side effects, echinacea is relatively safe. Even though it needs more testing, you can always choose to use it if you’re hoping to see your cold symptoms end more quickly.

INTERESTING FACT

Some of the earliest people to use echinacea as a medicinal herb were Native Americans. The first archaeological evidence dates back to the 18th century.

Lavender

If you experience anxiety, chances are that someone along the way has recommended that you use lavender essential oil, and for good reason. This aromatic, purple flower has a fairly strong standing among studies, which have mainly focused on its anti-anxiety capacities.

It’s proven to be soothing in a study conducted among dental patients, while another study confirmed that lavender can directly impact mood and cognitive performance. It’s also been commended for its sedative properties to help people get much-needed sleep.

Recently, it’s been discovered that lavender carries anti-inflammatory benefits as well. It’s most effective diluted and applied to the skin or used in aromatherapy, and it has few side effects.

INTERESTING FACT

Lavender was first brought to Provence, France, by the Romans 2,000 years ago.

Tea Tree Oil

The tea tree, which is native to Australia, produces an oil that’s long been thought to be beneficial for skin conditions, including mild acne, athlete’s foot, small wounds, dandruff, insect bites, and other inflammatory skin conditions.

There needs to be further study into acne and scalp use, but for now, there’s a degree of research into the antimicrobial superpowers of tea tree oil on wounds and topical infections.

One recent study said that tea tree oil slowed the growth of acne-causing microbes. It’s commonly used as a highly concentrated essential oil.

Tea tree oil, as with all essential oils, should be diluted in a carrier oil.

INTERESTING FACT

Tea tree oil is derived from the leaves of a tree that’s native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia.

Grapeseed Extract

For years, grapeseed extract, which is available via liquid, tablets, or capsules, has been well-established and applauded for its antioxidant activity. It has potent health benefits, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and reducing symptoms of poor circulation in the leg veins.

Studies are confirming that regular consumption of grapeseed extract has anticancer effects and seems to halt cancer cell growth.

INTERESTING FACT

Grapeseed extract contains the same antioxidants found in wine.

Chamomile

With flowers that resemble small daisies, chamomile is another medicinal plant that’s thought to have anti-anxiety properties. Most people know it because it’s a popular tea flavour says that over 1 million cups per day are consumed around the world), but it can also be ingested through liquids, capsules, or tablets.

The calming powers of chamomile have been frequently studied, including a 2009 study that states chamomile is superior to taking a placebo when treating generalized anxiety disorder. One recent study confirmed it’s safe for long-term use, and another recent study looked beyond its use for anxiety and confirmed that it also shows potential in anticancer treatments.

INTERESTING FACT

There are two types of chamomile: German chamomile, an annual that thrives in the Midwest, and Roman chamomile, a perennial that attracts pollinators and smells like apples.

Evening Primrose Oil

The vibrant yellow evening primrose flower produces an oil that’s thought to alleviate the symptoms of PMS and skin conditions like eczema.

Studies that are available on this oil tend to be all over the map, but there are studies that are stronger than others. For example, some studies have found that evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been known to help with conditions such as atopic dermatitis and diabetic neuropathy. It can also help with other health concerns, such as breast pain.

Recent research points to improving the quality of life for patients with multiple sclerosis, changing hormones and insulin sensitivity in those dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome, and using it topically to improve mild dermatitis.

According to these studies, evening primrose oil might just be the Swiss Army knife of the medicinal plant world. The caveat is that it can interact with several medications. More research is coming, and the applications are promising.

INTERESTING FACT

Evening primrose flowers are also called moonflowers because they bloom as the sun begins to set. People often say they smell like lemons.

Flax Seed

Flax seed, also available as an oil, is one of the safer choices among plant-based dietary supplements. Harvested for thousands of years, today flax seed is praised for its antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Although more research needs to be done with human subjects, one study says that flax seed can help prevent colon cancer.

Another study cites that flax seed has the ability to reduce blood pressure. When consumed, it can even aid in reducing obesity. Many people add flax seed and flaxseed meal to oatmeal and smoothies, and it’s also available in the form of tablets, oil (which can be put into capsules), and flour.

The best way to add flax seed is through your diet. Sprinkle ground seeds on cereal or salad, cook in hot cereal, stew, homemade breads, or smoothies. Add flaxseed oil to salad dressing.

INTERESTING FACT

Flax seeds are one of a handful of plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources include chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.

It has been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration (Source).

Its botanical name is Withania somnifera, and it’s also known by several other names, including Indian ginseng and winter cherry.

The ashwagandha plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers that’s native to India and North Africa. Extracts or powder from the plant’s root or leaves are used to treat a variety of conditions.

Many of its health benefits are attributed to its high concentration of withanolides, which have been shown to fight inflammation and tumor growth (Source).

Studies have shown that ashwagandha may help reduce cortisol levels and also lower blood sugar levels.

But ashwagandha is perhaps best known for its ability to reduce stress. Researchers have reported that it blocked the stress pathway in the brains of rats by regulating chemical signalling in the nervous system (Source).

Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb with multiple health benefits. It can reduce anxiety and stress, help fight depression, boost fertility and testosterone in men, and even boost brain function. Supplementing with ashwagandha may be an easy and effective way to improve your health and quality of life.

INTERESTING FACT

“Ashwagandha” is Sanskrit for “smell of the horse,” which refers to both its unique smell and ability to increase strength.

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