Herbs have traditionally been used for the treatment of all manner of diseases and conditions. The advent of modern medicine, however, has meant that many of them have been forgotten and much of our ancient wisdom lost. These days few are aware that meadowsweet can be used to combat inflammation for example, or that lemongrass has a fungus inhibiting effect, rosehip can help those suffering from osteoarthritis or that mint leaf offers welcome relief from digestive problems. Or that you needn’t always turn to medicines with nasty side effects, in order to treat certain ailments. Indeed, a simple smoothie containing a few carefully selected healing herbs is often enough to alleviate your symptoms. Below are 11 such unsung medicinal herbs that are well worth getting acquainted with.
This article covers:
- The origins of medicinal herbs
- 11 medicinal herbs that enrich your smoothie and your health
- 1 green powder that contains all 11 medicinal herbs
The origins of medicinal herbs
Archaeological excavations have established that mankind was using medicinal herbs as long ago as the Palaeolithic era (around 60,000 years ago). In fact, their effects were already described in the ancient writings of the Sumerians, which are more than 5000 years old. Even today, people the world over still use herbs for medical purposes, particularly in Asia and Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the population in certain Asian and African countries rely on medicinal herbs for primary healthcare. This is not only because modern medicine is often unaffordable; but also because the benefits of medicinal herbs have been handed down from generation to generation and they are generally considered a sound alternative to modern drugs. Certain plants, herbs and seeds are also highly regarded in modern medicine. Indeed, some 25% of conventional medicines contain ingredients derived from medicinal herbs.
In the UK, a variety of medicinal herbs can be purchased in dried form from chemists, health food stores, superfood shops and traditional Chinese doctors. Normally taken with a glass of water or mixed into food, they’re often disappointingly unpalatable. As a result, many quickly stop using them. Which is a great shame because, in addition to their medicinal effects, herbal medicines are typically rich in vitamins and minerals that make a valuable addition to your daily diet. Vitamins and minerals that are all too frequently lacking in the fruit and vegetables available from our supermarkets.
Unfortunately the vitamin and mineral content of our fresh fruit and vegetables has declined sharply over the last 30 years. In 1985 for example, one ounce of broccoli contained 103 mg of calcium, 47 mg of folic acid and 26 mg of magnesium. By 2002, only 17 years later, that same ounce contained just 28 mg of calcium, 18 mg of folic acid and 11 mg of magnesium. A respective 73%, 62% and 58% reduction! In 2002 you therefore had to eat four times as much broccoli in order to obtain the same quantity of minerals. It’s a trend that has continued unabated, so imagine how much broccoli you now need to eat in 2015! Another example is spinach. These days Popeye and Olive Oyl couldn’t depend on spinach to make them big and strong, because the amount of calcium and vitamin C in spinach has decreased by 76% and 65% respectively over the same period (source: Geigy Pharmaceutical Company, Food Laboratory Karlsruhe, Sanatorium Obertal).
11 medicinal herbs that enrich your smoothie and your health
Fortunately, there are a number of herbal remedies that do taste good and, as they’re commonly sold in powder form, can be readily stirred into your favourite smoothies and juices. The following medicinal herbs not only enrich the flavour of your smoothie; they also give your health a welcome boost:
Alfalfa leaf uses: alfalfa leaf is derived from the alfalfa herb, the young sprouts of which are often available from the supermarket. The leaf of mature alfalfa is commonly used in natural medicine to treat kidney, bladder and prostate disorders, and to relieve fluid retention. The leaf is also frequently prescribed by naturopaths to combat high cholesterol, asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, stomach problems and the blood disease, thrombocytopenic purpura. Alfalfa leaf boasts a neutral flavour and can therefore be combined with other medicinal herbs and superfoods.
Effects: it has been scientifically proven that alfalfa seeds can help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) in those with high cholesterol levels (Mölgaard et al, 1987 ). It is believed that this is due to saponins that they contain, however, further research is still required (Malinow et al., 1981 ). The other beneficial effects associated with alfalfa leaf, such as the reduction of kidney, bladder and prostate problems, as well as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, and gastrointestinal complaints are not yet proven.
Nutrients: alfalfa leaf is rich in vitamin A, C, E, and K4. It also contains a generous amount of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 5 to 10 grams of alfalfa leaf daily for the treatment of high cholesterol. Alfalfa leaf is generally considered safe for most people (unlike alfalfa seeds, which can cause auto-immune reactions with long-term use). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as all those with sensitive skin, who have had kidney transplants or are suffering from autoimmune diseases, or hormone-sensitive diseases (e.g. breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis and fibroids), are advised to consume little or no alfalfa leaf at all. As alfalfa leaf may lower blood sugar levels, diabetics who inject insulin are advised to monitor their blood sugar levels closely. Do not consume alfalfa leaf in combination with drugs that inhibit blood clotting, such as warfarin, or immune debilitating drugs and medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight. Alfalfa also contains phytoestrogens, which may affect the action of the contraceptive pill in high doses.
Lemongrass uses: the leaves and oil of the lemongrass plant are widely used in natural medicine. Naturopaths commonly recommend lemongrass for the treatment of spasms of the gastrointestinal tract, abdominal pain, hypertension, cramps, pain, vomiting, coughs, aching joints, fever, common colds, and exhaustion. In addition, the aromatic grass boasts antibacterial, antifungal, cholesterol-lowering and astringent properties, and can also help to regulate the menstrual cycle. Lemongrass is widely prescribed in Ayurvedic medicine and possesses a delicious lemon flavour.
Effects: scientific research has demonstrated that HIV-AIDS patients with oral fungus can benefit from drinking lemongrass tea (Irkin et al., 2009 ). However, further research is still needed in order to confirm that lemongrass has a fungus-inhibiting effect. Other health benefits linked to lemongrass, such as the relief of digestive disorders and its cholesterol-lowering properties, are still unproven.
Nutrients: lemongrass is rich in iron and additionally contains folic acid, potassium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, and vitamin B3.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take approximately 1 teaspoon (3 grams) of lemongrass powder daily for the treatment of fungal disease. Lemongrass is safe for most people to use. However, as it can cause miscarriage in rare cases, pregnant women are advised to avoid consuming lemongrass.
Horsetail uses: horsetail (also known as shave grass) is a medicinal herb that is believed to boast diuretic properties and is largely used for the natural treatment of oedema, kidney and gallstones, bladder infections, incontinence and kidney and bladder conditions. In addition, naturopaths frequently prescribe horsetail to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, hepatitis, brittle nails, joint disorders, gout, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, freezing of the skin, obesity, heavy periods and recurrent nosebleeds. As it is also thought to possess anti-inflammatory properties, horsetail is often applied directly to the skin in order to treat (burn) wounds. Horsetail has a neutral to slightly grassy flavour and can therefore be combined with other medicinal herbs and superfoods.
Effects: scientists have determined that, when taken in combination with a calcium supplement, horsetail can help to raise bone mineral density in menopausal women suffering from osteoporosis, although further research is still required (Corletto, 1999 ). The other beneficial effects associated with horsetail, such as its diuretic effect, have not been scientifically proven.
Nutrients: horsetail is rich in vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin K. In addition, the herb contains small amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take approximately 1 teaspoon (3 grams) of horsetail daily for the treatment of osteoporosis. Horsetail is considered safe for most people. However, as it contains thiaminase, a substance that breaks down thiamine (vitamin B1) in the body and can over time lead to a thiamine deficiency, prolonged use is not recommended. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should not consume horsetail. As horsetail may lower blood sugar levels, diabetics who inject insulin are advised to monitor their blood sugar levels closely. Those suffering from alcohol addiction, a potassium or thiamine deficiency or who are taking diuretic medications should avoid consuming horsetail.
Pau d’arco bark
Pau d’arco bark uses: the pau d’arco tree grows in South America, where the bark has traditionally been used for a variety of medicinal purposes, including the treatment of colds, flu, sexually transmitted diseases, prostate and bladder infections, ringworm, fungal infections, diarrhoea, diabetes, gastric ulcer, gastric infections, liver disease, asthma, bronchitis, joint pain, hernia, anaemia, ulcers and wounds. Pau d’arco bark was also commonly used in the sixties for the treatment of cancer, but it was later determined that the bark is only effective at extremely high (toxic) doses and the practice was stopped. Pau d’arco bark boasts a slightly bitter flavour with just a hint of caramel.
Effects: pau d’arco bark contains lapacho, a substance that’s believed to have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-cancer properties (Hussain et al., 2007 ). There is, however, no scientific evidence that pau d’arco bark can help to reduce inflammation, infections or any of the other aforementioned diseases. The amount of lapachol in pau d’arco bark is considered too low to be effective against cancer.
Nutrients: pau d’arco is extremely rich in calcium and also contains vitamins A and C.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 1 teaspoon of pau d’arco, 2 to 4 times daily. Never exceed the recommended daily dose, as long-term use of an excessive dose can lead to anaemia and internal bleeding. Those with blood disorders, or women who are pregnant women or breastfeeding are advised not to take pau d’arco. Do not use pau d’arco in combination with medications that slow blood clotting, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Meadowsweet uses: meadowsweet is a medicinal herb that’s predominantly used in natural medicine for the treatment of colds, bronchitis, nausea, heartburn, ulcers and joint diseases such as gout. Naturopaths additionally believe that meadowsweet acts as a diuretic and can eliminate bacteria in the urine of those with a bladder infection. Meadowsweet tastes similar to elderflower, with a slight hint of honey.
Effects: meadowsweet contains tannins which have anti-inflammatory properties and reduce mucus production (e.g. Kudriashov et al, 1990 ). The herb additionally contains a small amount of salicylates, which have the same effect as aspirin (Candy et al., 1998 ). Whether meadowsweet actually helps in the treatment of colds, bronchitis and all of the other aforementioned conditions, has yet to be scientifically proven.
Nutrients: meadowsweet is a source of calcium and contains small amounts of various other vitamins and minerals.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 1 to 2 teaspoons of meadowsweet daily. In rare cases meadowsweet can cause side effects, such as nausea, upset stomach, rashes and breathing difficulties. As high doses can cause blood in the stool, vomiting, tinnitus and kidney problems, meadowsweet is not recommended for long-term use. Those with asthma or an allergy to aspirin, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, are advised not to take meadowsweet. Do not use meadowsweet in combination with analgesics and / or infection-inhibiting medication, such as trilisate (choline magnesium trisalicylate).
Rosehip uses: rosehips are the fruit of the rose plant, which are located immediately below the leaves. As they contain generous quantities of vitamin C, they’re often used as a medicinal herb to treat colds, flus and vitamin C deficiency. Naturopaths additionally prescribe rosehip for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, such as stomach spasms, gastric acid deficiency, stomach irritation, ulcers and digestive problems, including diarrhoea, constipation, gallstones, gallbladder problems, urinary tract and kidney problems, swelling (oedema), gout, pain in the back or legs (sciatica), diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, chest pain, fever and weakened immunity due to exhaustion.
Effects: scientific research indicates that rosehip can offer relief to those suffering from osteoarthritis and can help to reduce pain and stiffness (Rein et al, 2004 . Rein et al, 2004 ). In addition, there is evidence that rosehip may slightly lower cholesterol and blood pressure in the obese (Andersson et al., 2012 ). Exploratory studies also suggest that rosehip may help to relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (Willich et al., 2010 ). Rosehip possesses a distinctive sweet and sour flavour.
Nutrients: rosehip is extremely rich in vitamin C. It is also a source of vitamin A and manganese, and contains small amounts of vitamin E and K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and iron.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take a maximum of 1 to 2 teaspoons of rosehip daily. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, heartburn, stomach cramps, fatigue, headaches, sleep problems and allergic reactions. Those suffering from diseases of the blood, a glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD deficiency), kidney stones, sickle cell disease and iron-related disorders such as anaemia, are advised not to use rosehip. Exercise caution when using rosehip in combination with antacids, drugs that contain oestrogen, fluphenazine (Prolixin), diuretic medications (lithium), warfarin and analgesics and / or infection-inhibiting medication such as trilisate (choline magnesium trisalicylate).
Peppermint leaf uses: mint leaf, often referred to as peppermint leaf, is a medicinal herb that is routinely used by naturopaths to treat colds, coughs, mouth and throat inflammation, sinus and respiratory infections. Mint leaf is also frequently recommended for the treatment of digestive disorders, such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), intestinal cramps, stomach pain, diarrhoea, bacterial and fungal infections and flatulence. Mint leaf is additionally used by those suffering from menstrual complaints, as well as liver and gallbladder problems, and some naturopaths believe that it can help to prevent gagging during endoscopic examinations. Mint leaf boasts a wonderfully refreshing peppermint flavour.
Effects: scientists have established that mint leaf can offer welcome relief to those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and can help to reduce stomach pain, bloating, flatulence and frequent bowel movements (Marciani et al., 2007 , Massey et al. 2001 ). There are also strong indications that mint leaf can help to combat heartburn (e.g. Holtmann et al., 2003 ) and relax the digestive tract in order to encourage a delayed onset of retching and cramping during endoscopic examinations or enemas (e.g. Yamamoto et al., 2006 ). All of the other purported medicinal properties associated with mint leaves have yet to be scientifically proven.
Nutrients: mint leaf is rich in vitamins A and C and is also a source of calcium, iron and magnesium. Mint leaf additionally contains a small amount of vitamin B6.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 1 to 2 teaspoons of mint leaf daily. Whilst mint leaf is generally considered safe to use, it is not advised to exceed the recommended daily dosage. In rare cases mint leaf may cause heartburn and allergic reactions. Those taking immunosuppressive drugs, such as cyclosporine, or who use medicines that are broken down in the liver, should exercise caution when using mint leaf.
Dandelion leaf uses: naturopaths commonly use dandelion leaf to help treat loss of appetite, upset stomach, flatulence, gallstones, joint pain, muscle pain, eczema and bruises. Some also prescribe the medicinal herb as a laxative or detox agent, whilst others recommend it for the treatment of viral infections and cancer. Dandelion leaf boasts a slightly bitter flavour.
Effects: preliminary scientific studies suggest that dandelion leaf may help to reduce swelling after tonsil surgery (Tan et al., 2010 ). There are also indications that it can help to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women (e.g. Menghini et al., 2010 ). None of the other beneficial effects mentioned above have been scientifically proven.
Nutrients: dandelion leaf is extremely rich in vitamin A and is a source of vitamin C. It also contains a small amount of vitamin B6, calcium, iron and magnesium.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take approximately 1 tablespoon of dandelion leaf per day. Dandelion leaf is generally considered safe for use. Do not use dandelion leaf if you are taking antibiotics, diuretic medications or medications that are broken down in the liver. Those who are allergic to ragweed and related plants (daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds) usually have an allergy to dandelion leaf too.
Bilberry leaf uses: the leaves of the bilberry plant are widely used as a medicinal herb for the treatment of visual impairment, cataracts and retinal complaints. Naturopaths sometimes also prescribe it to treat problems with the cardiovascular system, such as arteriosclerosis, varicose veins, ischemia and chest pain. It is additionally recommended for chronic fatigue syndrome, haemorrhoids, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, skin infections, digestive problems, kidney disease, urinary tract infections and sore throats. Bilberry leaf possesses a mild berry flavour.
Effects: bilberry leaf contains tannins and anthocyanins that boast medicinal properties. It has been scientifically proven that bilberry leaf can help to improve blood circulation and reduce associated complaints, such as swelling, pain, bruising and burning sensations (e.g. Gatta, 1988 ). Scientific studies have also revealed that the medicinal herb can help to improve night vision and symptoms of retinal decreases in those with diabetes or high blood pressure (e.g. Cluzel et al., 1970 ). There are also indications that bilberry leaf may help to reduce menstrual symptoms, alleviate the symptoms of eye disorders, reduce blood sugar levels in those who are pre-diabetic, relieve the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome and offer support with weight loss (e.g. Colombo et al., 1985 ; Shim et al., 2012 ;. Lehtonen et al., 2011 ). The other beneficial effects linked to bilberry leaf, such as the relief of digestive disorders, have not been scientifically proven.
Nutrients: bilberry leaf contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, C, B1, B2, E, and K, copper, chromium, manganese, zinc and iron. Bilberry leaf is also rich in alkaloids, carboxylic acids and a number of phenolic compounds, including quercetin, anthocyanins, tannins, catechins, and pectin.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 1 to 2 teaspoons of bilberry leaf daily. Do not regularly exceed the recommended daily dose and avoid prolonged use. Bilberry leaf is generally considered safe for most people and there are no known side effects associated with the medicinal herb. However, those with diabetes and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to exercise caution when taking bilberry leaf. Do not consume bilberry leaf in combination with medication that is used to treat diabetes or slow blood clotting.
White willow bark
White willow bark uses: the white willow tree is native to China, where its fruit, seeds and bark have been harnessed in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. White willow bark is typically used to treat sexual disorders, such as lack of libido, low sexual stamina and erectile dysfunction, and is commonly prescribed by Chinese physicians for the treatment of infertility, cancer and osteoporosis, as well as fungal and bacterial infections. White willow bark is also highly regarded by bodybuilders.
Effects: none of the beneficial effects associated with white willow bark have been scientifically proven.
Nutrients: White willow bark contains vitamins A and C, as well as various minerals.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 1 to 2 teaspoons of white willow bark daily. Although there are no known side effects associated with white willow bark, diabetics and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to exercise caution in their use of white willow bark.
Couch grass uses: couch grass is a special variety of grass that contains a high concentration of vitamins and minerals. The medicinal herb is commonly prescribed by naturopaths to treat a wide range of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, liver, bladder and prostate disease, bronchitis, arthritis, urinary tract infections, cancer and diabetes, in addition to colds, sore throats, dental decay, joint pain, wounds and bacterial infections.
Effects: there are indications that couch grass may help to relieve the symptoms of those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and ulcerative colitis (Ben-Arye et al., 2002 ). None of the other aforementioned beneficial effects have been scientifically proven.
Nutrients: couch grass is extremely rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium and amino acids.
Recommended dosage and side effects: take 1 tablespoon of couch grass daily. There are no known side effects associated with couch grass.
1 green powder that contains all 11 medicinal herbs
It’s actually far easier to demonstrably improve your health and mental wellbeing than you might think. In fact, a healthy and varied diet, supplemented with a selection of medicinal herbs is all that’s required! Of course, it can be complicated combining a large number of different medicinal herbs, and then there’s the difficulty of finding sufficient room for them all in your kitchen cupboards! Fortunately help is now at hand with Superfoodies Green Juice. Superfoodies Green Juice contains a unique blend of vegetables, algae and fruit, in addition to all of the 11 medicinal herbs highlighted above. Available for purchase from all good health stores, Superfoodies Green Juice can be readily stirred into a glass of spring water or your favourite green smoothies.
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