How To Safely Use Herbs To Heal Your Body Heal…

25 Healing Herbs You Can Use Every Day

Prepare your own proven remedies for whatever ails you

Tieraona Low Dog, MD |

healing herbs

Nature’s medicine

There are times when it might be smarter to use an herbal remedy than a pharmaceutical. For example, sometimes an herb offers a safer alternative. Take chamomile: The flowers have been used for centuries as a gentle calmative for young and old alike. It’s non-habit-forming and well tolerated, and a study sponsored by the University of Michigan found that chamomile extract had roughly the same efficacy as many prescription sleeping medications when given to adults with insomnia. Likewise, peppermint oil has been shown to be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for relieving irritable bowel syndrome, but without the ofttimes dangerous side effects. And clinical studies have shown that ginger relieves morning sickness, sage can relieve a sore throat, and hibiscus tea gently lowers blood pressure.

I believe it’s better to use mild remedies for minor health problems and save the more potent—and risky—prescription medications for more serious conditions. Here then, are my top 25 favorite healing herbs and their uses. All are safe and effective, but be sure to discuss any herbs you are taking with your doctor. Some herbal remedies (such as the antidepressant St. John’s wort) can interact with medications.

Are Your Herbal Supplements Safe? We sort out the scary headlines and scams?

It’s been a rough few years for herbs. A Canadian study published late last year found that of 44 herbal products tested, many were adulterated or mislabeled. The study authors said that two samples of echinacea contained a weed that could interact with certain medications; a sample of St. John’s wort was actually an herbal laxative; and a bottle of ginkgo biloba was contaminated with black walnut, which theoretically could put people with nut allergies at risk. In December, the FDA yanked one herbal supplement from the shelves after it was linked to dozens of cases of liver failure. And a supplement manufacturer who was jailed for selling a weight loss supplement that turned out to contain a toxic chemical is facing new charges over sketchy products he was churning out, even as he was waiting to enter prison.

Though centuries of traditional use and scientific studies point to the therapeutic effects of many medicinal herbs, herbal supplements have always had a potential dark side. Their manufacture isn’t regulated as tightly as that of drugs, creating opportunities for modern-day snake oil salesmen to make a quick buck.

There’s more to the recent exposes and scandals than most media outlets reported. A month-long investigation by Prevention found that the many recent headlines—including “Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem” in the New York Times—emerged from a seriously flawed study. And in the other cases, when supplements were exposed as dangerous, the offending ingredients were not the herbs but other chemicals introduced during manufacture.

Fans of herbs shouldn’t go dancing blithely through yellow fields of St. John’s wort quite yet, however. Our probe also spotlighted the need to be savvy about using herbal remedies and rendered an especially harsh verdict on products promising weight loss, a metabolism boost, or the like. Pills marketed to whittle your middle are seductive, we know. (Oh, do we know.) But given that they either don’t work or may work via chemicals that are dangerous to your liver and your life, the only advice we have is, well, run far, far away.

Here’s what we learned—and what you need to know.

The Shout from Canada
To arrive at their explosive finding that herbal remedies—or at least the 44 products they tested—may contain little, if any, of the herb on the label and are often contaminated with other substances, researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario used a technique called DNA barcoding, developed at their institution (just see our previous report in Is Your Supplement A Fake?). DNA barcoding identifies a species using a small segment of DNA, much like the bar code on a grocery product identifies it at the checkout scanner. “Most of the products tested were of poor quality,” wrote coauthor Steven G. Newmaster, PhD, herbarium director at the university’s Center for Biodiversity Genomics.

What’s more, the researchers said, they discovered “considerable product substitution, contamination, and use of fillers,” including rice, wheat, and ground soybeans. But many experts question the findings of this study for several reasons. For one thing, for DNA barcoding to be reliable, you need a fairly complete database of already-identified DNA samples for comparison. That currently doesn’t exist, says Andrea E. Schwarzbach, PhD, an associate professor in the department of biomedicine at the University of Texas at Brownsville. Another problem is that the test can locate the herbs only if the DNA is still present. But many herbal supplements contain extracts with molecules of the plant’s therapeutic phytochemicals that may not carry any plant DNA but can still be fully potent, says Paul M. Coates, PhD, director of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.

The study also didn’t follow set scientific standards. The researchers should have conducted their DNA test on one group of supplements, and then tested two identical groups of those supplements via recognized ID methods, such as microscopic and chemical testing. This is the gold standard for a quality medical study—the randomized controlled READ MORE:


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