Modern-day ailments like eczema, acne, hay fever, IBS, period pain, chronic fatigue are often considered "secondary" medical conditions by your GP. So while they might affect your quality of life day in, day out, you're not going to drop dead. Which is why you might feel fobbed off every time you leave the local surgery.
The biochemical compounds found in medicinal plants enhance the body's own healing processes.
Herbal remedies can be taken as tinctures (plant constituents extracted in alcohol), as a tea (not suitable for some herbs), in capsules and added to creams in the form of essential oils, infused oils or tinctures.
Despite what everyone's Insta feeds say about their clean-eating, healthy, wholesome lifestyles, it's a different story behind the scenes. Stress, fatigue, anxiety, IBS, hormone imbalances and acne—ironic, but we're suffering from more modern-day ailments than ever before. It's all fun and games being a grown-up, right? But nipping to the pharmacist for a box of your finest Paracetamol doesn't have to be the only answer. Which is where your fancy new plant-based diet can come in handy, especially when you hone in on herbs. Keep scrolling for 10 herbal remedies you need to try.
All hail the herbs
Vegan or not, herbal remedies are having a renaissance. With fewer side effects to take into consideration, they're gentler on the body and have fewer risks related to long-term use. Which is good if you're planning to stick your super-stressful job out for a little while yet.
"Eczema, acne, hay fever, IBS, period pain, chronic fatigue—they're all disorders that pharmaceutical medicine does not effectively relieve," says Victoria Kearns, a western medical herbalist and co-founder of KM Herbalists. "So while doctors can provide quick-fix treatments for diseases caused by pathogens (bacteria and viruses), herbal medicines are good for these conditions, as they can be taken for a long time with few side effects."
The power of the plants
So how do plants boost health? Well, it's all down to the biochemical compounds found in medicinal plants, continues Kearns, as they enhance the body's own healing processes. It's also why 80% of pharmaceuticals are based on these leafy greens, too. They have the ability to alleviate the symptoms, as well as the underlying causes, which means you get a double whammy every time.
Of course, just like conventional medicine, it's advisable to get an expert opinion first, and herbal therapists will take into consideration everything from your lifestyle to your diet and exercise regime in order to prescribe the best cure for your condition. They'll also distinguish the best format for you to take your herbs.
"They can be taken as tinctures (plant constituents extracted in alcohol), as a tea (not suitable for some herbs), in capsules and added to creams in the form of essential oils, infused oils or tinctures. The dose is different for everything, but if people are buying supplements from a health food shop, the dose will always be provided, and the shop assistants can usually provide good advice," says Kearns. As for seeing results, it all depends on the severity of the condition and your lifestyle habits, but for some, it's a mere matter of days.
Ready to try your own herbal remedy? We asked three top herbalists to give us a heads up on what soil-based solutions will sort out everything from anxiety to IBS. Scroll down to find out more…
Ingesting herbs like nettle leaf, red clover and echinacea that reduce inflammation in the body and balance the immune system are a good starting point, says Chris Etheridge, Ph.D., medical herbalist at Integrated Herbal Healthcare. However, he also suggests topically applying herbal ingredients such as chamomile, marigold or liquorice to help alleviate and heal sore skin.
This year's number one spice, turmeric, should also get a look in, as it reduces toxicity and congestion. And who'd have thought the retro duo, dandelion and burdock, would make an appearance? According to Katie Pande, senior herbal advisor at Pukka Herbs, it does a stellar job of removing deep-seated heat and inflammation, as well as having a moisturising effect on dry skin conditions.
Want an all-in-one? Try Pukka Herbs's Glow Supplements, as they're plant-based powerhouses.
Stress and anxiety
Adaptogenic herbs act directly on the adrenal glands to help the body respond to stress in a more efficient way too. "I'd recommend a combination of St. John's wort, valerian, liquorice, ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng and Korean ginseng. Supplements such as a vitamin B complex can also be useful," continues Etheridge. Try valerian tea: Even just the brewing, stewing and sipping of the ingredients might help calm that cortisol.
The same concoctions should also work if you're feeling anxious and worried, as these herbs all help to gently alter and balance the brain and nervous system. Read: a more relaxed state of mind. Some even have an antidepressant-like quality if you're starting to feel overwhelmed but don't want to turn to prescribed drugs to deal with the stress.
For a serious hit of ashwagandha, head straight to Solgar's supplements, and take two every day.
Swap the ibuprofen for some wood betony, devil's claw, feverfew, chaste tree and German chamomile, says Etheridge. They all help reduce tension and relax the blood vessel in the brain, which will come as welcome relief if you suffer from throbbing headaches. Chamomile tea is a good place to start, and if that doesn't numb the pain, go in for a tablet or tincture containing one or more of the above. 5-HTP and riboflavin are also good go-tos, according to the experts.
Forget deep heat and Epsom salts: Turmeric is back in the spotlight, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relief benefits. Pukka herbalist Pande also flagged up recent research that shows that the spice supports the strength of the cartilage, muscles and bones, as well as encouraging good circulation—all essential for muscle repair and recovery. Another good one for the gym kit? Arnica, while vitamin E gets top marks for combating cramps.
Hormones, liver stagnation, stress, pollution, poor diet—the cause of your constant breakouts is a minefield. Medicinal herbalists usually start with remedies that look to the liver for a solution. "It's the organ responsible for breaking down and excreting excess fat soluble hormones such as oestrogen," explains Pande. "If you have a poor liver function, hormones build up in the bloodstream and play havoc with skin. I'd recommend dandelion, turmeric, nettle and lemon as a spot solution."
Dr. Stuart's Skin Purify Tea contains a blend of all of the above, making it the perfect choice.
It's not just peppermint tea that might help stop tummy spasms: Warm spiced tea will help with digestion, too. Sup on a ginger and liquorice medley while you eat rather than a glass of water. The warmth will stimulate the gut and help food pass through the intestine, so you won't have to worry about bloating or discomfort as you dine.
And if it's after dinner and not during that your conditions kick in, there's a herbal solution for that, too. "Fennel is traditionally used to ease wind and soothe painful spasms in the gut and helps to lessen the effects of stress on digestion," says Pande.
Kearns also suggests trying herbs that increase the production of bile such as artichoke (cynara scolymus) and dandelion, alongside ginger to relieve diarrhoea or constipation.
That hot water bottle can only do so much. Add some black haw, wild yam and fennel into your life at the time of the month, though, and you might just find those cramps ease off, says Kearns. And if heavy bleeding is an issue, look for the aptly named lady's mantle, shepherd's purse and yarrow, as these herbs all work to balance hormone levels, increase circulation to the abdomen and support the health of your ovaries and uterus.
The one herb every expert pointed to when we asked about hormonal imbalances? Shatavari. The Indian herb targets the female reproductive system, specifically the uterus. It's said to provide the required nourishments and strength to support conception, fertility and a fully functioning reproductive system. "It contains natural precursors to female sex hormones, which help balance hormonal irregularity and improve menstrual and menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and PMT. It also stimulates the production of prolactin, which enhances the libido," explains Pande.
Insomnia and Fatigue
Given up with chamomile tea before bed? Fair play, but have you tried passionflower, skullcap, hops, Californian poppy or lemon balm? "All of these aid relaxation by reducing stress and will only make you sleepy when your body is naturally ready to sleep," says Etheridge. "If it's fatigue you suffer from, you need to work on the adrenal glands, so as well as the aforementioned, try adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, milk vetch and gotu kola to aid healthy sleeping."
If you feel like you need to take shares out in anti-histamines, it might be time to look for an alternative. "Butterbur has a constrictive action on the blood vessels, while reishi mushrooms have been shown to suppress sensitivities to pollens," continues Kearns. "Ma huang is also an excellent decongestant for hay fever without the sinus headaches of pharmaceutical decongestants, although it's a restricted herb, so it's only available from a qualified herbalist."
Now you know everything about herbs, why not discover what alternative treatments can do for you?
Opening Image: Pukka and Imaxtree