It’s easy to underestimate the power of plants to heal your body’s toughest ailments. Often, we go straight to over-the-counter medicines to treat our headaches, inflammation, and other syndromes. Many of us have been conditioned to depend on prescription drugs all of our lives. If you aren’t yet, it’s time to familiarize yourself with nature’s medicine: healing herbs.
For countless years, people from various cultures have relied on medicinal plants from mother earth as a means to soothe and repair the mind, body, and spirit. The use of healing herbs dates back to 3000 BC. The all-natural properties formulated in healing herbs are proof that you don’t have to depend on drugs to treat specific ailments. Natural herbs have the power to calm everything from your anxiety to your toughest skin problems. In fact, a 2015 study proved that the use of herbal medicine is as high as 21% in people with anxiety disorders, and according to a 2001 study conducted by Harvard Medical School, more than half of people surveyed with panic attacks or severe depression turned to alternative therapy, including herbs, to help them. Herbal medicine can help with a variety of health-related issues. For example, a popular herb known as Ashwagandha has a history of helping with memory deficiencies, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and improving energy levels.
It’s clear that science says healing herbs can treat a variety of health problems, but we also wanted to call on the experts. We tapped three herbalists to break down the benefits of healing herbs and all they can do for you. Keep reading for everything you need to know about healing herbs.
Healing Herbs Are a Preventative Approach to Health
“The beauty of herbs is that it isn’t formulated, it is given to us by the earth, nurtured by all that is natural in this world, like sun and water,” says Nikki Arguinzoni-Gil, a licensed naturopathic doctor. “Herbs have existed since the beginning of time and for most of our existence has been used to heal wounds, treat disease, nourish the body, and so much more. It is in its pureness that it harbors such healing power. Both with individual herbs and in formulations, you are able to use whatever part of a plant you desire, depending on what herbal property you want to utilize. You can take a couple of herbs and make herbal formulations geared toward treating or preventing whatever condition you desire.”
“Healing herbs are botanical elements from the earth,” says Fern Olivia, an expert on integrative medicine. “They’re also known as nature’s medicine cabinet because of their ancient healing wisdom.”
Expert herbalist and Ayurvedic healer Martha Soffer of Surya Spa refers to healing herbs as Ayurvedic medicine, a herbal practice that originated in India over 3000 years ago. “On the most esoteric level, according to Ayurveda, plants carry with them a kind of intelligence that we’re only beginning to discover—a cellular and universal intelligence, which is aligned with the same cellular intelligence in our own bodies,” she says. “Aligning the right plant with the right imbalance puts our bodies back in order. Healing herbs help us restore that connection and restore our well-being.”
Health Benefits of Healing Herbs
“Some herbs help with liver function, skin problems, overheating, fevers, immunity, parasite removal, fatigue, and more,” says Soffer. “The combination of herbs is important, and like any prescription, it’s good to have someone with knowledge and experience assess your situation and suggest or formulate herbs uniquely for you at the unique time you need it.”
“There are herbal encyclopedias that can tell you about individual herbs and what they help with. It is mind-blowing to see how extensive these lists are and the countless ways herbs help and have helped people,” says Arguinzoni-Gil.
As she explains, healing herbs have properties that can prevent a myriad of issues, which might include some of the following:
“Some herbs decrease inflammation,” says Arguinzoni-Gil. “This inflammation might be found in your joints, muscles, stomach, intestines, nerves, and more. A lot of these plants work on decreasing the activity of pro-inflammatory cells so people experience less stiffness, irritation, and less pain. Some herbs with this property include turmeric, cayenne, boswellia, and licorice.”
“Herbs have great antibacterial capabilities. These herbs typically destroy or prevent the growth of bacteria. Some herbs with these capabilities include fresh garlic, thyme, clove, eucalyptus, and more,” explains Arguinzoni-Gil.
According to Arguinzoni-Gil, herbs like peppermint, cramp bark, kava, and valerian help reduce muscle spasms.
“Some herbs have carminative properties, meaning they reduce and prevent gas,” explains Arguinzoni-Gil. “Some of the herbs used for this are fennel, ginger, chamomile, and peppermint.”
“Herbs like dandelion, milk thistle, artichoke, and turmeric, protect liver cells from being damaged and support normal liver functions,” says Arguinzoni-Gil.
Healing Herbs vs. Over-the-Counter Medicine
“Over-the-counter medicine is often effective for short-term, or what we could call ‘emergency’ medicine,” says Soffer. “They provide things like instant pain relief or immediate nasal clearing. But all of these carry side effects, and they’re printed on every bottle, box, and jar. In Ayurveda, the whole plant matters—rather than a single extracted ingredient, re-synthesized. Healing herbs are food, whole food, with highly nutritious and curative effects.”
“One of the biggest benefits of using healing herbs is that its source comes from Mother Nature, so you’re taking a 100% pure natural product,” says Arguinzoni-Gil. “Over-the-counter medicine, while often derived from plants, becomes tainted as it undergoes processing in a lab. You may be taking an herb to treat one thing, but you get an added bonus and wind up treating more than one thing with that one herb. Herbs naturally have many vitamins and minerals that we so greatly need and treat many symptoms at once.”
“Basically, herbs are preventative, while medications are band-aids, masking the true root cause of the ailment, never truly getting to the underlying imbalance,” explains Olivia.
Expert-Recommended Healing Herbs
Arguinzoni-Gil takes this herb in capsule form. “This herb is an adaptogen so it helps people better deal with stress and strengthens the immune system. It also helps to decrease levels of cholesterol and anxiety, improves libido, and even helps with blood-sugar management,” she explains.
“This herb has a multitude of benefits, especially for women,” explains Arguinzoni-Gil. “It helps to detoxify the body as it is high in nutrients like B12 and folic acid. It also improves blood circulation, helps with PMS symptoms like cramping and mood swings, balances hormones, increases libido, and reduces anxiety and stress. And because of its antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities, it can be a huge help with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. I often use this in a tincture form.”
“Also known as amla, this fruit is incredibly rejuvenating,” says Soffer. “It’s super high in vitamin C and antioxidant powers. All parts of this plant nourish the physiology and promote longevity.”
“This herb is literally in the shape of a brain, so you can probably guess what it’s good for,” says Soffer. “Brahmi helps with memory, brain function, and nervous system repair. It’s also neutral in taste, which is not always the case with healing herbs.”
“This herb helps you better cope with stress, increases energy, improves mental clarity, improves blood circulation, and also helps to boost the immune system,” says Arguinzoni-Gil.
According to Arguinzoni-Gil, dandelion is packed with many vitamins and minerals. “It’s most highly known for its ability to cleanse the liver. Dandelion helps with maintaining proper flow of bile made by the liver. It also aids with the management of diabetes as it stimulates production of insulin, so it keeps your blood sugar in check. Dandelion is also wonderful for protecting your bones since it’s high in calcium and vitamin K. Dandelion is a great diuretic that supports the liver in efficiently removing toxins and stimulates urination.”
“Typically used in an oil form, peppermint is an amazing, multifunctional herb,” says Arguinzoni-Gil. “It is great for helping with bloating and indigestion as it relaxes the spasms in the colon. Adding a drop of peppermint oil to water can also be helpful for nausea. If you apply peppermint oil to your temples and forehead, you’ll find that it’s also wonderful for alleviating headaches. If you like having healthy hair, you can add a couple of drops of peppermint oil to your shampoo as it can reduce dandruff, help with hair loss, and thicken your hair.”
According to Soffer, Neem is also a great herb for hair. “Oil made with neem helps with acne, leaves a healthy shine on your hair, and carries an antibacterial property that helps with dandruff,” she says.
How to Find Herbs and Incorporate Them Into Your Diet
“Some herbs can be cooked in dishes or used in salads,” says Arguinzoni-Gil. “Many herbs can be taken in tea form, which can often be just as effective as eating or taking them in a capsule form. Some herbs are better taken in liquid or powder form. Most health food stores carry herbal foods. There are also a lot of herbal recipe books out there that provide wonderful ways of getting healing herbs into your diet. There are herbal stores and herbal farms in which you can purchase herbs or you can even buy your own herbal plants and grow them at home. Just be sure to get those herbs that are non-GMO and certified organic so you can ensure the purity of your purchase. Some herbs are better solo while others are better in combination with other herbs. How you go about incorporating herbs into your diet certainly depends on what you are trying to achieve health-wise. I happen to really love herbal tea made by a company called Alvita Tea. They’ve been around since 1922 and not only are their teas delicious, but they are certified organic and non-GMO.”
“As to choosing which herb is best for you, it’s good to have someone who can assess your current imbalances, understand the characteristics of each herb, and how to combine them,” suggests Soffer. “If you don’t have access to an Ayurvedic doctor, you can find an online dosha test, see what feels off-balance in you at that time, and what herbs might be recommended via that test. Herbs can be purchased in capsules, or, in the old- fashioned way, mixed in with just enough warm water to help them go down. It’s also great to follow with a little ghee and honey, to help with digestion and absorption. At Surya, we buy herbs from companies that care about the plants. We love companies like Bazaar of India, Mountain Rose, and Bayan Botanicals, who all sell great, lab-tested, organic herbs.”
Ed. note: Be sure to consult your personal physician before making major changes to your diet.