People are once again turning towards natural medicines, foods and plants for their healing properties, realizing that modern medicine may not always be the best answer to the body’s ailments. The brief descriptions below will provide you with the basic information about some well-known herbs and botanicals. Click on any of the links to explore a large variety of herbal products now available on Amazon. You can also find many of these herbs at your local health food store. Please share your experiences and knowledge of these healing herbs in the comments section.
Common Names: acai, açaí, Amazonian palm berry
Latin Name: Euterpe oleracea
The acai palm tree, native to tropical Central and South America, produces a reddish-purple berry. The acai berry’s name, which comes from a language of the native people of the region, means “fruit that cries.” The acai berry has long been an important food source for indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, who also use acai for a variety of health-related purposes.
Acai berry products have become popular in the United States, where they have been marketed as folk or traditional remedies for weight-loss and anti-aging purposes, but there is no definitive scientific evidence to support these claims. Acai fruit pulp has been used experimentally as an oral contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the gastrointestinal tract.
Common Names: aloe vera, aloe, burn plant, lily of the desert, elephant’s gall
Latin Name: Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis
Aloe vera’s use can be traced back 6,000 years to early Egypt, where the plant was depicted on stone carvings. Known as the “plant of immortality,” aloe was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs.
Historically, aloe was used topically to heal wounds and for various skin conditions, and orally as a laxative. Today, in addition to these uses, aloe is used as a folk or traditional remedy for a variety of conditions, including diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis. It is also used topically for osteoarthritis, burns, sunburns, and psoriasis. Aloe vera gel can be found in hundreds of skin products, including lotions and sunblocks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved aloe vera as a natural food flavoring.
Aloe leaves contain a clear gel that is often used as a topical ointment. The green part of the leaf that surrounds the gel can be used to produce a juice or a dried substance (called latex) that is taken by mouth.
Common Names: Asian ginseng, ginseng, Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, Asiatic ginseng
Latin Name: Panax ginseng
Asian ginseng is native to China and Korea and has been used in various systems of medicine for many centuries. Asian ginseng is one of several types of true ginseng (another is American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius). The herb called Siberian ginseng or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not a true ginseng.
Treatment claims for Asian ginseng are numerous and include the use of the herb to support overall health and boost the immune system. Traditional and folk uses of ginseng include improving the health of people recovering from illness; increasing a sense of well-being and stamina; improving both mental and physical performance; treating erectile dysfunction, hepatitis C, and symptoms related to menopause; and lowering blood glucose and controlling blood pressure.
The root of Asian ginseng contains active chemical components called ginsenosides (or panaxosides) that are thought to be responsible for the herb’s claimed medicinal properties. The root is dried and used to make tablets or capsules, extracts, and teas, as well as creams or other preparations for external use.
Common Names: astragalus, bei qi, huang qi, ogi, hwanggi, milk vetch
Latin Name: Astragalus membranaceus, Astragalus mongholicus
Native to China, astragalus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. In the United States, the herb gained popularity in the 1980s. There are actually over 2,000 species of astragalus; however, the two related species Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus are the ones primarily used for health purposes.
Historically, astragalus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, usually in combination with other herbs, to support and enhance the immune system. It is still widely used in China for chronic hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. It is also used as a folk or traditional remedy for colds and upper respiratory infections, and for heart disease.
Common Names: bilberry, European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry
Latin Name: Vaccinium myrtillus
Bilberry is a relative of the blueberry, and its fruit is commonly used to make pies and jams. It has been used for nearly 1,000 years in traditional European medicine. Bilberry grows in North America, Europe, and northern Asia. Historically, bilberry fruit was used to treat diarrhea, scurvy, and other conditions. Today, the fruit is used as a folk or traditional remedy for diarrhea, menstrual cramps, eye problems, varicose veins, venous insufficiency (a condition in which the veins do not efficiently return blood from the legs to the heart), and other circulatory problems. Bilberry leaf is used for entirely different conditions, including diabetes.
The fruit of the bilberry plant can be eaten or made into extracts. Similarly, the leaves of the bilberry plant can be made into extracts or used to make teas.
Common Names: bitter orange, Seville orange, sour orange, zhi shi
Latin Name: Citrus aurantium
The bitter orange tree is native to eastern Africa and tropical Asia. Today, it is grown throughout the Mediterranean region and elsewhere, including California and Florida. Bitter orange oil is used in foods, cosmetics, and aromatherapy products. Bitter orange oil from the tree’s leaves is called petitgrain, and oil from the flowers is called neroli. Bitter orange has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and by indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest for nausea, indigestion, and constipation. Current folk or traditional uses of bitter orange are for heartburn, loss of appetite, nasal congestion, and weight loss. It is also applied to the skin for fungal infections such as ringworm and athlete’s foot.
Common Names: black cohosh, black snakeroot, macrotys, bugbane, bugwort, rattleroot, rattleweed
Latin Name: Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa
Black cohosh, a member of the buttercup family, is a plant native to North America. It was used in Native American medicine and was a home remedy in 19th-century America. Black cohosh has a history of use for rheumatism (arthritis and muscle pain) but has been used more recently as a folk or traditional remedy for hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and other symptoms that can occur during menopause. Black cohosh has also been used for menstrual irregularities and premenstrual syndrome, and to induce labor.
Common Names: bromelain, pineapple extract
Latin Name: (Pineapple Plant) Ananas comosus L.
Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes found in the pineapple plant. Pineapple is native to the Americas but is now grown throughout the world in tropical and subtropical regions. Historically, natives of Central and South America used pineapple for a variety of ailments, such as digestive disorders.
Currently, bromelain is used as a dietary supplement for nasal swelling and inflammation, osteoarthritis, cancer, poor digestion, and muscle soreness. Topical (applied to the skin) bromelain is used for wounds and burns.
Common Names: butterbur, petasites, purple butterbur. Butterbur is also known under several patented standardized extract forms, such as Petadolex.
Latin Name: Petasites hybridus (also known as Petasitidis hybridus, Petasites officinalis, or Tussilago hybrida).
Butterbur is a shrub that grows in Europe and parts of Asia and North America, typically in wet, marshy ground. The name, butterbur, is attributed to the traditional use of its large leaves to wrap butter in warm weather. Butterbur has historically been used for a variety of health issues such as pain, headache, anxiety, cough, fever, and gastrointestinal and urinary tract conditions. It has also been used topically to improve wound healing. Today, traditional or folk uses include nasal allergies, allergic skin reactions, asthma, and migraine headache.
The leaves, rhizomes (underground stems), and roots of butterbur are commonly used to make solid extracts used in tablets. Some butterbur extracts are also used topically.
Common Names: cat’s claw, uña de gato
Latin Name: Uncaria tomentosa, Uncaria guianensis
Cat’s claw grows wild in many countries of Central and South America, especially in the Amazon rainforest. The use of this woody vine dates back to the Inca civilization. Historically, cat’s claw has been used for centuries in South America to prevent and treat disease. More recently, cat’s claw has been used as a folk or traditional remedy for a variety of health conditions, including viral infections (such as herpes and HIV), Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and arthritis. Other folk uses include supporting the immune system and promoting kidney health, as well as preventing and aborting pregnancy.
Common Names: chamomile, German chamomile
Latin Name: Matricaria recutita, Chamomilla recutita
Two types of chamomile have been used for health conditions: German chamomile and Roman chamomile. While the two kinds are thought to have similar effects on the body, the German variety is more commonly used in the United States and is the focus of this fact sheet.
Chamomile has been widely used in children and adults for thousands of years for a variety of health conditions. Today, chamomile is used as a folk or traditional remedy for sleeplessness, anxiety, and gastrointestinal conditions such as upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea. It is also used topically for skin conditions and for mouth ulcers resulting from cancer treatment.
Common Names: chasteberry, chaste-tree berry, vitex, monk’s pepper
Latin Name: Vitex agnus-castus
Chasteberry is the fruit of the chaste tree, a small shrub-like tree native to Central Asia and the Mediterranean region. The name is thought to come from a belief that the plant promoted chastity—it is reported that monks in the Middle Ages used chasteberry to decrease sexual desire.
Chasteberry has been used for thousands of years, mostly by women to ease menstrual problems and to stimulate the production of breast milk. Currently, chasteberry is still used as a folk or traditional remedy for menstrual problems, such as premenstrual syndrome, as well as for symptoms of menopause, some types of infertility, and acne.
The dried ripe chasteberry is used to prepare liquid extracts or solid extracts that are put into capsules and tablets.
Common Names: cinnamon, cinnamon bark, Ceylon cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon
Latin Name: Cinnamomum zeylanicum (also known as Cinnamomum verum); Cinnamomum cassia (also known asCinnamomum aromaticum)
Cinnamon comes from the bark of trees native to China, India, and Southeast Asia. A popular cooking spice in many cultures for centuries, cinnamon also has a long history of use as a folk or traditional medicine. For example, many ancient societies used cinnamon for bronchitis. Additional folk or traditional uses include gastrointestinal problems, loss of appetite, and control of diabetes, as well as a variety of other conditions.
Cinnamon bark is used to make powders, capsules, teas, and liquid extracts. Although there are many kinds of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon (sometimes referred to as “true” cinnamon) and cassia cinnamon (also known as Chinese cinnamon) are the most familiar.
Common Names: cranberry, American cranberry, bog cranberry
Latin Name: Vaccinium macrocarpon
Cranberries are the fruit of a native plant of North America. These red berries are used in foods and in herbal products. Historically, cranberry fruits and leaves were used for a variety of problems, such as wounds, urinary disorders, diarrhea, diabetes, stomach ailments, and liver problems. More recently, cranberry has been used as a folk or traditional remedy for urinary tract infections or Helicobacter pylori(H. pylori) infections that can lead to stomach ulcers, or to prevent dental plaque. Cranberry has also been reported to have antioxidant and anticancer activity.
The berries are used to produce beverages and many other food products, as well as dietary supplements in the form of extracts, capsules, or tablets.
Common Names: dandelion, lion’s tooth, blowball
Latin Name: Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion greens are edible and are a rich source of vitamin A. Dandelion has been used in many traditional medical systems, including Native American and traditional Arabic medicine. Historically, dandelion was most commonly used to treat liver diseases, kidney diseases, and spleen problems. Less commonly, dandelion was used to treat digestive problems and skin conditions. Today, traditional or folk uses of dandelion include use as a liver or kidney “tonic,” as a diuretic, and for minor digestive problems.
The leaves and roots of the dandelion, or the whole plant, are used fresh or dried in teas, capsules, or extracts. Dandelion leaves are used in salads or as a cooked green, and the flowers are used to make wine.
Common Names: echinacea, purple coneflower, coneflower, American coneflower
Latin Name: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida
There are nine known species of echinacea, all of which are native to the United States and southern Canada. The most commonly used is Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea has traditionally been used for colds, flu, and other infections, based on the idea that it might stimulate the immune system to more effectively fight infection. Less common folk or traditional uses of echinacea include for wounds and skin problems, such as acne or boils.
Common Names: ephedra, Chinese ephedra, ma huang
Latin Name: Ephedra sinica
Ephedra is an evergreen shrub-like plant native to Central Asia and Mongolia. The principal active ingredient, ephedrine, is a compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart. Ephedra has been used for more than 5,000 years in China and India to treat conditions such as colds, fever, flu, headaches, asthma, wheezing, and nasal congestion. More recently, ephedra was used as an ingredient in dietary supplements for weight loss, increased energy, and enhanced athletic performance.
The dried stems and leaves of the ephedra plant have been used to create capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas.
Common Names: European elder, black elder, elder, elderberry, elder flower, sambucus
Latin Name: Sambucus nigra
European elder is a tree native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, and it also grows in the United States. There are several different types of elder, such as American elder, but European elder is the type most often used as a supplement. Parts of the elder tree—such as the berries and flowers—have historically been used for pain, swelling, infections, coughs, and skin conditions. Current folk or traditional uses of elderberry and elder flower include flu, colds, fevers, constipation, and sinus infections.
Common Names: European mistletoe, mistletoe
Latin Name: Viscum album L.
European mistletoe is a semiparasitic plant that grows on several types of trees in temperate regions worldwide. Where the term “mistletoe” is used in this fact sheet, it refers to European mistletoe. (European mistletoe is different from American mistletoe, which is used as a holiday decoration.) Mistletoe has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat seizures, headaches, and other conditions. Today, mistletoe is used mainly in Europe as a treatment for cancer.
The leafy shoots and berries of mistletoe are used to make extracts that can be taken by mouth. In Europe, mistletoe extracts are prescription drugs that are given by injection. In the United States, mistletoe by injection is available only in clinical trials.
Common Names: evening primrose oil, EPO
Latin Name: Oenothera biennis
Evening primrose is a plant native to North America, but it grows in Europe and parts of the Southern hemisphere as well. It has yellow flowers that bloom in the evening. Evening primrose oil contains the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
Evening primrose oil has been used since the 1930s as a folk or traditional remedy for eczema (a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed, itchy, or scaly because of allergies or other irritation). More recent folk uses include other conditions involving inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis; conditions affecting women’s health, such as breast pain associated with the menstrual cycle, menopausal symptoms, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS); cancer; and diabetes.
Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose. The oil is usually put into capsules for use.
Common Names: fenugreek, fenugreek seed
Latin Name: Trigonella foenum-graecum
The first recorded use of fenugreek is described on an ancient Egyptian papyrus dated to 1500 B.C. Fenugreek seed is commonly used in cooking. Historically, fenugreek was used for a variety of health conditions, including menopausal symptoms and digestive problems. It was also used for inducing childbirth. Today, fenugreek is used as a folk or traditional remedy for diabetes and loss of appetite, and to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding women. It is also applied to the skin for inflammation.
The dried seeds are ground and taken by mouth or used to form a paste that is applied to the skin.
Common Names: feverfew, bachelor’s buttons, featherfew
Latin Name: Tanacetum parthenium, Chrysanthemum parthenium
Originally a plant native to the Balkan mountains of Eastern Europe, feverfew—a short bush with daisy-like flowers—now grows throughout Europe, North America, and South America. For centuries, traditional uses of feverfew have included fevers, headaches, stomach aches, toothaches, insect bites, infertility, and problems with menstruation and with labor during childbirth. Newer folk or traditional uses for feverfew include migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, allergies, asthma, tinnitus (ringing or roaring sounds in the ears), dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
Common Names: flaxseed, linseed
Latin Name: Linum usitatissimum
Flaxseed is the seed of the flax plant, which is believed to have originated in Egypt. It grows throughout Canada and Northwestern United States. Flaxseed oil comes from flaxseeds. The most common folk or traditional use of flaxseed is as a laxative; it is also used for hot flashes and breast pain. Flaxseed oil has different folk or traditional uses, including arthritis. Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been used for high cholesterol levels and in an effort to prevent cancer.
Whole or crushed flaxseed can be mixed with water or juice and taken by mouth. Flaxseed is also available in powder form. Flaxseed oil is available in liquid and capsule forms. Flaxseed contains lignans (phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens), while flaxseed oil preparations lack lignans.
Flaxseed contains soluble fiber, like that found in oat bran, and may have a laxative effect.
Common Name: garlic
Latin Name: Allium sativum
Garlic is the edible bulb from a plant in the lily family. It has been used as both a medicine and a spice for thousands of years. Garlic’s most common folk or traditional uses as a dietary supplement are for high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Other folk or traditional uses include prevention of certain types of cancer, including stomach and colon cancers. Garlic cloves can be eaten raw or cooked. They may also be dried or powdered and used in tablets and capsules. Raw garlic cloves can be used to make oils and liquid extracts.
Common Name: ginger
Latin Name: Zingiber officinale
Ginger is a tropical plant that has green-purple flowers and an aromatic underground stem (called a rhizome). It is commonly used for cooking and medicinal purposes. Historically, ginger has been used in Asian medicine to treat stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Today, ginger is used as a folk or traditional remedy for postsurgery nausea; nausea caused by motion, chemotherapy, and pregnancy; rheumatoid arthritis; osteoarthritis; and joint and muscle pain.
Common Names: ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, fossil tree, maidenhair tree, Japanese silver apricot, baiguo, bai guo ye, kew tree, yinhsing (yin-hsing)
Latin Name: Ginkgo biloba
The ginkgo tree is one of the oldest types of trees in the world. Ginkgo seeds have been used intraditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and cooked seeds are occasionally eaten. Historically, ginkgo leaf extract has been used to treat a variety of ailments and conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, fatigue, and tinnitus (ringing or roaring sounds in the ears). Today, folk uses of ginkgo leaf extracts include attempts to improve memory; to treat or help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia; to decrease intermittent claudication (leg pain caused by narrowing arteries); and to treat sexual dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, tinnitus, and other health conditions.
Common Names: goldenseal, yellow root
Latin Name: Hydrastis canadensis
Goldenseal is a plant that grows wild in parts of the United States but has become endangered by overharvesting. With natural supplies dwindling, goldenseal is now grown commercially across the United States, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Historically, Native Americans have used goldenseal for various health conditions such as skin diseases, ulcers, and gonorrhea. Currently, folk or traditional uses of goldenseal include colds and other respiratory tract infections, infectious diarrhea, eye infections, vaginitis (inflammation or infection of the vagina), and occasionally, cancer. It is also applied to wounds and canker sores and is used as a mouthwash for sore gums, mouth, and throat.
The underground stems or roots of goldenseal are dried and used to make teas, liquid extracts, and solid extracts that may be made into tablets and capsules. Goldenseal is often combined with echinacea in preparations that are intended to be used for colds.
Common Name: grape seed extract
Latin Name: Vitis vinifera
The leaves and fruit of the grape have been used medicinally since ancient Greece. Today, grape seed extract is used as a folk or traditional remedy for conditions related to the heart and blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and poor circulation; complications related to diabetes, such as nerve and eye damage; vision problems, such as macular degeneration (which can cause blindness); swelling after an injury or surgery; cancer prevention; and wound healing.
The grape seeds used to produce grape seed extract are generally obtained from wine manufacturers. Grape seed extract is available in capsule and tablet forms.
Common Names: green tea, Chinese tea, Japanese tea
Latin Name: Camellia sinensis
All types of tea (green, black, and oolong) are produced from the Camellia sinensis plant using different methods. Fresh leaves from the plant are steamed to produce green tea. Green tea and green tea extracts, such as its component EGCG, have traditionally been used to prevent and treat a variety of cancers, including breast, stomach, and skin cancers, and for mental alertness, weight loss, lowering cholesterol levels, and protecting skin from sun damage.
Green tea is usually brewed and drunk as a beverage. Green tea extracts can be taken in capsules and are sometimes used in skin products.
Common Names: hawthorn, English hawthorn, harthorne, haw, hawthorne
Latin Name: Crataegus laevigata (also known as Crataegus oxyacantha), Crataegus monogyna
Hawthorn is a spiny, flowering shrub or small tree of the rose family. The species of hawthorn discussed here are native to northern European regions and grow throughout the world.
Historically, hawthorn fruit has been used for heart disease since the first century. It has also been used for digestive and kidney problems. More recently, hawthorn leaf and flower have been used as folk or traditional remedies for heart failure, a weakness of the heart muscle that prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to the rest of the body, which can lead to fatigue and limit physical activities. Hawthorn is also used for other heart conditions, including symptoms of coronary artery disease (such as angina).
Common Names: hoodia, Kalahari cactus, Xhoba
Latin Name: Hoodia gordonii
Hoodia is a flowering, cactus-like plant native to the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. Its harvest is protected by conservation laws. Historically, Kalahari Bushmen ate hoodia stems to reduce their hunger and thirst during long hunts. Today, the main folk use of hoodia is as an appetite suppressant for weight loss.
Dried extracts of hoodia stems and roots are used to make capsules, powders, and chewable tablets. Hoodia can also be used to make liquid extracts and teas. Hoodia products often contain other herbs or minerals, such as green tea or chromium picolinate.
Common Names: horse chestnut, buckeye, Spanish chestnut
Latin Name: Aesculus hippocastanum
Horse chestnut trees are native to the Balkan Peninsula (for example, Greece and Bulgaria), but grow throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Although horse chestnut is sometimes called buckeye, it should not be confused with the Ohio or California buckeye trees, which are related but not the same species.
For centuries, horse chestnut seeds, leaves, bark, and flowers were used for a variety of conditions and diseases. Today, horse chestnut seed extract is used primarily as a folk or traditional remedy for chronic venous insufficiency (a condition in which the veins do not efficiently return blood from the legs to the heart). This condition is associated with varicose veins, pain, ankle swelling, feelings of heaviness, itching, and nighttime leg cramping. The seed extract has also been used as a folk or traditional remedy for hemorrhoids.
Horse chestnut seed extract standardized to contain 16 to 20 percent aescin (escin), the active ingredient, is the most commonly used form. Topical preparations have also been used.
Common Names: kava, kava kava, awa, kava pepper
Latin Name: Piper methysticum
Kava is native to the islands of the South Pacific and is a member of the pepper family. Kava has been used as a ceremonial beverage in the South Pacific for centuries.
Historically, kava was used to help people fall asleep and fight fatigue, as well as to treat asthma and urinary tract infections. It also had a topical use as a numbing agent. More recent folk or traditional uses include anxiety, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms.
Common Names: lavender, English lavender, garden lavender
Latin Name: Lavandula angustifolia
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region. It was used in ancient Egypt as part of the process for mummifying bodies. Lavender’s use as a bath additive originated in Persia, Greece, and Rome. The herb’s name comes from the Latin lavare, which means “to wash.”
Historically, lavender was used as an antiseptic and for mental health purposes. Today, lavender is used as a folk or traditional remedy for anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, depression, headache, upset stomach, and hair loss.
Lavender is most commonly used in aromatherapy, in which the scent of the essential oil from the flowers is inhaled. The essential oil can also be diluted with another oil and applied to the skin. Dried lavender flowers can be used to make teas or liquid extracts that can be taken by mouth.
Common Names: licorice root, licorice, liquorice, sweet root, gan zao (Chinese licorice)
Latin Name: Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Chinese licorice)
Most licorice is grown in Greece, Turkey, and Asia. Licorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin (or glycyrrhizic acid). Licorice has a long history of medicinal use in both Eastern and Western systems of medicine. Today, licorice is used as a folk or traditional remedy for stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and sore throat, as well as infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis.
Peeled licorice root is available in dried and powdered forms. Licorice root is available as capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts. Licorice can be found with glycyrrhizin removed; the product is called DGL (for “deglycyrrhizinated licorice”).
Common Names: milk thistle, Mary thistle, holy thistle. Milk thistle is sometimes called silymarin, which is actually a mixture of the herb’s active components, including silybinin (also called silibinin or silybin).
Latin Name: Silybum marianum
Milk thistle is a flowering herb native to the Mediterranean region. It has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for a variety of ailments, and historically was thought to have protective effects on the liver and improve its function. Today, its primary folk uses include liver disorders such as cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders. Other folk uses include lowering cholesterol levels, reducing insulin resistance in people who have both type 2 diabetes and cirrhosis, and reducing the growth of breast, cervical, and prostate cancer cells.
Silymarin, which can be extracted from the seeds (fruit) of the milk thistle plant, is believed to be the biologically active part of the herb. The seeds are used to prepare capsules, extracts, powders, and tinctures.
Common Names: noni, morinda, Indian mulberry, hog apple, canary wood
Latin Name: Morinda citrifolia
Noni is an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows throughout the tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean, from Southeast Asia to Australia. Noni has a history of use as a topical preparation for joint pain and skin conditions. Today, noni fruit juice has folk uses as a general health tonic and for cancer and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Common Names: passionflower, Maypop, apricot vine, old field apricot, maracuja, water lemon
Latin Name: Passiflora incarnata L.
Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers learned of passionflower in Peru. Native peoples of the Americas used passionflower for boils, wounds, earaches, and liver problems. Today, passionflower is promoted as a folk or traditional remedy for anxiety, stress, and sleep, as well as for heart ailments, asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, burns, and hemorrhoids.
Common Name: peppermint oil
Latin Name: Mentha x piperita
The herb peppermint, a cross between two types of mint (water mint and spearmint), grows throughout Europe and North America. Peppermint is often used to flavor foods, and the leaves can be used fresh or dried in teas. Today, peppermint oil is used as a folk or traditional remedy for nausea, indigestion, cold symptoms, headaches, muscle and nerve pain, stomach problems, and bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Essential oil of peppermint may be found in very small doses in capsule or liquid forms. The essential oil can also be diluted with another oil and applied to the skin.
Common Name: pomegranate
Latin Name: Punica granatum L.
Since ancient times, the pomegranate has been a symbol of fertility. The pomegranate fruit has a leathery rind (or husk) with many little pockets of edible seeds and juice inside.
Researchers have studied all parts of the pomegranate for their potential health benefits. Those parts include the fruit, seed, seed oil, tannin-rich peel, root, leaf, and flower. The pomegranate has been used as a dietary supplement for various conditions including wounds, sore throats, and diarrhea
Common Names: red clover, cow clover, meadow clover, wild clover
Latin Name: Trifolium pratense
Like peas and beans, red clover belongs to the family of plants called legumes. Red clover contains phytoestrogens—compounds similar to the female hormone estrogen. Historically, red clover has been used for cancer and respiratory problems, such as whooping cough, asthma, and bronchitis. Currently, red clover is used as a traditional or folk remedy for menopausal symptoms, breast pain associated with menstrual cycles, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and symptoms of prostate enlargement.
Common Names: golden root, roseroot, queen’s crown
Latin Name: Rhodiola rosea L.
Rhodiola grows in cold regions of Europe and Asia, as well as in Alaska.
Historically, people in northern regions have used rhodiola for anxiety, fatigue, anemia, impotence, infections, headache, and depression related to stress. People also have used it to increase physical endurance, work performance, longevity, and improve resistance to high-altitude sickness.
Today, people use rhodiola as a dietary supplement to increase energy, stamina, and strength, to improve attention and memory, and to enhance the ability to cope with stress.
Common Names: black sage, broad-leafed sage, common sage
Latin Name: Salvia officinalis, Salvia lavandulaefolia, Salvia lavandulifolia
Sage has been used for centuries as a spice and seasoning in cooking and as a folk or traditional remedy for hoarseness, coughs, and sore mouths and throats. In ancient times it even was thought to extend life. Sage was used as a fertility drug in ancient Egypt. Physicians in ancient Greece used a solution of sage and water to stop wounds from bleeding and to clean sores and ulcers.
Today, sage is used as a folk or traditional remedy for mouth and throat inflammation, indigestion, and excessive sweating; to improve mood; and to boost memory or mental performance.
Common Names: saw palmetto, American dwarf palm tree, cabbage palm
Latin Name: Serenoa repens, Sabal serrulata
Saw palmetto is a small palm tree native to the eastern United States. Its fruit was used medicinally by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Saw palmetto is used as a traditional or folk remedy for urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate gland (also called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), as well as for chronic pelvic pain, bladder disorders, decreased sex drive, hair loss, hormone imbalances, and prostate cancer.
Common Name: soy
Latin Name: Glycine max
Soy, a plant in the pea family, has been common in Asian diets for thousands of years. It is found in modern American diets as a food or food additive. Soybeans, the high-protein seeds of the soy plant, contain isoflavones—compounds similar to the female hormone estrogen. Traditional or folk uses of soy products include menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, memory problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.
Soy is available in dietary supplements, in forms such as tablets and capsules. Soy supplements may contain isoflavones or soy protein or both. Soybeans can be cooked and eaten or used to make tofu, soy milk, and other foods. Also, soy is sometimes used as an additive in various processed foods, including baked goods, cheese, and pasta.
Common Names: St. John’s wort, hypericum, Klamath weed, goatweed
Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum
St. John’s wort is a plant with yellow flowers whose medicinal uses were first recorded in ancient Greece. The name St. John’s wort apparently refers to John the Baptist, as the plant blooms around the time of the feast of St. John the Baptist in late June. Historically, St. John’s wort has been used for centuries to treat mental disorders and nerve pain. St. John’s wort has also been used for malaria, as a sedative, and as a balm for wounds, burns, and insect bites. Today, St. John’s wort is used as a folk or traditional remedy for depression, anxiety, and/or sleep disorders.
Common Names: Australian tea tree oil, tea tree essential oil, melaleuca oil
Latin Name: Melaleuca alternifolia
Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the tea tree and has been used medicinally for centuries by the aboriginal people of Australia. Today, tea tree oil is often used externally as a folk or traditional remedy for a number of conditions including acne, athlete’s foot, nail fungus, wounds, and infections; or for lice, oral candidiasis (thrush), cold sores, dandruff, and skin lesions.
Common Names: thunder god vine, lei gong teng
Latin Name: Tripterygium wilfordii
Thunder god vine is a perennial vine native to China, Japan, and Korea. It has been used in China for health purposes for more than 400 years. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used for conditions involving inflammation or overactivity of the immune system. Currently, thunder god vine is used as a traditional or folk remedy for excessive menstrual periods and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus.
Extracts are prepared from the skinned root of thunder god vine.
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