Herbs for Health
Herbs, plants and their active components have been used throughout history for their medicinal properties. Using plants and herbs for health is increasingly popular throughout the world and according to the World Health Organisation, 75% of the world’s populations are using herbs/traditional herbal medicine for basic healthcare needs. Many pharmaceutical drugs derive or contain active botanical and herbal components too, so this shows that nature can have a lot to offer when it comes to improving health. Many herbs and botanicals have been shown to be helpful too in preventing certain symptoms and minor health conditions, so what better time than now to learn how some common herbs can improve yours and your family’s health this autumn and winter
Many of the plants and herbs used in traditional herbal medicine are very familiar to most people, where their names are widely known. However what is not so well known is how they can be used to help with specific health complaints. Dandelion is one name that will be particularly familiar and highly recognizable to the majority of people, but what may not be known is that this plant is classed as a herb by botanists.
Dandelion has some fantastic medicinal properties, the most well-known one being its diuretic properties. This herb is therefore especially useful for people suffering from water retention whether that be a daily occurrence or as a cause of long haul flights. So if you are yet to take your holiday and you are prone to water retention after flying, dandelion tea can really help! Due to dandelions diuretic properties, some studies have also shown that it can be useful in helping reduce high blood pressure.
Due to dandelions effect as a diuretic, it is also a powerful detoxification agent and can help flush out toxins such as uric acid, which is a cause of gout. Dandelion can therefore be helpful in people suffering with this condition. Dandelion also has a detoxification effect on the liver, likely due to the fact that dandelion has been shown to increase the flow of bile (the component that helps emulsify the fats we eat) and has in some studies shown to improve liver function. Many people choose to consume dandelion tea or tonic after a heavier night of alcohol consumption, swearing that it is helpful for hangovers due to its detoxification effect on the liver. It’s certainly worth a try!!
So if you fancy adding dandelion into your diet, one of the best ways to do this is to make a tea and drink it. You can make your own very easily using a good handful of washed dandelion leaves and pouring over hot water and leave to steep for 5-10 minutes. A great addition to this tea is goats’ milk and a small splash of maple syrup or honey to add a little sweetness.
Feverfew is not a herb, but a plant that is part of the daisy family, however it has a long history of being used as a herbal medicine to treat a variety of ailments. The Latin name for Feverfew is ‘febrifugia’, which literally translates to ‘fever reducer’ so as the name would suggest, one thing it is known for is reducing fevers, however it can do so much more than that. It has also been shown to be useful in arthritis, nausea and vomiting, common cold and headaches to name just a few. Studies have shown that the leaves of this plant show significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects so it can be very effective in those suffering with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or migraines.
Over many years, feverfew has been explored in clinical research as both a treatment and prevention to migraine, with some very successful results. On the research and results that have been seen, researchers concluded that feverfew may be useful not only for helping and alleviating classical migraine and cluster headaches, but also for hormonal cause headaches that can occur premenstrually, during menstruation or during ovulation. Although the mechanism of exactly why feverfew can be so helpful in treating migraines and headaches is still largely unknown, it is likely to be down to the fact that feverfew has been shown to help dilate blood vessels in the head, which constrict during a migraine episode.
So if you are a migraine sufferer or regularly suffer with headaches without a cause, it is certainly worth trying feverfew. You can even just try chewing on the feverfew leaves directly or again you can make your own tonic or tea using the leaves.
Like dandelion, chamomile is one of the most well-known herbs and is also one of the most ancient, with its use in medicine dating back thousands of years. It is the flowers of this herb that are used for eliciting health properties, one of which is its effect as a sedative or relaxing agent, which is why it is often recommended to drink before bedtime or at times of stress and anxiety. It has also been claimed that consumption of chamomile tea boosts the immune system and helps fight infections associated with the common cold, however although there has been some positive research into this, more is needed before its effects on immune function can be concluded.
One of the main active phytochemicals found in chamomile is flavonoids and we know these to be essential for good health including cardiovascular health, so anything that can keep your heart healthy and working longer is worth a go.
For those suffering with eczema, chamomile may also have a benefit for skin health, as several studies have shown that topical use of chamomile creams can have equal or superior effects to topical steroid and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that are often prescribed in eczema cases. Chamomile certainly has gentle, soothing properties, which is one reason why you will often see it as an ingredient in topical products aimed at babies and children, such as nappy cream or shampoo.
This herb is great for digestive complaints and is a natural anti-flatulent, making is especially good for those people suffering from bloating and trapped wind. The best way to consume fennel to treat this ailment is as a tea, which you can easily make yourself or buy as a tea bag. Drinking fennel tea after meals can help bloating prone people to reduce the bloat and distension of the stomach and ease discomfort caused by excess gas.
Fennel is also a highly nutritious herb containing a great variety of vital nutrients including vitamin C, manganese, potassium and iron. The best way to ensure you receive the vitamin C from it is to eat the fresh fennel bulb, which can be chopped up and sprinkled raw on salads or added to stir fries. Fennel is also a very high source of fibre, which many of us do not consume enough of. A high fibre diet improves heart health, reduces cholesterol and makes for a healthy bowel, just three reasons why it should be on your menu.
There are over 900 species of sage found throughout the world and it has shown over centuries to be a very useful herb in the treatment and relief of many conditions. Sage contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, which have a positive effect on health. In more recent years, more research has been done on sage’s benefit in cognition and its memory enhancing and cognitive protective effects and results have been positive so far, although more research needs to be done. However sage certainly shows good promise in helping to protect against neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease as well as improving cognitive skills as we age.
Sage is widely used amongst women going through the menopause, especially for relief of hot flushes and hot sweats, which are common symptoms during menopausal years. For these symptoms a sage supplement or a sage tea is usually the most common format to consume it in.
Research also shows that sage has an anti-microbial effect so it has potential use in oral health, to help guard against microbes that form plaque and help against mouth ulcers and gum disease. Making a sage mouthwash would therefore be a good way of using sage to improve oral health and these are already available to buy in some shops. However you can also easily make your own by adding 2-3tbsp of fresh sage or 1-2tbsp of dried sage to about a pint , or just less, of boiling water. Simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes and leave to cool. Once cooled strain the liquid mixture and keep in a sterile container. Use this liquid as you would with any other mouthwash.
Herbs and other botanical plants contain a wealth of active components, which science is only really starting to understand in relation to their effects on human health. We know that a vast majority of these herbs have been used throughout history for their curative and preventative effects in a wide range of conditions and ailments and, if used correctly and with knowledge, there is certainly no reason why these herbs cannot be part of your weekly diet in some format, whether that be in raw form, dry form, supplement form or even as an oil or cream if appropriate. As famously said by Paracelsus, who was one of the most influential medical scientists in early modern Europe and who pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine, ‘All that man needs for health and healing has been provided by God in nature, the challenge of science is to find it’.