The regular use of herbs can help prevent illness and promote longevity. Some herbs enhance your energy, while others calm you down or help you sleep. Still others ease depression or help you ward off a cold. The current best-selling herbs each have some of these health benefits to offer you.

1. Garlic

This herbal panacea has long been used in many cultures for infections, worms, and as an antibiotic and antiseptic. More recently, garlic has been discovered to lower blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reduce the clotting activity of blood platelets and to have antitumor activity. Additionally, it is useful as a preventive for vascular changes common to the elderly. It has a beneficial expectorant, warming effect on the lungs and is used for bronchial and pulmonary infections, pneumonia, colds and flu. In China, garlic is commonly used as a worm remedy, as a detoxifying agent, and to prevent and treat influenza.

2. Ginkgo

Modern research supports the use of ginkgo leaf extracts to improve circulation and protect blood vessels. Ginkgo increases blood flow to the brain, improving brain function, including short-term memory and alertness. When taken long-term, it can benefit tinnitis sufferers. Because of its circulatory-stimulating properties, this herb has also been of benefit in peripheral arterial disease, increasing the distance people can walk without pain. Ginkgo is also known as a good antioxidant. Ginkgo extracts have shown promise for treating and preventing macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as a host of autoimmune disorders such as asthma and hepatitis.

3. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is taken for uterine and gastrointestinal hemorrhage and for nosebleeds. Its astringent nature helps with diarrhea, and it is an effective nausea and indigestion remedy. In Chinese medicine, cinnamon is used to warm the body’s interior to ease joint aches, chest obstruction and phlegm retention. Cinnamon bark warms the body, invigorates the blood, dispels internal coldness and improves digestion.

4. Milk Thistle

Known for its excellent liver-protectant properties, milk thistle has proven effective in scientific studies for acute and chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and jaundice. This herb is used to enhance liver regeneration after exposure to heavy metals, radiation or toxic chemicals, as well as alcoholic and other liver damage. Milk thistle stimulates the growth of new liver cells and is a strong antioxidant.

5. Echinacea

Echinacea is a popular, non-toxic herb widely revered and used for its immune-stimulating, antibacterial and antiviral activity. It enhances resistance to colds and flu (particularly when taken at the onset), is useful for septicemia and skin complaints (such as boils, abscesses or carbuncles), aids in the treatment of wounds and is used as a mouthwash for gum problems. Echinacea is taken for chronic infections of the urinary and respiratory tracts. It is also used locally as an antiseptic for burns, wounds, bites, skin ulcers, eczema and psoriasis.

6. Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is commonly used for women’s ailments, such as menopause disorders, PMS and dysmenorrhea. It is also a remedy for rheumatism, arthritis, bronchitis, tinnitis and hysteria, and it is a known muscle relaxant. In Chinese medicine, it is used for organ prolapses, headaches, measles and sore gums due to superficial heat. Due to its hormone-balancing qualities, black cohosh has become popular for relieving hot flashes.

7. Ginseng

Ginseng (Panax spp.) increases stamina and endurance, reduces fatigue, enhances metabolism during exercise and improves well-being. In clinical trials, ginseng has been shown to improve resistance to stress and enhance mental and physical performance. American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) is an excellent herb for people who have chronic fatigue, depression and general weakness due to overwork and stress. Because of overharvesting, look for woods-grown products rather than wild-harvested ones.

8. Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is a male tonifying herb, especially beneficial to the prostate gland and urinary tract. Several studies have proven it effective in reducing the frequency of nocturnal urination and as a remedy for benign prostatic hypertrophy with symptoms such as burning or incomplete urination and reduced flow. It has also been used for chronic congestive conditions. It is often considered a good tonic for the sexual and urinary systems of both men and women.

9. Cranberry

Cranberries have a long history of use in the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice has been proven effective against bladder infections by acidifying the urine and rendering the bacteria unable to adhere to the bladder lining. The juice has also been used for kidney stones (and their prevention) and chronic urethritis. Cranberry helps deodorize the urine and is useful for incontinence. It has also been shown effective at preventing bacteria from forming dental plaque in the mouth.

10. Green Tea

Green tea contains antioxidants that have the potential to protect you against cancer, heart disease and ulcers. Its antibacterial properties make the tea useful as a mouthwash to prevent plaque formation. Studies in Japan have shown that those who drank the most green tea had the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This highly popular beverage also invigorates the mind and the nervous system.

11. St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort shows great promise as an antiviral and anti-inflammatory agent and is being researched for its potential benefit to AIDS patients. It has long been used as a remedy for uterine cramping, mild depression, bedwetting and anxiety. St. John’s wort is used internally and externally for pain relief. One of its main active ingredients, hypericin, is a strong anti-inflammatory and can penetrate through the skin when applied locally as an oil. This warming and soothing oil is used externally for wounds and nerve pain. The oil or tincture applied locally is one of the most effective remedies to quickly reduce the pain of a scrape or burn. Modern research has shown St. John’s wort extract to be as effective as a popularly prescribed drug for mild depression.

12. Valerian

Valerian has long been used as a healing herb to help relieve emotional stress, sleeplessness, nervousness, menstrual and intestinal cramps and muscle pain. A number of clinical studies support the sleep-promoting and central nervous system-relaxing qualities of this popular herb in cases of insomnia, overexcitement and exhaustion.

Some herbs enhance your energy, while others calm you down or help you sleep. Still others ease depression or help you ward off a cold.

This article was originally published in the HERBAL REMEDIES™ #90 issue. To subscribe, click here.

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