by Kathleen Barnes
Mother Nature’s most potent healing herbs are already on most spice racks or growing nearby, often right outside the door.
Herbs, respected for their healing properties for millennia, have been widely used by traditional healers with great success. Now clinical science supports their medicinal qualities.
Pharmaceutical companies routinely extract active ingredients from herbs for common medications, including the potent pain reliever codeine, derived from Papaver somniferum; the headclearing antihistamines ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, from Ephedra sinica; and taxol, the chemotherapy drug commonly used to treat several types of cancer, including breast cancer, from Taxus brevifolia. These are among the findings according to Leslie Taylor, a naturopath and herbalist headquartered in Milam County, Texas, and author of The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs.
Even among an abundance of healing herbs, some stand out as nature’s “superherbs” that provide an array of medical properties, according to Rosemary Gladstar, of Barre, Vermont, the renowned author of Herbal Remedies for Vibrant Health and related works. Two of these, she notes, are widely considered nuisance weeds.
Plantain (Plantago major): Commonly used externally for poultices, open wounds, blood poisoning and bee stings, it also helps relieve a wider variety of skin irritations. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, this common “weed” fortifies the liver and reduces inflammation, which may reduce the risk for many kinds of chronic diseases. At least one study, published in the journal Planta Medica, suggests that plantain can enhance the immune system to help fight cancer and infectious diseases.
“Plantain is considered a survival herb because of its high nutritional value,” advises Gladstar, who founded the California School of Herbal Studies, in Sonoma County, in 1978. A new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry confirms it’s an excellent source of alpha-tocopherol, a natural form of vitamin E and beta carotene that can be used in salads for those that don’t mind its bitter taste.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Like plantain, dandelion is one of the most powerful medicinal herbs on the planet. “Dandelion is revered wherever you travel, except in the United States, where it is considered noxious,” observes Gladstar. Americans should reconsider their obsession with eradication. Dandelion root is an effective treatment against several types of cancer, including oftenfatal pancreatic and colorectal cancers and melanoma, even those that have proven resistant to chemotherapy and other conventional treatments, according to several studies from the University of Windsor, in England. Traditionally part of a detoxification diet, it’s also used to treat digestive ailments, reduce swelling and inflammation and stop internal and external bleeding.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Turmeric gives curry powder its vibrant yellow color. “Curcumin, turmeric’s most important active ingredient, is a wealth of health, backed by substantial scientific evidence that upholds its benefits,” says Jan McBarron, a medical and naturopathic doctor in Columbus, Georgia, author of Curcumin: The 21st Century Cure and cohost of the Duke and the Doctor radio show.
Several human and animal studies have shown that curcumin can be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, both in prevention and to slow or even stop its progress. One Australian study showed that curcumin helps rid the body of heavy metals that may be an underlying cause of the memory-robbing disease. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that curcumin helped dissolve the plaques and tangles of brain material characteristic to Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin is also known to be effective in lessening depression and preventing heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes, says McBarron.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Primarily used for its considerable anti-inflammatory properties, ginger makes a delicious and healing tea and an enticing spice in a variety of dishes. This herbal powerhouse has at least 477 active ingredients, according to Beyond Aspirin, by Thomas M. Newmark and Paul Schulick.
Considerable research confirms ginger’s effectiveness against a variety of digestive problems, including nausea from both morning sickness and chemotherapy. Research from Florida’s University of Miami also confirms its usefulness in reducing knee pain.
“Ginger is a good-tasting herb to treat any type of bacterial, fungal or viral infection,” says Linda Mix, a retired registered nurse in Rogersville, Tennesse, and author of Herbs for Life!
The health benefits of these four vital herbs are easily accessed by growing them in a home garden or pot or via extracted supplements.
Kathleen Barnes is the author of Rx from the Garden: 101 Food Cures You Can Easily Grow. Connect at KathleenBarnes.com. Note: For referenced studies, check the National Center for Biotechnology Information.