Science-backed Herbal Medicine

For any medical remedy, scientific evidence to support medical benefit is invaluable and makes for a very reliable resource when treating an ailment. The herbs listed have significant scientific research backing their efficacy. However, please note that this list is neither exhaustive nor exclusive, which is to say there are probably plenty of other herbs that have significant scientific support.

  • Horse Chestnut (aesculus hippocastanum): anti-inflammatory, astringent, reduces fluid retention
  • Garlic (allium sativum): antibiotic, antifungal, blood-thinning, respiratory health, lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol
  • Aloe Vera (aloe vera): anti-inflammatory, skin toning, wound and tissue healing
  • Borage (borage officinalis): anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, emollient
  • Boswellia (boswellia serrata): anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, antiseptic, reduces fever
  • Senna (Cassia spp.): stimulant laxative
  • Tea (camellia sinensis): antioxidant, astringent, diuretic, stimulant
  • German Chamomile (chamomilla recutita syn. matricaria recutita): anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, relaxant, heals wounds
  • Hawthorn (crataegus spp.): antioxidant, heart tonic, lowers blood pressure, relaxes blood vessels
  • Tumeric (curcuma longa): anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, liver health
  • Clove (eugenia caryophylatta syn. syzygium aromaticum): analgesic, anti-emetic, antioxidant, antiseptic, astringent, stimulant
  • Eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus): antiseptic, expectorant
  • Gentian (gentiana lutea): bitters, digestive tonic
  • Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba): antioxidant, circulatory stimulant, improves mental performance, protects nerve tissue
  • Licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra): anti-inflammatory, antiviral, demuculent, expectorant, tonic
  • Witch Hazel (hamamelis virginiana): anti-inflammatory, astringent, styptic
  • Devil’s Claw (harpagophytum procumbens): analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, bitter
  • St. John’s Wort (hypericum performatum): antidepressant, antiviral, nerve tonic, heals wounds
  • Flax Linseed (linum usitatissimum): antioxidant, demuculent, estrogenic, laxative, nutritive
  • Tea Tree (melaleuca alternifolia): antifungal, antiseptic
  • Peppermint (mentha x piperita): antiseptic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, mild analgesic, mild sedative, mild bitter
  • Holy Basil (ocimum sanctum): anti-inflammatory, expectorant, lowers blood sugar, tonic
  • Evening Primrose (oenothera biennis): anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, emollient
  • Ginseng (panax ginseng): adaptogen, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune tonic, tonic
  • Butterbur (petasites hybridus): anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic
  • Rhubarb (rheum officinalis): antibacterial, astringent, bitter, blood cleansing, laxative
  • Golden Root (rhodiola rosea): adaptogen, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, protects heart
  • Butcher’s Broom (ruscus aculeatus): anti-inflammatory, laxative, venous (circulatory) tonic
  • Saw Palmetto (serenoa repens): anti-inflammatory, prostate health
  • Milk Thistle (silybum marianum syn. carduus marianus): antioxidant, liver health, stimulates breast milk
  • Stevia (stevia rebaudiana): antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, lowers blood pressure
  • Cacao (theobroma cacao): antioxidant, diuretic, mild bitter, nutritive, stimulant
  • Cranberry (vaccinium macrocarpon): antioxidant, antiseptic
  • Valerian (valeriana officinalis): antispasmodic, mild analgesic, mild bitter, tranquilizer
  • Chaste Berry (vitex agneus-castus): hormonal balancer, stimulates breast milk
  • Ashwagandha Withania (withania somniferum): adaptogen, sedative, anti-inflammatory, tonic
Herbs For Your Medicine Cabinet

By Michael Castleman

Studies come and go. The study du jour might tout medicinal herbs or trash them. But people who focus only on the latest study lose something important—perspective. Want to use herbs confidently? Then take the long view. Examine the evidence that accumulates slowly over many years. The following 16 herbs have stood the test of time and are proven to be reliable healers. Not every study supports their use (the same could be said for most pharmaceuticals), but the weight of the evidence clearly shows that these herbs are safe (with certain caveats) and effective. They deserve a place in your medicine cabinet.

Aloe for Burns and Cuts

Aloe (Aloe vera) is the herb for minor burns and cuts. In one study published in the Journal of Dermatological Surgery and Oncology, 27 people had burns treated with aloe or standard medical care. In the standard-care group, healing took 18 days, but in the aloe group, it took only 12 days. “Aloe is my first choice for burns,” says botanist James Duke, Ph.D., former chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Medicinal Plant Research Laboratory and author of The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 2000). “Keep a potted aloe on your kitchen windowsill. For minor burns, snip off a thick leaf. Slit it open. Scoop out the inner leaf gel and apply it to the burn once or twice a day.” Aloe requires no care beyond weekly watering.

Dosage: If you use a commercial aloe gel, follow label directions.

Red Flags: Aloe helps heal superficial wounds but not deep wounds, such as surgical incisions.

Black Cohosh for Hot Flashes

American Indians first introduced colonists to black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), which they used to treat many conditions, including menstrual problems and recovery from childbirth. For 40 years, Europeans have used black cohosh to treat menopausal discomforts. During the past decade, the herb has become popular in the United States. Occasionally, a study questions its benefit, but the clear majority shows black cohosh effective for hot flashes. How the herb works is still a mystery, but it does not act like estrogen, so it’s safe for women who can’t take the female sex hormone—for example, those with a history of breast cancer. “Black cohosh is definitely worth a try,” says Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council (ABC), the nation’s leading herb-education organization, “especially now that hormone replacement therapy has been shown to do more harm than good.”

Dosage: Follow label directions.

Red Flags: Side effects are rare but possible: A few users have reported stomach distress, dizziness, headache and allergic reactions. Commission E, the German equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says black cohosh should not be taken for longer than six months. After that, consult your doctor or herbalist.

Remember The Tale of Peter Rabbit? After the young bunny’s “hare”-raising adventures, his mother soothes his jangled nerves and upset stomach with chamomile tea. Peter’s mother was right. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) soothes both the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract.

Dosage: 1 tea bag or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried flowers per cup of boiling water. Steep a few minutes and drink as much as you’d like.

Red Flags: Allergic reactions are possible, especially if you’re allergic to pollens.

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