Medicinal herbs are powerful therapeutic tools. They have been used for centuries—millennia in some cases—and have a firm record of efficacy and safety, provided they are used appropriately. Here are three healing herbs that I recommend you consider adding to your arsenal due to their powerful effects on health and well-being.
Turmeric (Curcumin) for Pain, Cognitive Function, and Beyond
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is the culinary spice that gives curry its bright yellow color. It has also been used in India for centuries for a variety of medicinal purposes. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that is one of nature’s most potent anti-inflammatories and, as such, is a powerful pain reliever.
Additionally, it may help preserve cognitive function and ward off neurodegenerative disorders. Curcumin has been shown not only to reduce markers of inflammation in the brain, but also to actually shrink beta-amyloid plaques, the destructive lesions that riddle the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s.
Other conditions that benefit from the use of curcumin include GI disorders such as Crohn’s and inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, liver disease, cancer, circulation problems, high levels of cholesterol and other lipids, and cystic fibrosis. It even appears to have anti-aging properties and has been shown to extend lifespan in mice.
The only problem with curcumin is that it is notoriously poorly absorbed. That’s why many supplements also contain quercetin and/or piperine, compounds that enhance its bioavailability. Another option (and the one I prefer) is to look for a product that binds curcumin to phosphatidylcholine in order to make it easier for your body to absorb. The suggested daily dose of regular curcumin is 1,500–2,000 mg. If you are using a curcumin phytosome product (one is Meriva), the recommended dose is 500–1,000 mg per day.
Garlic for Infections, Cardiovascular Health, and More
Garlic (Allium sativum) has long been a mainstay in both medicine and cooking. Centuries before Louis Pasteur discovered garlic’s potent antibacterial properties in the 1850s, it was used to treat infections and improve strength. These days, garlic is one of our best-studied and best-selling medicinal herbs.
Garlic contains sulfur compounds with powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory actions. It also inhibits platelet aggregation and improves circulation. In fact, there are scores of studies supporting garlic’s role in cardiovascular health.
One of the most exciting areas of research on garlic is cancer. In lab studies, garlic has been shown to inhibit the growth of several types of cancer cells, and a number of epidemiological studies suggest that eating a lot of garlic and related vegetables reduces risk of gastric and colorectal cancer. In one study of more than 35,000 women in Iowa, those who ate at least one clove of garlic per week had a 32 percent lower risk of colon cancer than the women who ate it only once a month.
Although garlic supplements are an option, I believe the best and most enjoyable way to reap the benefits of garlic is to eat a clove several times a week. No, you don’t have to eat it raw. But cooking can suppress the enzyme that activates its sulfur compounds, so wait about 10 minutes after cutting or chopping garlic before cooking it so the enzyme can go to work.
Milk Thistle for Liver Problems and Detoxification
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), is a miracle herb when it comes to treating liver problems such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. Milk thistle’s active constituent, silymarin, helps rejuvenate the liver, acting as an antioxidant and inhibiting the free radicals and inflammation responsible for liver damage. Taken regularly, milk thistle also has the remarkable ability to stimulate the growth of new liver cells to replace old damaged cells.
Milk thistle may be used daily to address specific liver problems or periodically for a three or four week detoxification program in healthy people. Look for a standardized extract containing 80 percent silymarin and take 600–900 mg daily. Milk thistle is safe and well tolerated but occasionally has a mild laxative effect.
Now it’s your turn: Do you use any of these or other healing herbs?