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Nature’s 9 Most Powerful Medicinal Plants and the Science Behind Them

Today, we live in a time when manufactured medicines and prescriptions prevail, but do they have to be the only approach to healing?

Even with all of these engineered options at our fingertips, many people find themselves turning back to the medicinal plants that started it all: Herbal remedies that have the ability to heal and boost physical and mental well-being.

In fact, at the beginning of the 21st century, 11 percent Trusted Source of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization were “exclusively of flowering plant origin.” Drugs like codeine, quinine, and morphine all contain plant-derived ingredients.

While these manufactured drugs have certainly become paramount in our lives, it can be comforting to know that the power of nature is on our side, and these herbal choices are available to complement our health practices.

But the extent of the power they hold is also still being explored. These alternatives aren’t cure-calls, and they aren’t perfect. Many carry the same risks and side effects as manufactured medicines. Many of them are sold with unfounded promises.

However, many herbs and teas offer harmless subtle ways to improve your health. Pay attention to what the evidence says about each herb’s effectiveness as well as potential interactions or safety issues. Avoid using herbs for infants and children and for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Most herbs haven’t been tested for safety for those who are vulnerable, and trying herbs isn’t worth the risk.

With this cautionary tale in mind, choosing the right plant can seem difficult to someone who simply wants to feel better without taking medication. That’s why, with the help of specialist Debra Rose Wilson, we’re looking at the most effective and therapeutic plants — which have strong scientific evidence to support their safe use.

Making decisions about herbs along with more traditional medicinal approaches is something you and your healthcare practitioner can address together. At times, Wilson notes, ingesting the plants can have even less risk than taking concentrated, manufactured supplements, as there’s more risk of contamination of the product with the manufacture processes. It’s a wonderful way to experience their effects and the satisfaction of growing them yourself. Herbs can also be a way to add a needed nutrient.

However, both plants and supplements, which aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety or quality, can have questionable dosage and might have a risk of contamination. Keep this in mind before choosing supplements from the shelf.

If you’d like to add some medicinal plants to your wellness regimen, Wilson sifted through the latest studies and provides her own ratings system for our list.

These plants have the most numerous high-quality studies and are the safer choices among herbal remedies. She’s marked “0” as unsafe with no research, and “5” as completely safe with ample research. Many of these plants are somewhere between 3 and 4, according to Wilson.

We hope this guide will act as a starting point to those who wish to integrate herbal remedies into their lives and arrive armed with knowledge. As always, speak with your doctor before starting any new health treatment.

Ginkgo

As one of the oldest tree species, gingko is also one of the oldest homeopathic plants and a key herb in Chinese medicine. The leaves are used to create capsules, tablets, and extracts, and when dried, can be consumed as a tea.

It’s perhaps best-known for its ability to boost brain health. Studies say that gingko can treat patients with mild to moderate dementia Trusted Source, and can slow cognition decline in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent research is looking into a component that can help diabetes, and there continue to be more studies, including an animal study that says it might influence bone healing.

Turmeric

With its brilliant orange hue, it’s impossible to miss a bottle of turmeric sitting on a spice shelf. Originating in India, turmeric is believed to have anticancer properties and can prevent DNA mutations.

As an anti-inflammatory, it can be taken as a supplement and it’s been used topically for people with arthritis who wish to relieve discomfort. It’s used worldwide as a cooking ingredient, which makes it a delicious, antioxidant-rich Trusted Source addition to many dishes.

According to recent research, turmeric is also showing promise as a treatment for a variety of dermatologist diseases and joint arthritis Trusted Source.

Evening primrose oil

The vibrant yellow evening primrose flower produces an oil that’s thought to alleviate the symptoms of PMS and skin conditions like eczema.

Studies that are available on this oil tend to be all over the map, but there are studies that are stronger than others. For example, some studies have found that evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been known to help with conditions such as atopic dermatitis and diabetic neuropathyTrusted Source. It can also help with other health concerns, such as breast pain.

Recent research points to improving the quality of life for patients with multiple sclerosis Trusted Source, changing hormones and insulin sensitivity in those dealing with poly cystic ovary syndrome, and using it topically to improve mild dermatitis.

According to these studies, evening primrose oil might just be the Swiss Army knife of the medicinal plant world. The caveat is that it can interact with several medications. More research is coming, and the applications are promising.

Flax seed

Flax seed, also available as an oil, is one of the safer choices among plant-based dietary supplements. Harvested for thousands of years, today flax seed is praised for its antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Although more research needs to be done with human subjects, one study says that flax seed can help prevent colon cancer.

Another study Trusted Source cites that flax seed has the ability to reduce blood pressure. When consumed, it can even aid in reducing obesity. Many people add flax seed and flax-seed meal to oatmeal and smoothies, and it’s also available in the form of tablets, oil (which can be put into capsules), and flour.

The best way to add flax seed is through your diet. Sprinkle ground seeds on cereal or salad, cook in hot cereal, stew, homemade breads, or smoothies. Add flaxseed oil to salad dressing.

Tea tree oil

The tea tree, which is native to Australia, produces an oil that’s long been thought to be beneficial for skin conditions, including mild acne, athlete’s foot, small wounds, dandruff, insect bites, and other inflammatory skin conditions.

There needs to be further study into acne and scalp use, but for now, there’s a degree of research into the antimicrobial superpowers of tea tree oil on wounds and topical infections.

One recent study said that tea tree oil slowed the growth of acne-causing microbes. It’s commonly used as a highly concentrated essential oil.

Wilson recommends that tea tree oil, as with all essential oils, should be diluted in a carrier oil. She adds that it often already comes diluted in a variety of skin care products and creams.

Things to consider

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Echinacea

Echinacea is a lot more than those pretty, purple cone-flowers you see dotting gardens. These blooms have been used for centuries as medicine in the form of teas, juice, and extracts. Today, they can be taken as powders or supplements.

The best-known use of echinacea is to shorten symptoms of the common cold Trusted Source, but more studies are needed to verify this benefit and to understand how echinacea boosts immunity when a virus is present.

Generally, save a few potential side effects, echinacea is relatively safe. Even though it needs more testing, you can always choose to use it if you’re hoping to see your cold symptoms end more quickly.

Grape seed extract

For years, grape seed extract, which is available via liquid, tablets, or capsules, has been well-established and applauded for its antioxidant activity. It has potent health benefits, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and reducing symptoms of poor circulation in the leg veins.

Studies Trusted Source are confirming that regular consumption of grape seed extract has anticancer effects and seems to halt cancer cell growth.

Lavender

If you experience anxiety, chances are that someone along the way has recommended that you use lavender essential oil, and for good reason. This aromatic, purple flower has a fairly strong standing among studies, which have mainly focused on its anti-anxiety capacities.

It’s proven to be soothing in a study conducted among dental patients, while another study confirmed that lavender can directly impact mood and cognitive performance. It’s also been commended for its sedative properties to help people get much-needed sleep.

Recently, it’s been discovered that lavender carries anti-inflammatory benefits as well. It’s most effective diluted and applied to the skin or used in aromatherapy, and it has few side effects.

Chamomile

With flowers that resemble small daisies, chamomile is another medicinal plant that’s thought to have anti-anxiety properties. Most people know it because it’s a popular tea flavor (one review Trusted Source says that over 1 million cups per day are consumed around the world), but it can also be ingested through liquids, capsules, or tablets.

The calming powers of chamomile have been frequently studied, including a 2009 study Trusted Source that states chamomile is superior to taking a placebo when treating generalized anxiety disorder. One recent study confirmed it’s safe for long-term use, and another recent study looked beyond its use for anxiety and confirmed that it also shows potential in anticancer treatments.

This article is about culinary, medicinal, and spiritual herbs. For the botanical usage, see herbaceous plant. For other uses, see Herb (disambiguation).

A variety of herbs are visible in this garden. Pictured is mint, along with some other herbs.

In general use, herbs are plants with savory or aromatic properties that are used for flavoring and garnishing food, for medicinal purposes, or for fragrances; excluding vegetables and other plants consumed for macro-nutrients. Culinary use typically distinguishes herbs from spices. Herbs generally refers to the leafy green or flowering parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), while spices are usually dried and produced from other parts of the plant, including seeds, bark, roots and fruits.

Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, and in some cases, spiritual. General usage of the term “herb” differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs; in medicinal or spiritual use, any parts of the plant might be considered as “herbs”, including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, root bark, inner bark (and cambium), resin and pericarp.

The word “herb” is pronounced /hɜːrb/ in Commonwealth English,but /ɜːrb/ is common among North American English speakers and those from other regions where h-dropping occurs. In botany, the word “herb” is used as a synonym for “herbaceous plant”.

Herbal & Medicinal Plants

  Pragati Group ushers the “Vyadi Rahita Samajam” (disease-free society) by harnessing the health giving and healing power of Sacred, Heritage, Herbal, Medicinal and Aromatic plants.Pragati Evansville Nursery boasts of more than 800 heritage medicinal plants and aromatic plants besides 100 varieties of vegetables and fruits.

 Pragati Bio Pharma has discovered a unique herb with medicinal properties for prevention of Breast Cancer and named it as “Urginea Raogibikei”. It is in the process of getting recognition from Small Business Innovation Research Initiative (SBIRI) for its anti-cancer therapeutic qualities.

Medicinal plants are useful to keep on hand to treat common ailments. You can reach for certain medical plants to relieve headaches, tummy trouble and even irritation from bug bites. Plants can be consumed in teas, used as garnish, applied topically as essential oil or consumed as a pill.

It’s important to remember that you should always double check with your doctor before consuming or using anything new for your body. If you choose to grow some of these plants, remember to take proper care according to the plant’s care guidelines and refrain from using any pesticides or other harmful chemicals on your plants. You don’t want any of those chemicals in or on your body!

To help you decide what plants are best for you, we rounded up our top medicinal plants, their notable health benefits and how to use them.

Medicinal Plants

1. Basil

Basil (optimum basilica) is a common herb used to garnish salads, pasta and many other meals to add delicious flavor. Thanks to the vitamins and minerals in basil, such as vitamin K and iron, this herb is helpful for combating common ailments. For example, the manganese in basil helps metabolize different compounds in your body. Holy basil, commonly referred to as tulsi, is a specific species of basil that originates from India. It’s considered a sacred plant that is used in teas, ointments and more, to help treat a variety of ailments like fevers and diabetes. This species has a much stronger taste than common basil!

2. Catnip

Catnip (nepenthe cat aria) is a fun plant for cats. Most cats are attracted to the plant and will roll around near it since its aroma acts as a stimulant. These medicinal plants also act as a sedative for cats if consumed. For humans, on the other hand, it is normally used as a stress reliever, sleep aid and a solution for skin issues. The majority of its health benefits come from the presence of nepetalactone, thymol and other compounds that make this plant great for you and your furry friend.

3. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper (capsicum annuum) adds a spicy kick to any meal or drink and is a popular detoxifies for many people. Capsaicin is the compound responsible for cayenne’s spicy nature, but it’s also responsible for some of its health benefits. Some of these benefits include pain relief and lower cholesterol.

4. Chamomile

Chamomile (matricaria chamomilla) has a high concentration of antioxidants that make it a great plant for relieving a variety of ailments. Chamomile is commonly consumed as a tea and you can make your own at home by brewing dried chamomile flowers (just make sure the flowers are completely dry). Drinking a cup of chamomile tea before bed can help you relax and have a more restful night’s sleep.

5. Dandelion

You should think twice before removing those pesky dandelions (taraxacum) from your front yard! Dandelions are not only edible, but they are also full of health benefits. These medicinal plants are packed with things that are great for you: vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, calcium and more. These vitamins and minerals help support strong bone and liver health. All parts of a dandelion are useful and good for you. For example, dandelion roots are commonly used for teas, the leaves are used as garnishes for different dishes and dandelion sap is great for your skin!

6. Echinacea

Echinacea (echinacea purple) is also commonly known as purple cone flower. This is another flower that is normally used in tea to help soothe different symptoms and to strengthen the immune system. This popular herb is used most often to accelerate recovery from the common cold. It’s important to note that echinacea can cause negative effects like nausea and dizziness if taken consistently in large doses.

7. Garlic

Garlic (allium sativum) helps keep away vampires and unwanted diseases! This super plant is great for fighting infections, aiding with cholesterol management and much more. Eating garlic on a regular basis is good for your overall health and easy to incorporate into a wide array of dishes. Raw garlic is the most potent, so try eating it uncooked for the most health benefit.

8. Lavender

Lavender (lavandula) is popular for its soothing scent and ability to calm the nerves. Lavender tea is another drink you can whip up to help you unwind after a long day and have a good night’s rest. Lavender oil is also popular for massage treatments, aromatherapy and even hair treatment!

9. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a longstanding medicinal plant used to help relieve stress and ward off insects! An intense amount of stress can cause complications for many functions of the body, so minimal stress is ideal for a healthy functioning body. This lemony plant is delicious and easily used in several dishes like teas, ice cream and more. Many people consume lemon balm tea to help relieve anxiety, stress and even to calm restless kids.

10. Marigold

Marigolds (tagetes) are fragrant plants that many turn to in order to improve their overall skin health. These vibrant flowers carry a lot of antioxidants and other healthy compounds that make them the perfect choice to keep in your home! These plants not only keep your body healthy, but also help keep insects away.

11. Parsley

Parsley (petrolatum crisp-um) is a delicious garnish that’s helpful for supporting your immune system, bone health and digestive health. The high concentration of antioxidants, vitamin K and other compounds help make this plant an all-around powerhouse herb for your body. Parsley is also a good herb to reach for if you’re suffering from halitosis, also known as bad breath!

12. Peppermint

Peppermint (mentha × piperita) is a fresh herb that we taste in gum, toothpaste and desserts. This herb makes a tasty tea and helps relieve tummy aches, nausea and muscle pain (just to name a few). Peppermint tea is a good choice for pregnant moms who suffer from occasional morning sickness.

13. Rosemary

Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) is full of vitamins and minerals that help support many different functions in the body. For instance, rosemary is great for improving memory and also supports hair growth. This means a cup of rosemary tea is great for anyone heading into a night of studying or a person fighting a receding hairline!

14. Sage

Sage (saliva officinalis) is another medical plant that helps support memory and combat degenerative diseases. Sage is also well-known for managing diabetes with its ability to naturally lower glucose levels. This plant is a popular ingredient for several dishes and beauty products, so you can easily reap the benefits of sage in a multitude of ways!

15. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) is primarily known as a natural way to relieve symptoms of depression. It’s used to treat anxiety, mood swings, feelings of withdrawal and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. These medicinal plants are usually consumed as a concentrated pill or applied topically as an ointment. It’s important to note that St. John’s Wort can interact with a number of medications, so (as with all plants on this list) consult your doctor before consuming or applying this plant to your body.

16. Thyme

Thyme (thymus vulgar-is) is a popular herb used in cooking. Thymol is found in thyme and is commonly found in mouthwash and vapor rubs. This compound gives thyme its strong anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Thyme’s anti fungal properties also helps prevent food borne illnesses since it can decontaminate food and prevent infections in the body.

Next time you have a pesky pain or symptom, try reaching for one of these medicinal plants! You can  take a look at some of the best medicinal flowers to keep around your home too. We’ve also rounded up the best plants with beauty benefits if you’re looking for natural ways to enhance your beauty regime.

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