Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Archaeologists have even discovered the remains of herbal remedies in Neanderthal burial sites dating back 60,000 years. Herbs can contain essential oils that are useful in medicine and modern medicines often contain isolated ingredients originally found in plants. Aspirin contains a synthetic version of a chemical found in willow bark. Similarly digitalis, a chemical component found in foxgloves, is used in the treatment of heart disease.
How to Use Herbs as Medicine
Herbs can be used to make a tincture, infusion or decoction. A tincture is made by soaking the herb in alcohol for a few weeks and then straining it. The alcohol absorbs the soluble parts of the plant. The concentrated solution can be used sparingly, dropped on to the tongue or dabbed onto the wrists or temples. A tincture of lavender for example, is said to help aid sleep and cure headaches if dabbed onto the temples.
A decoction is made by boiling the roots, stems or bark of the herb in water for up to thirty minutes. A decoction of Echinacea root can boost the immune system and ward of colds if taken every day (although today it is readily available in concentrated tablet form).
An infusion is made by pouring hot water over the leaves or flowers of the herb and letting the mixture steep for fifteen minutes. This is also known as a herb tea. Herb teas are both delicious and nutritious.
Specific Health Properties of some common Herbs
The following herbs are just some of the better known herbs which are recognized to improve our health in the following ways:
- Echinacea – it boosts the immune system and can offer resistance to colds and influenza.
- Garlic – it thins the blood and lowers cholesterol. It can also help you resist disease.
- Ginkgo – it preserves the function of the brain and slows down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- St. John’s Wort – it works as an antidepressant and has fewer side effects that prescribed anti depressants.
- Milk Thistle – the complex antioxidant properties of milk thistle benefit the liver and help the body eliminate toxins. In Europe it is used to treat cirrhosis of the liver and liver disease caused by alcohol.
- Chamomile – this herb can remedy an upset stomach and aid sleep. But it can also improve the skin if taken topically.
- Thyme – it improves the immune system, promotes perspiration and eases sore throats and coughs. It has mild antiseptic properties.
- Sage – this herb calms the nerves, improves digestion and eases lung congestion and coughs.
- Rosemary – this improves circulation, stimulates the liver into eliminating toxins from the body, eases joint and headache pain and relieves cold symptoms.
- Mint – it eases stomach and digestive problems, relaxes the mind and can ease headaches.