Posted: May 4, 2017 by: Christine Dionese
The herbal apothecary is nothing new. Humans have been consuming herbs for health since the beginning of time, but modern knowledge of the abundance of benefits that herbs bring to the pantry has only recently become appreciated. While you may think that tonics, tinctures and herbal medicine is trendy- rest assured, it is not. In fact, most modern pharmaceuticals are founded on chemical compounds found in plant medicine.
The beauty of consuming the whole herb, rather than extracted compounds, is that you are receiving the complete source of nutrition, as nature intended. When we isolate compounds we run the risk of creating adverse side effects.
Herbs offer a gentle and effective source of profound healing benefit. Here we’ve included some of some of the most commonly consumed sources of herbal plant medicine, their benefits, and uses.
Often referred to as “medicine for the healthy”, adaptogenic plants confer physiological homeostasis, primarily neuro-endocrine function. Adaptogens help us “adapt” to non-specific environmental stress in the modern world by promoting endurance and disease prevention without disrupting normal biological activities. If you're into technicalities, then you’ll appreciate knowing that adaptogens are technically subclasses of other herbal categories, primarily of tonics.
Holy Basil | Tulsi
Travel the temples of India and you’ll find this red or green herb flourishing throughout. Holy basil has been studied for its cox-ii anti-inflammatory effects, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Perhaps most compelling are its observed effects on reducing stress by lowering elevated levels of cortisol. If you’re stressed, this herb has been observed to act fast.
Perhaps not the prettiest of mushrooms, the nutrients chaga confers to humans are obtained from its mutually accentuative relationship with the birch trees it grows upon in nature. Along with antioxidant phenols, chaga has been studied for its immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects. Relatively unknown remedy for psoriasis flare-ups!
Calm the heart, quiet the mind- favored for centuries in Chinese medical traditions, these grape-like berries are known to regulate insulin levels & blood pressure as well as enhance certain aspects of cognitive function. What makes this adaptogen so special is its ability to guide immunological activity necessary for autoimmune issues without over stimulating the immune system - very clever.
If it’s an even keel you’re after in mind and body, then rhodiola. If it’s fatigue-induced stress, then rhodiola. Rhodiola exerts its effects mentally and physically by helping lift mild depression, enhancing sleep, relieving anxiety and regulating blood sugar. This herb is one to watch- its antioxidant properties are currently being studied for their promise in helping regulate neurodegenerative disease.
Shown in studies to regulate immunity, sleep and mental activity, ashwagandha or “Indian Ginseng” is special because it both revitalizes and soothes when fatigue or agitation stems from hyperactivity. This makes it especially beneficial for female and male fertility alike.
Tonics deserve an important distinction from adaptogenic herbs. They fortify, build, moisten, enrich, strengthen, increase, support and boost our life force in very specific ways. From the Ayurvedic to Chinese traditional medical practices, these vitality promoting plant medicines are divided into four distinct spheres: energy, blood, fluid and warming tonics.
He Shou Wu
Valued as a sexual and longevity tonic traditionally, he shou wu is a warming blood tonic that improves stamina and is a favorite among men for its alopecia-reducing effects. Perhaps even more importantly, studies on he shou wu show promise in improving cardiovascular health while slowing gland degeneration; truly making this wise ancient herb highly applicable for reducing the stress of modern times.
Live well now, live well later. Thanks to worker honey bees, we have longevity conferring royal jelly, a truly modern tonic that recent studies published in the journal of nutrition showed a vital role in hormonal development, specifically erythropoietin, the hormone that makes red blood cells and the conversion of dhea-sulfate to testosterone.
Deserving just as much of the spotlight as other ginseng varieties, American ginseng tonifies vital fluids making it an ideal choice for diabetes prevention. If you’re athletic, consider this variety to help improve endurance while promoting the formation of hemoglobin aka oxygen rich blood cells.
Olive Leaf Extract
Not a fan of antibiotics or synthetic OTC pharmaceuticals for cold & flu season? Opt for olive leaf. This diverse herb helps regulate opportunistic microbial invaders that may be lurking- parasites, bacteria, fungus and viruses.
So maybe they’re not an official class of plant medicines, these brain brightening herbal therapeutics are certainly apothecary-worthy.
It will prevent a restless night by soothing you to sleep and help diminish daytime anxiety making space for a clear, calm mind.
Bacopa | Brahmi
Learning + memory. Used for thousands of years for focus, take bacopa to boost cognitive acuity.
Lemon balm | Melissa
Sleep + sedative + cognition. Traditionally used for cognition and memory, lemon balm also calms enough to drift off into a relaxed, sedated state without the hangover effect synthetic sleeping aids are associated with.
Rich in minerals and vitamins, these widely accessible, yet often-understated plant compounds contain highly bioavailable nutrients. When decocted in water, a nutritive broth is formed offering assimable, alkalizing nourishment. Bonus- nutritives help revive a tired smile while brightening the complexion.
While the leaves of nettles may be best known for their anti-anemic effects, it’s really nettle’s trophorestorative properties to understand. Trophorestorative describes an herb’s ability to significantly restore optimal physiological function to a particular organ- in this case, the adrenal glands and kidney.
Long hours at work getting the best of you? Oatstraw is an exceptional plant to calm the nervous system when nervous fatigue and adrenal exhaustion sets in. Choose oatstraw to enhance cognitive performance during these times due to the b vitamins and amino acids contained within.
Red Raspberry Leaf
You’ve heard of friends consuming raspberry leaves to help calm a crampy period or soothe the uterus during pregnancy, but perhaps not for its other virtues such as clearing up gingivitis and stubborn canker sores. Because it contains b vitamins, magnesium,
Elagic acid, potassium and iron it helps subdue these concerns. Try a strong decoction for sunburn and eczema topically as well.
Used for all manner of health concerns.
Concentration + clarity.
Reduce opportunistic pathogenic influences .
Clear obsessive states related to the past & reduce anxiety.
How you decide to incorporate these medicinal plants into your lifestyle can always be optimized by your trusted health practitioners who work with therapeutic, plant-based medicines.
Christine Dionese, co-founder of flavor ID and Garden Eats is an integrative health & food therapy specialist + wellness, lifestyle & food journalist. She has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. Christine’s almost 20 years combined experience in research, private practice, consulting and writing includes functional medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, ethnomedicine & epigenetic wellness, food science, food policy and food therapy, clinical nutrition, wellness psychology and the science of spirituality. Her humble endeavor is to help others interpret and optimize their own vision of personal wellness in the modern world today.