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User's Guide to Herbal Remedies

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Describes the top ten herbal supplements, and provides clear guidelines for how to use herbal remedies safely.

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11 Chapters

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1. Herbal Medicine: From Folklore to Science

ePub

CHAPTER 1

The use of herbs is as old as human history. From the most primitive jungle-dwellers to the highly sophisticated Chinese and Indians, every culture has had its herbal remedies. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda (East Indian) are two important ancient healing systems that have not only withstood the test of time, but are gaining new respect based on current research findings. Both systems use specific herbs native to their geographical area, and often in specific combinations designed to treat a multitude of conditions. Both the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems are comprehensive, treating the body and mind as an interacting unit.

A medicinal herb is any plant that can benefit ones health. The end-product can be derived from various parts of the plantthe leaf, as in ginkgo, the fruit, as in saw palmetto, or the root, as in ginseng. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and vitamin-like compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids, these products are used by the body to enhance its multitude of biochemical processes.

 

2. Echinacea—Immune Enhancer

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CHAPTER 2

Echinacea (ek-i-NAY-sha) purpurea, also known as the purple coneflower, is one of the most popular herbal medications in the world. For more than a century, millions of people in the United States and Europe have regularly taken echinacea at the first sign of a cold or the flu. Traditional Native American tribal healers used a related species, Echinacea angustifolia, to treat a wide variety of problems, including respiratory infection, inflammation of the eyes, tooth ache, and snakebite. And prior to the advent of sulfa drugs in the 1930s, echinacea was the leading cold and flu remedy in the United States.

In Germany, echinacea is the primary remedy for minor respiratory infections, with more than 1.3 million prescriptions written annually. Echinacea is also used to treat ear infections, bronchitis, bladder infections, and even yeast infections. Unlike antibiotics, which are of little benefit for treating these types of infections, echinacea can greatly reduce many annoying and painful symptoms.

 

3. Garlic—Cardiovascular and Immune-System Booster

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CHAPTER 3

Humans have cultivated garlic (Allium sativum) for at least 5,000 years, and today this herbal medicine is found almost everywhere in the world, from Polynesia to Siberia. By the end of the first century A.D., Dioscorides, Hippocrates, and other ancient Greek physicians recommended garlic for many conditions, including respiratory problems, parasites, and poor digestion. Garlic is principally used now to prevent and treat heart disease, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, and high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. The primary active ingredient in garlic is allicin, a sulfur-containing compound that the body converts into other therapeutic compounds. Allicin is found only in garlic products produced by crushing the fresh bulb, not in those produced by steam distillation of the oil.

Garlic has been shown to be helpful in preventing and reversing atherosclerosisthe dangerous hardening of the arteries that causes high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. The evidence for using garlic to treat atherosclerosis comes from numerous animal and human studies. Garlic has been shown to reduce the size of plaque deposits, the hard material that clogs and stiffens arteries, by nearly 50 percent in humans, rats, and rabbits. And in a recent study of 200 men and women conducted over a two year period, those who took 300 mg or more of garlic daily showed improvement in the flexibility of their aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart. Garlic extracts have also been shown to reduce blood pressure in dogs and rats, and numerous animal studies have shown that it can reduce blood clotting. Taken as a whole, this makes garlic a remarkably effective treatment for arterial disease.

 

4. Ginkgo—Memory and Circulation Enhancer

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CHAPTER 4

If one were to search for a natural compound that could offer protective benefits against the effects of aging, surely ginkgo would appear to be a most likely candidate. Ginkgo biloba, or ginkgo, as its commonly known, is the most widely prescribed herb in Germany, with more than 6 million prescriptions being written in a typical year. Used primarily to treat failing mental faculties, including memory loss in the elderly, ginkgo is also used to treat a variety of circulatory problems.

More than 200 million years old, ginkgo is the oldest surviving species of tree on the planet. Moreover, individual trees may live for up to one thousand years! The bilobedthat is, double lobedleaf gives the plant the name biloba. The active ingredients responsible for ginkgos health benefits are two unique compounds called flavone glycosides and ginkgolides. Nearly all research on ginkgo is done using a leaf extract standardized to 24-percent flavone glycosides and 6-percent ginkgolides. These substances are potent antioxidants, somewhat similar to flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables, that bind to free radicals to render them harmless and prevent cellular damage.

 

5. Ginseng and Eleuthero—Energizers

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CHAPTER 5

In continuous use in China for more than 2,000 years, ginseng is called the king of all tonics. It restores vital energy throughout the entire body, helping to overcome stress and fatigue. There are actually three different herbs commonly called ginseng: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), which is not really ginseng at all but functions nearly identically. In fact, its labels are now required to read Eleutherococcus senticosus only.

Asian ginseng is a perennial that grows in northern China, Korea, and Russia. In traditional Chinese terms, Asian ginseng is seen as more yang, or stimulating. It raises body temperature, improves digestion, strengthens the lungs, and calms the spirit. Its close relative, American ginseng, is cultivated in the United States, though largely exported to Asia, where it is prized as a yin herbless heating, less stimulating, and more balanced than Asian ginseng.

The active ingredients in ginseng are called ginsenosides. There are many different ones, each having its own specific effects. There have been two major reviews of ginseng research, surveying thirty-seven experiments done between 1968 and 1990, on a total of 2,562 cases, with treatments averaging two to three months. In thirteen studies, the individuals showed an improvement in mood, and in eleven, improvement in intellectual performance. All showed a near total absence of side effects.

 

6. Rhodiola Rosea—Adaptogen

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CHAPTER 6

Another amazing adaptogen from the East with a long history of use is rhodiola (rhodiola rosea), also known as rose root, rose wort, golden root, and, because it grows in the cold Arctic regions of eastern Siberia, Arctic root. In addition to flourishing in cold climates, rhodiola has also adapted to very high altitudesfrom 11,000 to 18,000 feetproducing yellow blossoms that smell like roses. Hence the Latin name, rosea.

Ancient folklore held rhodiola in special esteem for improving health and extending life. Three thousand years ago it was believed that those who drank rhodiola tea would live for more than 100 years, prompting ancient Chinese emperors to dispatch expeditions to search for this potent herb. In Mongolia, rhodiola was used to treat cancer and tuberculosis, while in Georgia it was prescribed to fight fatigue, enhance endurance, and relieve depression. And in Siberia, rhodiola was traditionally given to newlyweds to enhance sexual potency, and improve chances of producing a healthy baby.

 

7. Turmeric—Nature’s Anti-inflammatory

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CHAPTER 7

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is the pungent spice that gives curry its distinctive flavor and deep yellow color. Turmeric has been used since antiquity in hot, tropical regions such as India and southern Asia to keep foods fresh and prevent food poisoning. The ability to preserve foods is derived from turmerics antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that help to prevent free radicals and bacterial pathogens from spoiling meats and other foods. But these antioxidant and antimicrobial benefits are not limited to food preservation. Turmeric has been used for 5,000 years in the ancient Indian medical tradition, Ayurveda, to preserve health by purifying the blood, protecting the liver, calming digestion, treating arthritis, and, applied externally, treating wounds and skin diseases.

Doctors are now using turmeric to treat certain cancers; inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and psoriasis; and multiple sclerosis. Turmeric is also being studied for its efficacy in treating health conditions caused by free radical damage, such as cardiovascular disease, as well as for its role in protecting the liver from chemical injury.

 

8. Milk Thistle—Liver Supporter

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CHAPTER 8

The seeds, fruit, and leaves of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) have been used for medicinal purposes for more than 2,000 years. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who lived from A.D. 23 to 79, reported that the juice of milk thistle mixed with honey could carry off bile. In Europe, the herb was used widely up through the early twentieth century for the treatment of liver ailments as well as insufficient lactation. The active ingredients in milk thistle appear to be four substances known collectively as silymarin, of which the most potent is silibinin. When injected intravenously, silibinin is one of the few known antidotes to poisoning by the deathcap mushroom, Amanita phalloides.

Silymarin is a powerful antioxidant. We are constantly exposed to toxins such as cigarette smoke, car exhaust, pesticides, and other chemicals in our air, food, and water. This is in addition to the toxins that our bodies produce as by-products of our own metabolism. All these toxins produce free radicals, which cause cell damage. They can, however, be neutralized by substances called antioxidants. Two major antioxidants produced by the body, glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD), are greatly enhanced by silymarin. Thus, milk thistle acts as an antioxidant in the liver, protecting it from free-radical damage. Animal studies suggest that milk thistle extract can also protect against many poisons, from toluene, a common solvent, to acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol.

 

9. St. John’s Wort—Mood Stabilizer

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CHAPTER 9

St. Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a bushy perennial plant with yellow flowers that grows wild in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and the United States. It gets its unusual name from St. John the Baptist, since it was traditionally collected on St. Johns Day, June 24th. Wort is the Old English word for plant. St. Johns wort provides all the benefits of prescription antidepressants without any of the side effects, and at one-tenth the cost. By the year 2000, St. Johns wort was one of the topselling natural treatments for mild to moderate depression.

Like most medicinal plants, St. Johns wort contains a complex mix of more than two dozen known active ingredients, each with its own unique effects. Together, these compounds synergize to provide greater health benefits than any one ingredient can offer on its own. This translates to greater healing power without any of the unwanted side effects found in many drugs composed of single, isolated compounds or synthetic chemicals. One ingredient, hypericin, while not the main antidepressant, is used as the marker for standardization of St. Johns wort products. However, research by Professor W.E. Muller at the University of Frankfurt suggests that hyperforin may be the main antidepressant component.

 

10. Saw Palmetto—Promoter of Prostate Health

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CHAPTER 10

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is an extract of the saw palmetto berry, the fruit of a short palm tree that grows in the southeastern United States, mainly in Florida and Georgia. Native Americans traditionally used saw palmetto berries to treat various urinary problems in men, as well as for breast disorders in women. European and American physicians at one time used the herb extensively as a treatment for benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), but in the United States, its use, as with all healing herbs, declined with the introduction of modern pharmaceuticals and drug patents.

Modern-day interest in saw palmetto was reignited in the 1960s, when French scientists conducted new research that ultimately led to the development of modern extracts. Interest in saw palmetto surged and today it is the main treatment for BPH and chronic prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate, in both Europe and the United States.

Benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH, is a benign (noncancerous) enlargement of the prostate gland, affecting at least 10 percent of men by age forty and 50 percent of men by age fifty.

 

11. How to Buy and Use Herbal Medicines

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CHAPTER 11

Selecting an herbal producta tablet, capsule, tincture, or raw herbcan be confusing. Not only do different brands stress various features and benefits, but one often hears stories about ineffective products, leaving the consumer feeling helpless in sorting out all the information. In this chapter, you will learn about the different forms in which herbal medicines are sold and how to shop for quality products.

Herbs can be purchased as teas, tinctures, tablets, and capsules. Teas and tinctures, as liquids, are absorbed more rapidly than the other forms. In addition, traditional herbalists often recommend the liquid form because, in tasting the herb, we begin the process of allowing it to heal us.Tablets and capsules are made from measured amounts of an herb, and are the most common and convenient forms. Gelatin or vegetable-based capsules filled with powdered dried herb come in a variety of sizes and strengths, so you need to read the labels to ensure the proper dose. Tablets are powdered herb compressed into a solid pill, often with a variety of inert ingredients as fillers. They take longer to break down and be absorbed, and sometimes, depending on quality, may pass completely through the digestive system completely intact!

 

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