1. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
What it’s used for: Immune stimulation
Special instructions: Don’t take long-term; studies show this may reduce effectiveness.
Large doses may be most effective when fighting a cold.
Special cautions: Avoid if you have an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis.
May counteract immune-suppressant drugs.
Did you know? A potent tincture should make your tongue tingle.
2. Gingerroot (Zingiber officinale)
What it’s used for: Motion sickness • nausea • inflammation
Special instructions: The medicinal chemicals in ginger survive processing, so pick your favorite form—fresh root, dried powder, liquid extract, or candied slices.
Special cautions: It’s relatively nontoxic, but don’t exceed the recommended daily dose of 2 to 4 g.
Did you know? It’s not really a root—it’s a rhizome.
3. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
What it’s used for: General tonic • cancer • heart disease • HIV • viral diseases
Special instructions: Don’t overlook fresh or dried whole mushrooms. The traditional dose is 1 or 2 daily for preventive care.
Special cautions: In rare cases, may induce a rash.
Did you know? In the Orient, shiitake has about as many uses as tomatoes in the West; it appears in seasonings, sauces, soup mixes, carbonated health drinks, and candies.
4. Ginseng (Panax ginseng, P. quinquefolius)
What it’s used for: Tonic • athletic performance • mental sharpness • cancer • heart disease • aphrodisiac
Special instructions: Use products within a year of purchase because ginsenosides become less effective over time.
Special cautions: People with high blood pressure, mood imbalances, heart palpitations, asthma, or high fever should not use it.
Did you know? Wild American ginseng has sold for as much as $600 a pound, which has encouraged poachers and threatened the species. Cultivated varieties are available.
5. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
What it’s used for: Alzheimers disease • age-related memory loss • circulation problems • tinnitus • asthma and allergies
Special instructions: Studies have used highly concentrated extracts, standardized to 24 percent flavone glycosides and 6 percent ginkgolides.
Special cautions: Enhances anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs. Rare reports of gastrointestinal upset, headaches, and skin allergies.
Did you know ? A ginkgo tree may live more than 1,000 years and grow to 195 feet tall.
6. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
What it’s used for: Tonic • fatigue • concentration • stamina • stress • immune stimulation
Special instructions: Long-term use provides better results.
Special cautions: Enhances some antibiotics. The German Commission E warns it shouldn’t be used by those with high blood pressure, but no solid clinical evidence supports this caution.
Did you know? Siberian ginseng, also called eleuthero, isn’t a true ginseng— it’s a bush with a woody root from a different genus.
7 St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
What it’s used for: Mild depression • anxiety • wound healing (external)
Special instructions: Researchers have generally used a standardized extract (0.3 percent hypericin).
It takes several weeks to start working; increasing the dose doesn’t make it work any faster.
Special cautions: May enhance the effect of narcotics and SSRIs.
Did you know? Some consider this valuable herb a noxious weed.
8. Green tea (Camillia sinensis)
What it’s used for: Antioxidant • stimulant • bacteria fighter • cancer prevention
Special instructions: Research shows that 1 to 4 cups daily is a good preventive dose.
Special cautions: Green tea contains caffeine and is a diuretic. One study shows that milk may interfere with green tea’s healing properties, so wait 45 minutes after drinking one before drinking the other.
Did you know? The Chinese say an emperor discovered tea when a few leaves fell from a bush into his cup of hot water.
9 Kava (Piper methysticum)
What it’s used for: Anxiety • muscle relaxation • insomnia • nervous tension
Special instructions: Clinical studies often used standardized extracts in doses of 100 mg, three times daily.
Special cautions: Don’t take when driving or operating machinery, or with alcohol. Don’t use kava when pregnant, nursing, or during bouts of depression.
Did you know? As part of the “high kava” ceremony in Fiji, Pope John Paul II and Hillary Rodham Clinton tried kava.
10 Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
What it’s used for: Immune stimulant
Special instructions: The dried sliced root is simmered for several hours. Commercial tinctures, tablets, and capsules are also available.
Special cautions: No known side effects.
Did you know? Chinese for “astragalus,” huang qi translates loosely as “venerable yellow leader,” referring to the herb’s place as a superior tonic in TCM.
11. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
What it’s used for: Angina pectoris • early stages of congestive heart failure • coronary insufficiency • circulation
Special instructions: Consult your health-care practitioner before using for heart disease.
Special cautions: No known interactions with prescription cardiac drugs nor toxicity during pregnancy or nursing. However, don’t diagnose or self-treat heart problems.
Did you know? One early researcher experimented with haw bark jelly and marmalade, even giving some to friends.
12. Garlic (Allium sativum)
What it’s used for: High cholesterol and triglycerides • high blood pressure • poor circulation
Special instructions: Add raw garlic to cooked foods just before serving to retain sulfur compounds.
Special cautions: There’s some controversy about which form is most effective. Look for products that deliver 900 mg, standardized to 0.6 percent allicin per 100 mg.
Did you know? Garlic may not repel vampires, but it does repel bugs.