Herbs Health: 12 Herbs to Have on Hand Now

Herbs to know and their health benefits

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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.