Health Benefits of Herbs

Learn about the many health benefits of herbs, including herbs for healing the body, herbs for skin care, herbs for medicinal use and herbs for healthy eating.

Discover the many health benefits of herbs. Aromatic hydrosols are ideal for people with sensitive skin.

Discover the many health benefits of herbs. Aromatic hydrosols are ideal for people with sensitive skin.

Photo By Mother Earth Living staff

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Learn about the health benefits of herbs, from healing the body to healthy eating.

Healthy Herb Recipes

Candied Ginger Recipe
Healthy Cocoa Milkshake Recipe

Hydrosols in Aromatherapy

The word hydrosol is a chemistry term meaning “water solution.” For aromatherapy purposes, hydrosols are simply the waters that are produced during the steam- or hydro-distillation process of plant material for aromatherapy. Aromatic hydrosols (also known as hydrolats) are effective as toners and for skin care in general—they contain soothing, anti-inflammatory carboxylic acids. According to aromatherapists Mindy Green and Kathi Keville, hydrosols are astringent yet nondrying, and are ideal for sensitive skin and for people suffering from psoriasis.

Hydrosols can be hard to find, but they’re available through mail order from several companies including Simplers Botanical Company,, and Nature’s Gift, German chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and yarrow are some of the most popular hydrosols.

Sources: Catty, Suzanne. Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2001.
Keville, Kathi, and Mindy Green. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. Freedom, California: The Crossing Press, 1995.

The Basics of Ayurveda

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old East Indian healing system, is thought to be the world’s oldest system of medicine. It aims to create health by nurturing the body (shrira), the mind (manas), and the self (atman). The word Ayurveda means “the science of life.”

Those practicing Ayurveda believe that no single agent alone creates health or causes disease. They also believe that there are three primary life forces that are present in everyone and everything, called doshas. The doshas are vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (water). A state of balance between the doshas causes health; imbalance causes disease.

Each dosha is associated with different aspects of the physical body. Vata is associated with movement, including breathing and blinking. Pitta governs the metabolic system—digestion, absorption, and body temperature. Kapha forms bones, tendons, and muscles, the body’s structure.

People are also classified into dosha categories. We each have a dominant dosha, but everyone contains elements of all three doshas. Herbal and dietary recommendations in Ayurveda aim to keep each dosha in balance. Emphasis is also placed on eating the right foods and spices for your dosha. There are six “tastes,” or flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, pungent, sour, and astringent. Different tastes are indicated for each dosha.

Antioxidant-Rich Cocoa

Learning to use cocoa, without added sugar and fat, may be a key to pleasing both your taste buds and your body. Pure cocoa is a powerhouse nutrient that increases a sense of well-being, fights oxidation in body tissues, stimulates pleasure centers and the immune system, and may even help you live longer.

Two published studies have demonstrated that chocolate is high in antioxidants called polyphenols—the same beneficial antioxidants found in red wine. A 41-g piece of chocolate (roughly 1.5 ounces) contains about the same amount of these beneficial compounds as a glass of red wine. The major phenols purified from chocolate are epicatechin and catechin, substances also found in green tea, another touted source of antioxidants.

Sources: Hobbs, Christopher. Herbal Remedies for Dummies. Foster City, California: IDG, 1998.
Khalsa, Karta Purkh Singh. “The Medicinal Benefits of Chocolate.”
Herbs for Health (November/December 1999).

All About Ginger

Common names: Ginger
Latin name: Zingiber officinale
Family: Zingiberaceae
Part used: Root

Medicinal uses: Ginger is useful for treating indigestion, motion sickness, and nausea. According to Steven Foster’s 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave, 1998), ginger is believed to reduce nausea by increasing digestive fluids and absorbing and neutralizing toxins and stomach acid. A hot compress of ginger tea can be helpful for arthritis, sore joints, sprains, and other injuries.

Forms commonly used: Tea, fresh root, dried root, capsules, candied, pickled, powder, and tincture.

Dosage: Take up to eight 500- to 600-mg capsules per day; use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of powder daily; take 10 to 20 drops of tincture three times daily. To make ginger tea, simmer several ginger slices in 1 cup of water for about 10 minutes, and drink 1 cup two or three times daily.

Side effects: Ginger should be avoided in large amounts during pregnancy. According to Foster, the German therapeutic monograph on ginger cautions against exceeding the recommended dosage and warns those with gallbladder disease not to take the herb. Ginger has blood-thinning properties, but British research indicates that the herb is unlikely to cause problems before or after surgery.

Identifying Plant Medicines

The common names of many plants have a charm and poetry of their own: pearly everlasting, angel’s trumpet, belladonna, Cupid’s-dart, ladyslipper, Queen Anne’s lace. Common names place plants in the everyday world because their names are easy to remember and usually easy to pronounce. Some names are descriptive—monkshood, bloodroot, bleeding-heart, goldenrod, jewelweed. Others indicate a plant’s use. Boxwood was used to make decorative boxes; woundsworts, to treat wounds; chaste tree, to ensure chastity; crampbark to ease stomach cramps; fleabane to ward off fleas; lungwort to treat lung ailments.

For all of their beauty and simplicity, however, common names can be a source of extreme confusion. Some plants have more than one common name. Artemisia abrotanum, for example, is known variously as southernwood, old man, and lad’s love. You may know Valeriana officinalis as valerian or as garden heliotrope. Confusion is also rife when two or more dissimilar plants share a common name. North America has several completely unrelated plants called snakeroot, and the world has produced many disparate ironwoods, shellflowers, honeysuckles, soapberries, and Devil’s-tongues.