Herbalists’ Favorite Herbs
Discover outstanding herbs for a wide range of health concerns with these recommendations from five herb experts.
Compiled and edited by Mother Earth Living staff
We asked some of our favorite herbalists to name their favorite herbs for a variety of maladies. The result is a list of five herbs that can come in handy in any medicine cabinet. In fact, many of these herbal stars can be taken on a long-term basis to support our overall health.
An ethnobotanist, educator and Mother Earth Living contributor, Combs’ experiences supporting her own health and that of her family have led to the practical education she provides online at heallocal.com; in her classes at Mockingbird Meadows; and through her nationally recognized product line of botanical supplements. She believes that everyone can take charge of their health by reclaiming the knowledge of our ancestors, using modern medicine wisely and connecting with the natural world. She is the author of Conceiving Healthy Babies and Heal Local.
✽ ASHWAGNDA FOR IMMUNITY: Ashwagndha (Withania somnifera) is my favorite herb for anyone who needs a stronger immune system. Common plants such as ginger and garlic are there for us when we’re sick, but with an adaptogen like ashwagandha we can build our health and reduce the negative effects of stress to the point that we need intervention less.
✽ USAGE: The root of this tropical plant from the tomato family (Solanaceae) can be decocted for a tea, tinctured, or used in capsule form by anyone who is not pregnant or hyperthyroid.
Medicine hunter Chris Kilham is a TV personality and author who has conducted medicinal plant research in more than 40 countries, helping popularize medicinal plants globally through media. He is the author of 15 books, including The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook and the best-selling yoga book The Five Tibetans.
✽ SCHISANDRA FOR MENTAL CLARITY: The beautiful berry of schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) boasts millennia of traditional uses for counteracting the aging process, increasing energy, fighting fatigue—and as a sexual tonic. It is considered one of the most highly protective of all medicinal plants. Schisandra offers special benefits for the mind. Several human studies show that schisandra extract improves mental concentration, coordination and endurance. Schisandra helps prevent mental fatigue and can increase accuracy and quality of work. In various human clinical studies with doctors, students, soldiers and other groups, schisandra demonstrated superior mind-sharpening powers.
✽ USAGE: Consider 2 capsules daily, or try a 1/4 teaspoon of concentrated schisandra powder in water or juice.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, a nationally registered herbalist and certified Ayurvedic practitioner, has been practicing herbalism for 45 years. Khalsa is a state-credentialed dietitian-nutritionist, president emeritus of the American Herbalists Guild, director for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, and a teacher at Bastyr University and National College of Natural Medicine.
✽ GOTU KOLA FOR VITALITY: This unassuming member of the parsley family, often called brahmi, is a treasure chest of benefits for tissue healing and mental functioning. Used as food (in salads, sauces and drinks) and as medicine in high-dose tea, gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is recommended in all three of the world’s major traditional herbal systems. It fortifies nerve tissue and memory, and heals skin and joints.
✽ USAGE: For acute use, such as in the case of clinically diagnosed cognitive decline, nerve injury or a connective tissue condition, brew 60 grams gotu kola as tea. Enjoy a beverage-strength cup of tea daily for long-term health.
A star figure in the field of modern herbalism, Rosemary Gladstar is internationally renowned for her technical knowledge and stewardship in the global herbalist community. She has been learning, teaching and writing about herbs for more than 40 years and is the author of 11 books. Gladstar cofounded Traditional Medicinals Wellness Teas; founded The California School of Herbal Studies; is the Founding President of United Plant Savers; and is the director of both the International Herb Symposium and The New England Women’s Herbal Conference. She lives and works from Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center and Botanical Sanctuary.
✽ RHODIOLA FOR STRESS: If I had to choose one herb for long-term stress, it would the fabulous adaptogen rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea). This beautiful little succulent helps us adapt to the stresses of our full and busy lives. Not an evening tea, rhodiola is better in the morning as it provides energy for the day.
✽ USAGE: To take as a tea, blend 1 part rhodiola with 1⁄2 part cinnamon and 1⁄2 part ginger. Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of the mix per cup, simmering lightly for 15 mintues. Drink 1 to 2 cups in the morning. To take rhodiola in tincture form, put 1⁄2 teaspoon tincture in 1⁄4 cup of warm water with a bit of lemon or lime. Note: Wild rhodiola grown in remote areas such as Siberia has been overharvested. I’m delighted to see more U.S.-grown organic rhodiola sources available now.
For more than three decades, Aviva Romm has bridged traditional medicine with good science. A midwife, herbalist and Yale-trained M.D., Aviva is also Board Certified in Family Medicine with Obstetrics, as well as a graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Residency through the University of Arizona. Her focus is on women’s and children’s health, with an emphasis on the impact of stress on health, food cravings, weight, chronic disease and hormone imbalance. Romm is one of the nation’s leaders in the field of botanical medicine and is the author of seven books, including the textbook Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health.
✽ TURMERIC FOR ARTHRITIS: Curcumin—an active anti-inflammatory constituent in the traditional food seasoning turmeric (Curcuma longa)—is almost always included in my prescriptions to my patients struggling with arthritis (both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis). The anti-inflammatory effects as well as support for systemic detoxification in those with RA are an important part of treatment.
✽ USAGE: I typically recommend 1,000 mg one to two times a day. It’s safe for most people to take daily and for an extended time. I love to combine it with ginger, an anti-inflammatory that has been shown to be as effective as NSAIDS such as aspirin and ibuprofen for pain—a factor in both types of arthritis. For ginger, I suggest 250 to 500 mg one to two times daily in capsules.