Herb Basics

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The characteristic bitter flavor of beer as we know it comes from the pleasantly bitter flavor of hops, which are the strobiles or conelike fruits of the climbing hop vine (Humulus lupulus). Sometime around the ninth century, German beer makers began putting hops in their brews to add flavor and as a natural preservative. By the 14th century, almost all European breweries followed suit. Along with this contribution to beer making, hops also have a long history of medicinal use. Early hop growers noticed that workers who harvested the golden strobiles in the fall tended to fall asleep in the fields, which triggered interest in using the herb as a sedative.

Hops were a common ingredient in many patented 19th-century herbal tonics and was listed as a sedative in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1831 until 1916. Herbalists today continue to recommend hops as a sedative and tranquilizer. Because the herb also has antispasmodic and muscle-relaxant properties, hops can be helpful for muscle tension that interferes with sleep. In evaluating the research on hops, the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy indicates the herb for treating tenseness, restlessness and sleep disturbances.

Hops make a bitter but not unpleasant-tasting tea. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried hop strobiles; cover and steep for 10 minutes; then strain the tea, sweeten if desired and drink 30 minutes before bedtime.

Source: Vukovic, Laurel. Overcoming Sleep Disorders Naturally. Laguna Beach, California: Basic Health Publications, 2005.

Indulge in an Herbal Detoxifying Bath

Undertaking a spring cleanse? Aid your body’s detoxification process with this relaxing bath. (See Page 32 for more information on spring cleansing.)


Makes one bath

3 tablespoons dried red clover
2 tablespoons dried nettle
3 tablespoons dried peppermint
3 tablespoons dried yarrow

Place herbs in a large covered pot with 2 quarts of water. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain the herbs, and add the liquid to a bathtub of comfortably hot water. Soak for 20 minutes, adding more hot water as needed. Pat yourself dry (avoid using light-colored towels because the herbs can stain) and relax.


Common names: Dong quai, Chinese angelica, dang gui

Latin name: Angelica sinensis

Family: Apiaceae

Part used: Root

Medicinal uses: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai is the main tonic herb for women. It is used to help regulate menstruation, relieve menstrual cramps, ease menopausal symptoms, enhance fertility, and as a general blood tonic, especially in cases of anemia. When used as a blood tonic, it is commonly cooked into soups. It also is considered a “warming” herb that improves circulation and helps strengthen digestion.

Forms commonly used: Teas, powdered extracts, tinctures, capsules and tablets.

Side effects: According to the Botanical Safety Handbook (CRC, 1997), dong quai is a Class 2b herb, meaning it should not be used during pregnancy (both a stimulating and relaxing effect on the uterus have been reported for this herb). To be on the safe side, dong quai also should be avoided during breastfeeding. The herb also may have a mild laxative effect.

Notes: Native to China and Japan, the herb is now cultivated in those countries for commercial use. It grows in cool, shaded mountainous and wooded areas. The plant has attractive white flowers that bloom in the summer.

According to Herbs for Health editorial adviser Steven Foster, in his book 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave, 1998), the name dong quai means “proper order,” and the herb is as highly regarded as ginseng in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In menopausal and menstrual formulas, dong quai often is combined with other herbs.


Though the choices for herbal teas are endless, the following are a few of our favorites, both for their flavors and their health benefits.

Anise seed has a pleasant, licorice-like flavor. It improves digestion, freshens the breath and relieves nausea. If you’re a licorice lover, try a cup with a homemade biscotti!

Cinnamon bark warms the body on a cold night and has a naturally sweet flavor.

Hibiscus flowers, rich in vitamin C, have a tart flavor. The tea is a beautiful red and tastes terrific iced.

Lemon verbena tastes delicious and helps improve digestion.

Nettle leaf (at right) is rich in nutrients and has a mild flavor. It’s often combined with other herbs in tea blends.

Spearmint has a milder flavor than peppermint, but still helps relieve stomachaches and headaches.

Terms to Know

Lignans: Specific types of plant estrogens found in oilseeds, such as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds; whole grains; berries; tea; and vegetables, such as broccoli. A new study shows surprising health benefits for lignans .

Noni: Morinda citrifolia, a Polynesian plant whose juices and ex- tracts are promoted by manufacturers as a cure-all for conditions from cancer to bad breath .

PCOS: Polycystic ovarian syndrome, an increasingly common problem that affects an estimated 6 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Symptoms include menstrual irregularities, infertility, weight gain and high cholesterol .

Policosanol: The generic name for a mixture of alcohols derived from sugarcane, which can lower the body’s production of cholesterol. Policosanol also enhances the body’s ability to remove and process LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol .

Quercetin: A type of compound found in plant foods that has natural antihistamine effects and thus may be beneficial as a nat-ural allergy fighter. One study found that quercetin halved the body’s histamine release .

Silymarin: The active agent found in the seeds of the liver-helper herb milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Silymarin acts as an anti- oxidant by reducing the production of harmful free radicals and may help block toxins from the liver .

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