Herbal Alternatives for 50 Common Ailments

Botanical options for treating common ailments

| November/December 1997

Most Americans believe that we have the best health-care system in the world—at least that’s what all the doctors and government health experts keep trying to tell us. But anyone who has ever gotten the run-around from a doctor or had to deal with a health insurance company knows that if what we have is the best, then the best still leaves a lot to be desired.

Most Americans assume that the pharmaceuticals their doctors prescribe are unquestionably better than the herbal medicines that few doctors and relatively few Americans know much about. It delights me to no end that this picture is changing rapidly, because I’ve personally seen medicinal herbs succeed where pharmaceuticals were failing.

I’m not saying that pharmaceuticals are bad. I am saying that we need more research that tests herbs against pharmaceutical drugs. Until that happens, we simply won’t know which is better. That leads me to a rather shocking conclusion: Americans are not necessarily getting the best medicine. The Green Pharmacy with its herbal therapies may, in many cases, prove to be more economical, more effective, and safer—all with fewer side effects—than pharmaceuticals. Our challenge is to transcend the assumptions.

Medicinal herbs in meals,teas, and ­tinctures

There are many easy ways to use medicinal herbs. Whether you use them as foods, make teas, apply them as poultices, or add a dropperful of tincture to your morning glass of juice, you’ll get the benefit of their healing properties.

My favorite way to use herbs that can be safely ingested is as foods or mixed into foods. In the United States, we make a distinction between foods and drugs, but in many—but not all—cases there is no real difference. Is garlic, for example, a food or a drug? The correct answer is that it’s both. The same goes for some of the herbs on the accompanying chart, while others should never be taken orally, such as tea tree.

When it comes to meals that heal, I think it’s hard to beat a big mixed green salad, a bowl of vegetable soup, and a fruit salad topped with flavorful herbs such as mint or ginger or with zesty herbs such as cayenne.

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