Herbs that Help Smokers Quit: 3 Herbal Friends to Help Along the Way

1. Easing stress

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) can help smokers adapt to stress. In fact, ginseng is known as an adaptogen and has long been used as a tonic to help increase overall physical and mental performance. Although the herb’s effects are subtle, several European clinical studies using ginseng extracts standardized from between 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides have confirmed the herb’s adaptogenic effects. Results included a shortening of reaction time to visual and auditory stimuli; increased respiratory quotient; increased alertness, power of concentration, and grasp of abstract concepts; and improvement in visual and motor coordination.

There are many ginseng products on the market, and a good rule of thumb for choosing an effective product is to find one standardized to 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides and follow instructions for use on the label. But while standardized extracts will produce the most predictable benefits, whole ginseng roots may also help. Purchase whole roots of either Asian or American ginseng at most large natural and health- food stores. The whole roots are hard and tough, but nibbling on the end of one, ingesting 1 or 2 g of the root per day, will not only deliver a standard daily dose of ginseng, but will also provide an alternative to the habit of taking something to the mouth. I keep a piece of ginseng root in the car to nibble on when the urge strikes.

2. Detoxifying

Smoking can overtax the body systems that filter and eliminate toxins. Once you quit smoking, toxins are released from storage tissue such as fat and need to be eliminated from the body. One organ that processes toxins is the liver. Extracts made from the seeds of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) are a remarkable phytomedicine to support healthy liver function.

More than 300 studies conducted since the late 1960s have provided an experimental basis for the effectiveness and safety of milk thistle seed extracts. In standardized extracts, silymarin, the main chemical complex of the seeds, is concentrated to 70 percent. Studies show that standardized milk thistle seed preparations alter the liver’s outer cell structure to prevent toxic chemicals from entering liver cells. Milk thistle also stimulates the liver’s capacity to regenerate new cells and spurs antioxidants specific to the liver to scavenge harmful oxygen radicals.

Standardized milk thistle products should deliver 420 mg of silymarin daily, divided into three doses, and you should see results in six to eight weeks. After that, you can reduce the dose to 280 mg per day. No side effects have been associated with milk thistle seed extracts except ocasional reports of loose stools.

3. Mood balancing

In more than two dozen clinical studies, extracts of St.-John’s-wort (Hypericum ­perforatum) have improved mood associated with mild to moderate forms of depression. This herb also may be useful for smoothing the emotional edge associated with ­giving up cigarettes. In the studies, participants experienced significant improvements in depressive mood indicators–feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, uselessness, fear, and difficult or disturbed sleep. No significant side effects have been observed.

Until recently, most standardized St.-John’s-wort preparations have been calibrated to contain 0.3 percent hypericin, believed to be the herb’s primary active constituent. However, recent evidence shows that another compound in St.-John’s-wort extracts, hyperforin, may be behind the herb’s antidepressant activity. Standardized extracts of this herb are taken in a dose of 300 mg three times daily.

Steven Foster, lead editorial adviser for Herbs for Health, is an authority on medicinal herbs, with more than twenty-five years of work in the field. He is a photographer and the author of many books, including 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave Press, 1998).

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