Natural Energy Enhancers and other Herbs for Runners

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Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources and business administration. She has written about home and garden topics for various online venues, helps you get your green on at HC Greenery and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.

If you’re a runner, forget expensive vitamins and energy products, ditch the caffeine and smelly ointments and go all natural. Athletes, including runners, may practice healthy lifestyles, but are subject to the same stresses, time constraints and nutritional challenges as the rest of us, along with sore muscles and joints. Poor sleep habits, work and social stress, processed foods and alcohol take a toll on physical performance. Pain-and-injury-free endurance and speed, as well as energy and vitality, are important for all athletes but to runners in particular. Fatigue affects running performance, attitude and mood, which are important in running events. Running is as much a state of mind as it is a physical activity and fatigue can mean the difference between finishing in the top 10 or just finishing. For runners who want a natural competitive edge, ginseng, ashwaganda, cayenne and comfrey are the answer 

Ginseng roots are used in teas, tonics and capsules for energy and stamina.
Photo by FloraFarm GmbH Katharina Lohrie/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Athletes enjoy enhanced endurance, reduced fatigue and increased stamina when using ginseng during conditioning. Ginseng is a family of plants with 11 varieties. Two of the most common are Panax ginseng, also known as true ginseng or Chinese ginseng, which is native to China, and Panax quinquefolius, or American ginseng, which is native to the Northern Hemisphere. They are both slow-growing herbaceous perennials related to ivy and grown for their fleshy roots. Ginseng grows in forests and woodlands in rich soil and shade. It is used extensively in Asian countries to maintain health. The name ginseng means “the essence of man.” It has also been called “the wonder of the world.” Ginseng has valuable properties to remedy fatigue, enhance vitality, increase strength, endurance and immunity and balance the metabolism. (It also has aphrodisiac effects.) Ginseng is used in teas, tonics and capsule forms. The sliced root is boiled for tea or tonic and the powdered root is taken as capsules or sprinkled on food. Native Americans chewed the root when traveling long distances and before fighting for strength and endurance. Using ginseng helps runners go the distance.

Powdered ashwaganda root sprinkled on salads and cereals improves mental clarity and overall vitality.
Photo by
piouswatson/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Ashwaganda root (Withania somnifer), also called Indian ginseng, is related to nightshade but doesn’t have the poisonous attributes of that plant. It is a small herbaceous shrub native to India, the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean. It is used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine for emotional well-being, mental sharpness and physical endurance. The main active ingredients in ashwaganda root are powerful alkaloids, which improve and support the immune system and have a light sedative and muscle relaxant effect, aiding sleep and relaxation. Studies show that other chemical compounds in ashwaganda root stimulate neurotransmitter pathways in the brain, enhancing memory, alleviating anxiety and reducing mental and physical fatigue. The root is ground into powder and used in capsule form or sprinkled on food.

Powdered cayenne pepper is a powerful heart, vascular and circulatory system enhancer.
Photo by PierreSelim/Courtesy
Wikimedia Commons

Cayenne (Capsicum annum), is a warm-season annual plant that produces hot chili peppers. Capsicum is part of the nightshade family along with tomatoes. Although grown all over the world, cayenne is native to tropical and sub-tropical areas. The mature red peppers are dried and ground to a fine powder used as a spicy culinary herb that also has some impressive health and therapeutic properties. Cayenne has almost immediate effects on the heart and vascular system, with the ability to stop a heart attack in less than a minute, adjust blood pressure and clean the arteries of bad cholesterol. It is antifungal, has pain relieving properties, alleviates cramps by increasing blood flow, improves digestion, kills cancer cells, reduces tumors and improves overall vitality by supporting the glandular, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive systems. A dash of cayenne in running shoes in the winter keeps feet warm and improves circulation to feet. A teaspoon of cayenne powder mixed in 6 ounces of water or sweet tea and taken every morning is a powerful tonic. Cayenne is any runner’s secret weapon.

Comfrey leaves and roots are used in poultices and salves to heal bruises, sprains and broken bones.
Photo by Kate Jewell/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Comfrey (Symphytum oficinale), also known as boneset or knit bone, is an herbaceous perennial native to Europe and temperate Asia. It is a tall plant with large hairy green leaves and purple flowers on tall stalks. Comfrey grows well in moist soils in bogs and marshes. The plant contains allantoin, a substance that helps skin cells grow, and other substances that reduce inflammation. The leaves and roots were traditionally used as poultices to heal bruises and sprained and broken bones. If you grow comfrey in your yard or garden, you can use the fresh leaves this way for bruises and sprains by blanching them in boiling water and pressing the warm leaves on painful areas. Used as a salve or ointment rubbed on sore muscles and joints, it rebuilds tissue and muscle, making it a valuable healing aid for runners.

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