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Medicinal Herbs You’ve Never Heard Of

Learn about the potential benefits of five largely unknown plants that are attracting the attention of researchers and their future as medicinal herbs.

| January/February 2014

  • Black cohosh is found in rich woods of the North American eastern deciduous forest.
    Photo By Steven Foster
  • Chaga is a woody mushroom that grows on trees.
    Photo By Tomas Čekanavičius
  • Learn about the potential medicinal benefits of five largely unknown plants that are attracting the attention of researchers.
    Photo By Ryan Smith/Corbis/Veer
  • Sceletium is a succulent herb from South America.
    Photo By Chris Kilham
  • Schissandra berries are easy to cultivate.
    Photo By Chris Kilham
  • Tamanu oil is extracted from the tamanu nut.
    Photo By Chris Kilham

Most of us interested in creating a more self-reliant life take the time to educate ourselves about how to promote our health naturally. So we may already know that ginger soothes nausea or recall that peppermint can reduce tension headaches. We may tuck a lavender bud under our pillow every night to help us relax, and stock our medicine cabinets with skin-healing calendula cream. But is that it? Do we know everything there is to know about herbal medicine?

Not even close. Hundreds of herbs, many of which we’ve never even heard of, are being studied every day as researchers examine the plants’ abilities to heal our bodies. Nature offers us effective mood boosters, stress reducers, anti-inflammatories, skin healers and more—powerful medicines come from the plant world around us. We may never be able to catalog all the beneficial plants growing around the world, but research suggests these five unusual herbs from across the globe may be among our most powerful medicinal allies: Be one of the first to learn about their potential benefits. As research on these medicinal herbs is thus far minimal or ongoing, be sure to discuss taking any of these with your health-care provider before incorporating them into your health regimen.

Medicinal Herbs: Sceletium

This succulent herb from South Africa was once used as a bartering currency, according to written records that date back to the 1600s. Since then it has made its way to North America and has been embraced for its reported antidepressant properties, including its ability to help elevate mood and promote relaxation and a sense of well being.

Sceletium contains alkaloids that interact with receptors in the brain, affecting the release of dopamine (a compound that affects pleasure) and serotonin (a compound that affects mood). “After you take it, you will feel its effects in about half an hour, and it feels great,” says Chris Kilham, a researcher and author also known as the “Medicine Hunter.” The herb produces an increased sense of clarity and an enhanced capacity for ideas and mental focus, he says. Sceletium may also be useful in decreasing anxiety, stress and tension.

The alkaloids in sceletium act much like the pharmaceutical antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), according to a study reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. However, sceletium does not appear to cause the same side effects as pharmaceuticals, which can include gastrointestinal disorders, loss of sex drive and insomnia. Some have reported mild headaches using sceletium. “Sceletium hasn’t quite caught on yet, but I’m confident it will,” Kilham says.

How to use: While this plant was traditionally fermented and chewed, you can use it more easily in capsule or tablet form. Use caution: Not much is known about this herb and its side effects, as it is still being researched.

1/6/2015 8:08:23 AM

I have been struggling with Bi Polar for about 15 years. I would love to find something that might help me

2/19/2014 10:16:10 AM

Does anyone now of a good source for Schisandra plants please?

1/7/2014 8:11:37 AM

On Tamanu oil use-after a hospitalization I developed an extremely painful lesion which my Doctor stated was shingles which quickly spread. He wanted to prescribe a very strong antiviral type drug. I believe strongly in the power of herbs and did some research. Using 1/2 Tamanu oil and 1/2 Ravensara (equal parts of each) and applying 3-5 times a day the blistering improved in 2 days and within 1 week they were completely healed and 2 years later I have NOT had any recurrence.

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