Natural Herbal Medicines for Common Health Problems

From inflammatory relief to the best flu medicines, try these natural pharmaceutical alternatives for common ailments.

| July/August 2016

Although we aim to lead healthy, natural lives, sometimes the pain and discomfort of illnesses or chronic pain make a trip to the pharmacy especially tempting. And while the occasional dose of Sudafed probably won’t hurt you, chemical pharmaceuticals often mask symptoms rather than address underlying illnesses, and they can cause side effects that range from mild to severe. We researched the most commonly purchased over-the-counter (OTC) drugs in the U.S. and are happy to report that nature has effective alternatives when it comes to the ailments these drugs treat, from pain relief to the common cold. Here are some of the most common issues for which Americans turn to OTC drugs and the natural remedies and options you can use instead to get back on your feet. Always talk with your physician before making changes to your health regimen and be sure to include any herbal remedies when reporting what you take for supplemental or medicinal purposes.

Cold and Flu

Instead of Sudafed, try...

Echinacea: Rather than simply masking symptoms, it’s best to support our bodies in fighting viruses. Research has found that taking an immune-boosting echinacea preparation at the first sign of symptoms can shorten the length of a cold or flu by anywhere from a fourth to a third of its typical duration (or, from 10 days to seven days), according to Varro Tyler, distinguished professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at Purdue University. When it comes to effectiveness, a consistent dose is key: Take 900 mg, or four to five droppers, of echinacea tincture a day at the first sign of illness, throughout its duration, and for a few days after symptoms subside.

Astragalus: Astragalus is an adaptogen that has been shown to fight viruses, bacteria and inflammation, which may provide ongoing immune-system support. As a decoction (the traditional method in Chinese medicine), astragalus is often used in daily doses of 9 grams to 15 grams of dried, sliced root, simmered for several hours in a quart of water. The decoction is ready when the water reduces down to a pint. In capsule form, follow manufacturers’ dosage instructions.

Garlic: This culinary herb boosts immune function, inhibits a broad range of microbes, and also promotes expectoration, helping cold and flu sufferers get good, productive coughs. During cold and flu season, take garlic supplements, or simply include more of it in your diet. (Do not take garlic without first consulting your physician if you are taking blood thinners.)

Instead of Robitussin, try...

Elderberry: Elderberry can inhibit the enzyme that flu viruses use to penetrate cell membranes. In syrup form, one study showed that it can inhibit type A and type B influenza viruses, with no known side effects. Elderberry’s sweet flavor also makes it a helpful remedy for treating children. Take 4 tablespoons of elderberry syrup per day for adults or 2 tablespoons for children for three days.

Instead of VapoRub, try...

An herbal massage oil: To increase airflow to a congested chest, try a massage oil with 1 ounce sunflower oil, 6 drops rosemary essential oil, 4 drops peppermint essential oil and 3 drops ginger essential oil. Mix the ingredients in a glass bowl and rub over the chest, upper back, neck and shoulders as needed. It’s a good idea to do a spot test on skin first to check for a reaction. Never apply essential oils near the noses of infants or small children; people with asthma may also be sensitive to essential oil vapors.

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