Seven Medicinal Herbs For Winter Health

We have herbal remedies at our fingertips during a season in which maladies abound.

| January/February 1999

  • Circulation—Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
    J. Coca
  • Insomnia—Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
    S. Foster
  • Eye strain—Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)
    S. Foster
  • Depression—St.-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum)
    S. Foster
  • Colds—Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea)
    J. Coca
  • Flu—Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, S. nigra)
    M. Wall
  • Energy—Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
    J. Coca

Nature-lovers who notice the daily growth of a particular tree or changes in a flowerbed may view winter as a dormant time. Plants that no longer exist in their spring and summer forms become the focus of planning for next spring’s garden and perhaps a sign that humans, too, should rest.

However, the experience of people who lived centuries ago and the work of modern researchers let us enjoy herbs year-round. Sold at natural and health-food stores in bulk, dried herbs are also available in the form of capsules, tablets, and tinctures.

For those of us living on the brink of the millennium, then, winter can be full of life and good health. We have herbal remedies at our fingertips during a season in which maladies abound, or at least a season during which we try to fend them off. Here are descriptions of seven of the best herbal medicines to have on hand now. The information is adapted from 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave Press, 1998) by Steven Foster, an Herbs for Health editorial adviser and, with Albert Leung, Ph.D., author of Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients (Wiley, 1996), and many other books about herbal health.

Insomnia: Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Chamomile is the dried flower head of an annual member of the aster family. German chamomile, the species most often sold on the U.S. market, is grown in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Argentina, and Europe. It’s been used for centuries as a mild sleep aid, and scientists attribute its gentle sedative activity to alpha-bisabolol, a constituent found in its oil.

Up to six capsules containing 300 to 400 mg of dried chamomile can be taken daily, or 10 to 40 drops of a tincture three times daily. A tea is made by steeping 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of hot water and taken three times daily.

People who are allergic to other members of the aster family, including ragweed, may be allergic to chamomile.

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