Ways to Not Take Your Herbs for Granted

| July/August 2000

Throughout history, people have experimented and invented—think of the wheel, the bow and arrow, the steam engine, the computer. This exploration has also included medicines—the mainstay of which has been herbs—and our ancestors tested the limits of what each plant could do. As a result, most herbs have multiple traditional uses, in part ­because their chemical complexity includes thousands of compounds.

While herbs today often become famous for a particular outstanding use, these celebrity herbs are worth trying for a variety of conditions. After all, why reinvent the wheel? The medicine hidden in your cupboard may pleasantly surprise you!

1.Saw palmetto

Polycystic ovaries and baldness 

This popular Native American herb is now known almost exclusively for treating prostate disorders. In the past, nineteenth-century physicians used saw palmetto berries for a host of ailments, including anorexia, bronchitis, asthma, reduced libido, infertility, cystitis, and lung conditions. Modern uses include the following.

Male pattern baldness. The androgen-modulating action that contributes to saw palmetto’s benefit in prostate health also plays a major role in male pattern baldness. The drug Propecia works through the same mechanism. This means the herb may help stave off further hair loss, says herbalist David Winston in his book Saw Palmetto for Men & Women (Storey, 1999). Winston bases his opinion on the science and a few case histories.

PCOS. The same androgen-modulating effects suggest the use of saw palmetto for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition associated with excess androgens. Naturopathic physicians now use the herb successfully for PCOS. It reduces androgenic side effects such as hair growth, weight gain, and acne; saw palmetto may even kickstart ovulation. Winston also likes saw palmetto for deep cystic acne, another condition sometimes associated with hormone imbalance.

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