Herbalism (“herbology” or “herbal medicine”) is use of plants for medicinal purposes, and the study of such use. Plants have been the basis for medical treatments through much of human history, and such traditional medicine is still widely practiced today.
A herbalist is:
- A person whose life is dedicated to the economic or medicinal uses of plants.
- One skilled in the harvesting and collection of medicinal plants (see wildcrafter).
- Traditional Chinese herbalist: one who is trained or skilled in the dispensing of herbal prescriptions; traditional Chinese herb doctor. Similarly, traditional Ayurvedic herbalist: one who is trained or skilled in the dispensing of herbal prescriptions in the Ayurvedic tradition.
- One trained or skilled in the therapeutic use of medicinal plants.
- One who is skilled in the preparation/manufacture of dried and/or liquid herbal products who possesses a pharmacognostic, formulary and/or clinical understanding of the products being prepared/manufactured.
Herbalists must learn many skills, including the wildcrafting or cultivation of herbs, diagnosis and treatment of conditions or dispensing herbal medication, and preparations of herbal medications. Education of herbalists varies considerably in different areas of the world. Lay herbalists and traditional indigenousmedicine people generally rely upon apprenticeship and recognition from their communities in lieu of formal schooling.
Four approaches to the use of plants as medicine include:
- The magical/shamanic—Almost all societies, with the exception of cultures influenced by Western-style industrialization, recognize this kind of use. The practitioner is regarded as endowed with gifts or powers that allow him/her to use herbs in a way that is hidden from the average person, and the herbs are said to affect the spirit or soul of the person.
- The energetic—This approach includes the major systems of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Unani. Herbs are regarded as having actions in terms of their energies and affecting the energies of the body. The practitioner may have extensive training, and ideally be sensitive to energy, but need not have supernatural powers.
- The functional dynamic—This approach was used by early physiomedical practitioners, whose doctrine forms the basis of contemporary practice in the UK. Herbs have a functional action, which is not necessarily linked to a physical compound, although often to a physiological function, but there is no explicit recourse to concepts involving energy.
- The chemical—Modern practitioners – called Phytotherapists – attempt to explain herb actions in terms of their chemical constituents. It is generally assumed that the specific combination of secondary metabolites in the plant are responsible for the activity claimed or demonstrated, a concept called synergy.
List of common plants used in Herbalism
- Abscess root (Polemonium reptans) is used to reduce fever, inflammation, and cough.
- Açai (Euterpe oleracea) Although açai berries are a longstanding food source for indigenous people of the Amazon, there is no evidence that they have historically served a medicinal, as opposed to nutritional role. In spite of their recent popularity in the United States as a dietary supplement, there is currently no evidence for their effectiveness for any health-related purpose.
- Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) leaves are used to lower cholesterol, as well as forum kidney and urinary tract ailments, although there is insufficient scientific evidence for its efficancy.
- Aloe vera leaves are widely used to heal burns, wounds and other skin ailments.
- Arnica (Arnica montana) is used as an anti-inflammatory and for osteoarthritis.
- Asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida) might be useful for IBS, high cholesterol, and breathing problems.
- Ashoka tree (Saraca indica) is used in Ayurvedic traditions to treat gynecological disorders. The bark is also used to combat oedema or swelling.
- Asthma-plant (Euphorbia hirta) has been used traditionally in Asia to treat bronchitic asthma and laryngeal spasm. It is used in the Philippines for dengue fever.
- Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus) has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to strengthen the immune system, and is used in modern China to treat hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy in cancer.
- Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to the Middle Ages particularly among Native Americans. Uses have included skin ailments, scurvyand gastro-intestinal ailments.
- Belladonna (Atropa belladonna), although toxic, was used historically in Italy by women to enlarge their pupils, as well as a sedative, among other uses. The name itself means “beautiful woman” in Italian.
- Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) used to treat diarrhea, scurvy, and other conditions.
- Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) is used as an agent to reduce the blood glucose level.
- Bitter leaf (Vernonia amygdalina) is used by both primates and indigenous peoples in Africa to treat intestinal ailments such as dysentery
- Bitter orange (Citrus × aurantium) used in traditional Chinese medicine and by indigenous peoples of the Amazon for nausea, indigestion and constipation.
- Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) historically used for arthritis and muscle pain, used more recently for conditions related to menopause and menstruation.
- Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) was used during the Middle Ages to treat bubonic plague. In modern times, herbal teas made from blessed thistle are used for loss of appetite, indigestion and other purposes.
- Blueberries (genus Vaccinium) are of current medical interest as an antioxidant and for urinary tract ailments
- Burdock (Arctium lappa) has been used traditionally as a diuretic and to lower blood sugar and, in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for sore throat and symptoms of the common cold.
- Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has a long history of use in South America to prevent and treat disease.
- Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) is a type of chili that has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. Uses have included reducing pain and swelling, lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels and fighting viruses and harmful bacteria, due to high levels of Vitamin C.
- Celery (Apium graveolens) seed is used only occasionally in tradition medicine. Modern usage is primarily as a diuretic.
- Chamomille (Matricaria recutita and Anthemis nobilis) has been used over thousands of years for a variety of conditions, including sleeplessness, anxiety, and gastrointestinal conditions such as upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea.
- Chaparral (Larrea tridentata) leaves and twigs are used by Native Americans to make a herbal tea used for a variety of conditions, including arthritis, cancer and a number of others. Subsequent studies have been extremely variable, at best. Chaparral has also been shown to have high liver toxicity, and has led to kidney failure, and is not recommended for any use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or American Cancer Society.
- Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) used over thousands of years for menstrual problems, and to stimulate lactation.
- Chili (Capsicum frutescens)’s active ingredient, capsaicine, is the basic of commercial pain-relief ointments in Western medicine. The low incidence of heart attack in Thais may be related to capsaicine’s fibronolytic action (dissolving blood clots).
- Cinchona is a genus of about 38 species of trees whose bark is a source of alkaloids, including quinine. Its use as a febrifuge was first popularized in the 17th century byPeruvian Jesuits.
- Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) is used for upset stomach and as an expectorant, among other purposes. The oil is used topically to treat toothache.
- Coffee senna (Cassia occidentalis) is used in a wide variety of roles in traditional medicine, including in particular as a broad-spectrum internal and external antimicrobial, for liver disorders, for intestinal worms and other parasites and as an immune-system stimulant.
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has been used as a vulnerary and to reduce inflammation. It was also used internally in the past, for stomach and other ailments, but its toxicity has led a number of other countries, including Canada, Brazil, Australia, and the United Kingdom, to severely restrict or ban the use of comfrey.
- Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) used historically as a vulnerary and for urinary disorders, diarrhea, diabetes, stomach ailments, and liver problems. Modern usage has concentrated on urinary tract related problems.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was most commonly used historically to treat liver diseases, kidney diseases, and spleen problems
- Digitalis (Digitalis lanata), or foxglove, came into use in treating cardiac disease in late 18th century England in spite of its high toxicity.aIts use has been almost entirely replaced by the pharmaceutical derivative Digoxin, which has a shorter half-life in the body, and whose toxicity is therefore more easily managed. Digoxin is used as an antiarrhythmic agent and inotrope
- Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) has been used for thousands of years in Asia, primarily in women’s health.
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) berries and leaves have traditionally been used to treat pain, swelling, infections, coughs, and skin conditions and, more recently, flu, common cold, fevers, constipation, and sinus infections.
- Ephedra (Ephedra sinica) has been used for more than 5,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine for respiratory ailments.Products containing ephedra for weight loss, energy and athletic performance, particularly those also containing caffeine, have been linked to stroke, heart arrhythmia, and even death. Such products have been banned in the United States since December 2003. Other dietary supplements containing ephedra were similarly banned in February 2004.
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) leaves were widely used in traditional medicine as a febrifuge. Eucalyptus oil is commonly used in over-the-counter cough and cold medications, as well as for an analgesic.
- European mistletoe (Viscum album) has been used to treat seizures, headaches, and other conditions.
- Evening primrose (Oenothera spp.) oil has been used since the 1930s for eczema, and more recently as an anti-inflammatory
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) has long been used to treat symptoms of menopause, and digestive ailments. More recently, it has been used to treat diabetes, loss of appetite and other conditions
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) has been used for centuries for fevers, headaches, stomach aches, toothaches, insect bites and other conditions.
- Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) is most commonly used as a laxative. Flaxseed oil is used for different conditions, including arthritis
- Garlic (பூண்டு)(Allium sativum) widely used as an antibiotic and, more recently, for treating cardiovascular disease
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is used to relieve nausea
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) leaf extract has been used to treat asthma, bronchitis, fatigue, and tinnitus
- Ginseng (Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius) has been used medicinally, in particular in Asia, for over 2,000 years, and is widely used in modern society.
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) was used traditionally by Native Americans to treat skin diseases, ulcers, and gonorrhea. More recently, the herb has been used respiratory tract and a number of other infections
- Grape (Vitis vinifera) leaves and fruit have been used medicinally since the ancient Greeks.
- Guava (Psidium guajava) has a rich history of use in traditional medicine. It is traditionally used to treat diarrhea; however, evidence of its effectiveness is very limited.
- Gum Arabic (Senegalia senegal) might be useful for dental plaque and weight loss.
- Hawthorn (specifically Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata) fruit has been used for centuries for heart disease. Other uses include digestive and kidney problems.
- Henna (Lawsonia inermis) exhibits potential antibacterial activity. The alcoholic extract of the root has antibacterial activity due to the presence of flavonoid and alkaloids. Henna is also thought to show anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic effects in experimental animals.
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
- Hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) is traditionally used by Kalahari San (Bushmen) to reduce hunger and thirst. It is currently marketed as an appetite suppressant.
- Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) seeds, leaves, bark, and flowers have been used medicinally for many centuries. The raw plant materials are toxic unless processed.
- Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) dates back to ancient Roman and Greek medicine, when it was used to stop bleeding, heal ulcers and wounds, and treat tuberculosis andkidney problems.
- Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia erythrina / Piscidia piscipula) is used in traditional medicine for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety, despite serious safety concerns. A 2006 study suggested medicinal potential.
- Kava (Piper methysticum) has been used for centuries in the South Pacific to make a ceremonial drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. It is used as a soporific, as well as for asthma and urinary tract infection
- Khat is a mild stimulant used for thousands of years in Yemen, and is banned today in many countries. Contains the amphetamine-like substance cathinone.
- Konjac (Amorphophallus konjac) is a significant dietary source of glucomannan, which is used in treating obesity, constipation, and reducing cholesterol.
- Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) Kratom is known to prevent or delay withdrawal symptoms in an opioid-dependent individual, and it is often used to mitigate cravings thereafter. It can also be used for other medicinal purposes. Kratom has been traditionally used in regions such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
- Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) African treatment for depression. Suggested to be an SSRI or have similar effects, but unknown mechanism of activity.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was traditionally used as an antiseptic and for mental health purposes. It was also used ancient Egypt in mummifying bodies. There is little scientific evidence that lavender is effective for most mental health uses.
- Lemon (Citrus limon), along with other citruses, has a long history of use in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine. In contemporary use, honey and lemon is common for treating coughs and sore throat.
- Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has a long history of medicinal usage in Eastern and Western medicine. Uses include stomach ulcers,bronchitis, and sore throat, as well as infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis.
- Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) Sacred lotus has been the subject of a number of in-vitro and animal studies, exploring its pharmacologic effects, including antioxidant, hepatoprotective, immunomodulatory, anti-infective, hyperlipidemic, and psychopharmacologic activityalthough clinical trials are lacking.
- Marigold (Calendula officinalis), or calendula, has a long history of use in treating wounds and soothing skin
- Marsh-mallow (Althaea officinalis) has been used for over 2,000 years as both a food and a medicine
- Moringa oleifera is used for food and traditional medicine. It is undergoing preliminary research to investigate potential properties of its nutrients and phytochemicals
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used for thousands of years for a variety of medicinal purposes, in particular liver problems.
- Neem (Azadirachta indica), used in India to treat worms, malaria, rheumatism and skin infections among many other things. Its many uses have led to neem being called “the village dispensary” in India.
- Noni (Morinda citrifolia) has a history of use as for joint pain and skin conditions.
- Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is the plant source of morphine, used for pain relief. Morphine made from the refined and modified sap is used for pain control in terminally ill patients. Dried sap was used as a traditional medicine until the 19th century.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare) Used as an abortifacient in folk medicine in some parts of Bolivia and other northwestern South American countries, though no evidence of efficacy exists in Western medicine. Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic, as well as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments. A Cretan oregano (O. dictamnus) is still used today in Greece as a palliative for sore throat. Evidence of efficacy in this matter is lacking.
- Papaya (Carica papaya) is used for treating wounds.
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) oil, from a cross between water mint and spearmint, has a history of medicinal use for a variety of conditions, including nausea, indigestion, and symptoms of the common cold.
- Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and other species of Echinacea has been used for at least 400 years by Native Americans to treat infections and wounds, and as a general “cure-all” (panacea). It is currently used for symptoms associated with cold and flu
- Passion Flower (Passiflora) – Thought to have Anti-depressant properties. Unknown MOA. Used in traditional medicine to aid with sleep or depression.
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is an ingredient in some recipes for essiac tea. Research has found no benefit for any human health conditions.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has been used medicinally from ancient times.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis), shown to improve cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
- Syrian Rue (aka Harmal) (Peganum harmala) – MAOI. Can be used as an antidepressant, but carries significant risk. Used in traditional shamanistic rites in the amazon, and is a component of Ayahuasca, Caapi or Yajé (which is actually usually Banisteriopsis caapi but has the same active alkaloids).
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), widely used within herbalism for depression. Evaluated for use as an antidepressant, but with ambiguous results.
- Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) extracts show antibacterial and antifungal effects on several species including some of the antibiotic resistant strains.
- Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) has been used medicinally for centuries by Australian aboriginal people. Modern usage is primarily as an antibacterial or antifungalagent.
- Thunder God Vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammation or an overactive immune system
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is used to treat bronchitis and cough. It serves as an antispasmotic and expectorant in this role. It has also been used in many other medicinal roles in Asian and Ayurvedic medicine, although it has not been shown to be effective in non-respiratory medicinal roles.
- Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum or Holy Basil) is used for a variety of purposes in ×÷←medicine.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a spice that lends its distinctive yellow color to Indian curries, has long been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to aid digestion and liver function, relieve arthritis pain, and regulate menstruation.
- Umckaloabo, or South African Geranium (Pelargonium sidoides), used in treating acute bronchitis
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used since at least ancient Greece and Rome for sleep disorders and anxiety.
- Velvetleaf (Cissampelos pareira) is used for a wide variety of conditions.
- Verbena (Verbena officinalis) is used for sore throats and respiratory tract diseases.
- Veronica (Veronica officinalis) is used for sinus and ear infections.
- Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides) is used for skin care.
- Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata) root bark is used for the digestive system. Also known as hoptree.
- Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) is a purgative and might effect the heart.
- Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) contains constituents that may affect the heart.
- Water Dropwort (Oenanthe aquatica) seeds are used for coughs, intestinal gas, and water retention.
- Water Germander (Teucrium scordium) has been used for asthma, diarrhea, fever, intestinal parasites, hemorrhoids, and wounds.
- Water Hemlock (Cicuta virosa) Despite being one of the most poisonous plants in the world, it is sometimes used for pain and inflammation.
- Water Plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica) is used for the urinary tract.
- Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) may be diuretic and antibacterial.
- Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) may contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
- White willow (Salix alba) is a plant source of salicylic acid, a chemical related to aspirin, although more likely to cause stomach upset as a side effect than aspirin itself. Used from ancient times for the same uses as aspirin.