Health Curiosities

The Truth About Simple Herbs that Can Cure You

What Traditional Medicine Doesn't Want You to Know

We've all heard about how various herbal remedies can help with anything from depression to cancer, but how do you know which ones are meant to help which condition? It is sometimes tough to tell - most sales clerks are useless and the labels are simply confusing to most of us. You'll be happy to know that it is not your mental incompetence that makes it so difficult to figure out.

The problem lies with the FDA Dietary Health and Education Act of 1994 which regulates "dietary supplements" and contains some interesting rules about labeling and advertising. Basically, the manufacturers are legally unable to tell you what their product is meant to be used for. They can make claims about the structure and function only, and are not allowed to list the herb's specific uses and actions.

Although the FDA limits what herbal product manufacturers can claim about their products, they do not however, regulate which formulas and concentrations are being produced. That means that one brand of ginger could contain 400 mg and another contains only 100 mg, which makes the whole situation that much more difficult to decipher.

Have no fear, this guide will give you the basics about 12 commonly used herbal products including what they are used for and what to watch out for.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatorium)

  • Used for:
    • Diarrhea
    • Astringent tonic
    • Diuretic
    • Jaundice and other liver complaints
  • Safe for use in most healthy people

Aloe Vera (Aloe Vera)

  • Used internally for constipation
  • Used externally for:
    • Chronic skin disorders such as psoriasis, eczema and acne
    • Sunburn
    • Minor burns and wounds
  • Side effects from Aloe are rare when it is used correctly.

Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)

  • Used for:
    • Absent menstruation
    • Excessive bleeding during menstruation
    • Irregular or painful periods
    • PMS
    • Stimulating breast milk production
  • Do not use if:
    • You are pregnant
    • You take birth control pills
    • You have breast cancer or some other hormone-sensitive condition
    • You take dopamine-related medications, such as:
      • Selegiline
      • Amantadine
      • Levodopa
  • Can cause:
    • Acne-like rashes
    • Dizziness
    • Gastrointestinal problems

Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)

  • Used for chronic muscle, joint or tendon pain
  • Do not use with NSAIDs such as:
    • Aspirin
    • Ibuprofen
    • Naproxen
  • Do not use if any of the following apply to you:
    • You have gastric or duodenal ulcers
    • You are taking anti-arrhythmia medication
    • You have gallstones
    • You are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Devil's claw has been known to cause allergic reaction and reported side effects include:
    • Headache
    • Ringing in the ears
    • Sensation of fullness
    • Upset stomach

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

  • Used for migraine and cluster headache prevention
  • Not to be used to treat a headache once it has already begun
  • Can cause mouth ulcers and agitation

Ginger (zingiber officinalea)

  • Used for:
    • Upset stomach
    • Motion
    • Flatulence
    • Pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting
  • Small doses cause few side effects, but those most often noted with the powdered form are:
    • Bloating
    • Gas
    • Heartburn
    • Nausea

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

  • Used for cardiovascular disease
  • If you have low blood pressure, use hawthorn carefully due to its blood pressure-reducing activity
  • Do not use if you are taking digoxin or any similar drug

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

  • Used for viral problems such as:
    • Herpes
    • Warts
    • Colds
  • When used as recommended, there are no reports of side effects

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

  • Used for:
    • Breast, cervical and prostate cancers
    • Gallbladder disorders
    • Liver diseases such as chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis
    • Lowering cholesterol
  • Side effects are few, but can include:
    • Bloating
    • Diarrhea
    • Upset stomach
  • Can cause allergic reactions

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

    Used for:
    • Allergies
    • Bug bites
    • Hay fever
    • Rheumatism
    • Skin rashes
    • Sprains and strains
    • Tendonitis
    • Urinary problems
  • When used as directed, is generally safe, but can produce the following side effects:
    • Fluid retention
    • Hives or allergic rash
    • Mild upset stomach
  • Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

White Willow Bark (Salix alba)
Although it should not be used for two weeks prior to or following surgery, willow bark is often used for:

  • Fever, inflammation and pain associated with conditions such as:
    • Flu
    • Headache
    • Low back pain
    • Osteoarthritis
    • Bursitis and tendonitis
  • Mild side effects can be:
    • Gastrointestinal irritation
    • Ulcers
  • Using too much can cause:
    • Kidney inflammation
    • Nausea
    • Ringing in the ears
    • Skin rash
    • Vomiting
  • Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Willow bark contains salicylates (such as in aspirin), so it can react with some medications.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

  • Combined with rubbing alcohol, it is used externally for:
    • Anorectal irritation from causes such as surgery or hemorrhoids
    • Bleeding
    • Minor burns, scratches and bug bites
    • Sore joints or muscles
  • Used as a gargle for throat and mouth pain or irritation
  • No known side effects or complications with normal use
  • When taken too much or too often, the tannins in witch hazel can cause nausea

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