Plants have been used in traditional medicinal preparations since prehistoric times. Those with chemical compounds or phytochemicals with established biological activities have also been identified and harnessed for pharmacological preparations. Medicinal plants are also globally exported with the value of such export estimated to be around US$2.2 billion in 2012. While there are numerous plants used for their medical benefits across the world, here is a list of 10 of the most common and widely used medicinal plants that have health benefits for all and might also turn out to be life-savers!
Within Aloe Vera's thick leaves is a gel containing essential vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin A, B vitamins, folic acid, iron, copper, potassium, and calcium.
Chock full of antioxidants, aloe vera boosts immunity. Monosaccharides and polysaccharides strengthen white blood cells, fend off bacteria, viruses, and other diseases.
Aloe vera is known to improve digestion due to active enzymes that break down fats and sugars and promote nutrient absorption.
Lavender is a genus of 47 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Lavender oil contains anti-microbial compounds and is known to reduce bacterial growth which regulates the over-secretion of sebum, the oil that is produced by the skin.
Lavender's strong scent repels insects, while its anti-inflammatory properties relieve irritation from bug bites. Lavender oil alleviates joint pain, sore muscles, sprains, and backaches.
Massaging a few drops of oil on the lower abdomen and applying a warm towel helps relieve pain associated with menstrual cramps.
A sachet of lavender or a few drops of oil on a pillow work wonders to induce sleep, without the risk of addiction or other side effects that prescription drugs carry.
Gingerol is responsible for ginger's medicinal properties. Antioxidants and other nutrients in ginger help treat arthritis, inflammation, and infections. They also reduce oxidative stress, ridding the body of free radicals to prevent the cellular damage that causes cancer.
Raw or heated ginger is proven to reduce muscle pain.
Enzymes in ginger help the body break up and expel gas, relieving the discomfort of bloating and upset stomach. Ginger also increases movement through the digestive tract, which aids in preventing constipation.
One of the most popular aromatic and medicinal plants in the world, rosemary contains the compounds caffeic and rosmarinic acid, and the essential oils a-Pinene, Camphor and Linalool.
Aromatherapy using rosemary improves waking memory performance, memory quality, and increased alertness. Rosemary tea relieves stress and reduces depression symptoms.
Rosemary can protect the skin from UV damage. The oil is effective when applied directly to P.Acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.
Hair growth is a popular, traditional use of rosemary.
Rosemary oil increases circulatory function by expanding blood vessels and warming the blood when applied directly to the skin so it reaches fingers and toes more easily.
Best known for its soothing qualities, the dried flowers of chamomile contain terpenoids and flavonoids that contribute to its medicinal properties.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile has the potential to protect against diarrhea, reduce acidity in the stomach and inhibit the growth of the bacteria that cause ulcers.
Abundant in flavones, a class of antioxidants, chamomile is known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which determine the risk of heart disease.
Chamomile essential oils are used in aromatherapy and can be blended into massage oils, lotions or creams to treat skin conditions. It may be moisturizing and can help reduce skin inflammation. It is also used in steam and vapor therapy.
Menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint is an organic compound that provides a cooling sensation when applied to the mouth or skin. It is also used as a mild anesthetic. It can be used topically or taken as tea or vapor to alleviate congestion, coughing and breathing difficulties caused by inflamed passages. The antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of peppermint build immunity. Peppermint is high in Vitamins A and C and other vital minerals.
Diluted with another oil and applied to the forehead or upper sinus area, peppermint can relieve headache pain. A German study showed peppermint was as effective as 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen. Diluted with water, peppermint oil can be used to remedy allergic rashes, dry, itchy skin or infections. Used as a hair rinse, peppermint can provide moisture and stimulate hair growth.
A member of the ginger family, turmeric's most active compound is curcumin. Turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that relieve pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is believed to act as an anti-viral, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic.
Turmeric prevents heart disease and cancer and can help prevent Alzheimer's disease by increasing the function of brain-derived neurotrophic factor(BDNF), a certain growth hormone that functions in the brain. Decreased function of the hormone can lead to Alzheimer's disease.
When cooking with turmeric, mixing it with black pepper or dried ginger activates its medicinal properties.
Sage (salvia) has many purposes depending on how it is used. Similar to rosemary, the presence of rosamarinc and carnosic acids protect against free radicals, preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Believed to have anti-microbial properties, sage cleansing sprays are used to kill bacteria, viruses and repel insects. Burning sage is a cost-effective way to purify the air. Alternative medicine practitioners believe burning sage releases negative energy.
Dried sage is burned to heal, protect and increase wisdom.
A member of the mint family, basil is revered for its healing properties. Eugenol present in the leaves ensures anti-inflammatory action in the digestive tract. Basil balances acid within the body restoring the body's natural pH level.
Enzyme inhibiting properties lower the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel conditions. Its strong detox properties also support healthy kidney and liver function.
Lemon balm, a herb in the mint family, contains rosamarinic acid, giving it potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It contains the volatile oils citrol and citronellal, which have a calming effect on the nervous system, relieving stress and reducing anxiety.
Rich in polyphenols, lemon balm has strong antiviral and antimicrobial properties, relieving cold-sores and preventing the herpes virus from penetrating cells. Taken as a tea or tincture, it can be helpful for recovery from viral infections.
As with any other medicine, it is best to speak with your physician before taking any type of herbal health product or supplement.
About the Author
Renee Barrett was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Toronto, Canada. She currently resides in the Bronx. Renee holds master’s degrees in both Urban Administration and Education and is the proud mother of 7-year-old twins Zach and Noah.
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