For centuries, cultures around the world have relied on traditional herbal medicine to meet their healthcare needs.
Despite medical and technological advancements of the modern era, the global demand for herbal remedies is on the rise. In fact, it’s estimated that this industry grosses about $60 billion annually.
Some natural remedies may be more affordable and accessible than conventional medicines, and many people prefer using them because they align with their personal health ideologies.
All the same, you may wonder whether herbal options are effective.
Here are 9 of the world’s most popular herbal medicines, including their main benefits, uses, and relevant safety information.
Echinacea, or coneflower, is a flowering plant and popular herbal remedy.
Originally from North America, it has long been used in Native American practices to treat a variety of ailments, including wounds, burns, toothaches, sore throat, and upset stomach.
Most parts of the plant, including the leaves, petals, and roots, can be used medicinally — though many people believe the roots have the strongest effect.
Echinacea is usually taken as a tea or supplement but can also be applied topically.
Today, it’s primarily used to treat or prevent the common cold, though the science behind this isn’t particularly strong.
Ginseng is a medicinal plant whose roots are usually steeped to make a tea or dried to make a powder.
It’s frequently utilized in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation and boost immunity, brain function, and energy levels.
Several varieties exist, but the two most popular are the Asian and American types — Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius, respectively. American ginseng is thought to cultivate relaxation, while Asian ginseng is considered more stimulating
3. Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba, also known simply as ginkgo, is an herbal medicine derived from the maidenhair tree.
Native to China, ginkgo has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and remains a top-selling herbal supplement today. It contains a variety of potent antioxidants that are thought to provide several benefits.
Ginkgo is said to treat a wide range of ailments, including heart disease, dementia, mental difficulties, and sexual dysfunction. Yet, studies have not proven it effective for any of these conditions.
Elderberry is an ancient herbal medicine typically made from the cooked fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant. It has long been used to relieve headaches, nerve pain, toothaches, colds, viral infections, and constipation.
Today, it’s primarily marketed as a treatment for symptoms associated with the flu and common cold.
5. St. John’s wort
St. John’s wort (SJW) is an herbal medicine derived from the flowering plant Hypericum perforatum. Its small, yellow flowers are commonly used to make teas, capsules, or extracts.
Historically, it was utilized to aid wound healing and alleviate insomnia, depression, and various kidney and lung diseases. Today, it’s largely prescribed to treat mild to moderate depression.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an herb that belongs to the ginger family.
Used for thousands of years in cooking and medicine alike, it has recently garnered attention for its potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin is the major active compound in turmeric. It may treat a host of conditions, including chronic inflammation, pain, metabolic syndrome, and anxiety.
In particular, multiple studies reveal that supplemental doses of curcumin are as effective for alleviating arthritis pain as some common anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen.
Ginger is a commonplace ingredient and herbal medicine. You can eat it fresh or dried, though its main medicinal forms are as a tea or capsule.
Much like turmeric, ginger is a rhizome or stem that grows underground. It contains a variety of beneficial compounds and has long been used in traditional and folk practices to treat colds, nausea, migraines, and high blood pressure.
Sometimes referred to as “nature’s Valium,” valerian is a flowering plant whose roots are thought to induce tranquility and a sense of calm.
Valerian root may be dried and consumed in capsule form or steeped to make tea.
Its use can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was taken to relieve restlessness, tremors, headaches, and heart palpitations. Today, it’s most often utilized to treat insomnia and anxiety
Chamomile is a flowering plant that also happens to be one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world.
The flowers are most often used to make tea, but the leaves may also be dried and used for making tea, medicinal extracts, or topical compresses.
For thousands of years, chamomile has been used as a remedy for nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, urinary tract infections, wounds, and upper respiratory infections.
The bottom line
Many people around the world rely on herbal medicines to treat health conditions. Countless varieties exist, but some of the most popular include ginkgo, ginseng, ginger, turmeric, and chamomile.
About Dr. Serene Feng, L.Ac, DAOM Dr. Serene practices as an Acupuncturist and Herbalist in Australia and the United States for over 20 years. She holds a Medical Degree from Sun-Yat Sen University of Medical Sciences in China. She earned her Acupuncture license in New York State and a Doctorate Degree of Acupuncture Oriental Medicine in the US.