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Herbal Remedies

There is high public interest in herbal remedies for various medical conditions, including depression. Among the herbals is hypericum perforatum or St. John's wort, promoted as having antidepressant effects.

St. John's wort is one of 200 plant products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for sale to the public as a dietary supplement. The FDA does not subject dietary supplements to an extensive pre-market approval process, however, as it does new drugs.

On the other hand, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 permits the FDA to remove a supplement from the market if it determines the supplement is unsafe. Herbal products such as St. John's wort can be marketed without stating standards for dosage or evidence of safety. Often, information on specific products may be misleading or even inaccurate.

The following is a list of popular herbal remedies in the U.S. from the American Botanical Council. It should be noted that this is not an endorsement of the herbals, simply a list of herbals and what they purport.

A European version of blueberry. Bilberry extract is rich in purple/blue pigments having numerous benefits for the eyes and cardiovascular system. In Europe, bilberry extract is used as an antioxidant. Also used to help increase microcirculation by stimulating new capillary formation, strengthening capillary walls and increasing overall health of the circulatory system.

Recent research suggests that cranberry helps to prevent urinary tract infections caused by E. coli bacteria, particularly in people with a history of recurrent infections. Cranberry is an excellent example of how common foods can have health benefits beyond their nutritional qualities.

One of the most widely used herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, it is primarily used in herbal formulas as a "female tonic" to treat muscle cramps and pain associated with difficult menstrual periods. Dong quai should not be used during pregnancy.

Also called Purple Coneflower and native to the U.S., this plant was the most widely used medicinal plant of the Central Plains Indians, being used for a variety of conditions. The leaf and root are mildly antibacterial, antiviral, and used for wound healing. German research has confirmed, in numerous clinical studies, the usefulness of Echinacea in strengthening the body's immune system as well as prevention and natural treatment of colds and flu.

Feverfew has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. It has been used as a folk medicine for menstrual cramps since Greco-Roman times. At least three published clinical studies in England in the 1980s confirm the efficacy of feverfew leaves for prevention and moderation of the severity of migraine headaches.

Garlic mildly displays a hot of benefits: it is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, hypotensive (lowers high blood pressure), and lowers cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream. Garlic is used in Europe as an approved remedy for cardiovascular conditions, especially high cholesterol and triglyceride levels associated with risk of atherosclerosis. It is also generally regarded as a preventive measure for colds, flu and other infectious diseases.

Ginger is another great example of how a plant can be used as a food, spice or medicine. It has been used to treat nausea, motion sickness and vomiting. Ginger has a long history of use for all types of digestive upset and can be helpful to increase appetite.

Standardized extract of ginkgo leaf increases circulation and has shown antioxidant activity. Hundreds of European studies have confirmed the use of standardized ginkgo leaf extract for a wide variety of conditions associated with aging, including memory loss and poor-circulation. Ginkgo extract is also used clinically in Europe for tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo, and cold extremities.

One of the world's most famous herbs. Ginseng is classed as an "adaptogen," a relatively recent term coined by Russian researchers to describe ginseng's general tonic properties. Adaptogens are herbs that increase the overall resistance to all types of stress. Other herbal adaptogens include Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng and Schizandra. Asian Ginseng (Chinese and Korean) is renowned for its ability to increase energy and endurance.

Goldenseal root has a long history as a native American herb used by Indians and early settlers for its antiseptic wound-healing properties. It is also used for its soothing action on inflamed mucous membranes. A popular remedy for colds and flu.

Kava has become increasingly popular in the US in the past few years, owing to both its reputation as a mild, relaxing beverage in its native culture of the South Pacific as well as the recent research being conducted in Europe where its anti-anxiety actions are confirmed.

Licorice is one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world, commonly used in European, Arabian and Asian traditional medicine systems. It is soothing to inflamed mucous membranes; often recommended in treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and cough and asthma rememdies. Licorice extract displays a stimulating action on adrenal glands and is thus useful in fatigue due to adrenal exhaustion. Licorice and its extracts are safe for normal use in moderate amounts. However, long-term use or ingestion of excessive amounts can produce headache, lethargy, sodium and water retention, excessive loss of potassium, and high blood pressure.

Valerian is an effective and reliable sedative and sleep aid. It is effective in conditions of anxiety, insomnia and nervous irritability. Unlike prescripion or OTC sleep and anxiety medication, it is not habit-forming, nor does it produce a hang-over-like side effect.

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