Aloe (Aloe spp.) – The sticky fresh juice of aloe leaves serves as an emollient (skin-softening) ingredient in many skin lotions and creams, salves, and shampoos. It is also used for minor wounds and burns, both in home use of the fresh juice and in various pharmaceutical products. A resinous extract from the dried leaves has been administered internally as a strong laxative. Research indicates that these uses are valid.
Alum root (Heuchera americana) - An astringent plant seldom used except as a domestic remedy for sore throats and certain “female problems.”
American Holly (llex opaca) – The leaves were once used in a tea to increase the volume of perspiration – a treatment used to “bring out” chicken pox or measles. The berries are bitter and have been used as a purgative and as a medicine to cause vomiting. The juice has been used in treating jaundice. A decoction of the bark was used to soothe the mucous membranes in the treatment of colds and coughs.
Apothecary’s Rose (Rosa gallica officinalis) – The oldest and most useful rose of the herbalist. The petals are mildly astringent and useful in relieving gas and colic. The Romans spread the petals throughout their banquet halls and their food and cosmetics were perfumed with the oil of roses. Today it is used as a flavoring in cosmetics and in pot-pourri. The hips or fruit are known to have nutritional benefits through their Vitamin C and make a delicious jelly.
Autumn crocus (Cochicum autumnale) – Autumn crocus has been employed since ancient times to treat gout. It is the source of the modern drug colchicines prescribed by doctors to treat this condition. Autumn crocus should never be used as a medicinal herb. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Bay (Laurus nobilis) – The oil of bay berries was used for the relief of aching joints, nerves, aching muscles, trembling, and numbness in body parts. In addition to these uses, bay has been described as an astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, narcotic, nervine, and stimulant. Used now for non-medicinal purposes but is among the most used seasonings in cooking.
Bayberry (Myrica cerfera) – Bayberry tea has been recommended for sore throats, spongy gums, jaundice, and uterine hemorrhages. Snuffing the powder is supposed to relieve nasal congestion and cure nasal polyps. Poultices made with the root bark are said to heal ulcers, cuts, bruises, and insect bites.
Bee-balm or Bergamont (Monarda didyma) – Our early Colonists learned the use of the bergamots from the American Indians. They used the dried leaves in making herb tea to relieve colic and nausea, and as a tonic. It was also used to aid digestion. This plant is a commercial source of the drug Thymol, which is of value as an antiseptic and flavor.
Betony (Stachys officinalis) – Betony can help cure sore throats and diarrhea. For a sore throat, make an infusion from the leaves and gargle with it. For diarrhea, drink the infusion as a cup of tea.
Blackberry (Rubus) – Has been used as a favorite remedy on bowel disorders and has been recommended against the poison if venomous snakes. The root bark is a strong astringent because of its high tannin content. A fruit juice and wine made from the berries is used to control diarrhea and “summer sickness”.
Black hellebore (Helleborus niger) – Herbalist have prescribed Black hellebore for amenorrhea, tumors, warts, and various other ailments, it poisons rather than heals. It is not currently used in modern medicine except by homeopaths, who use it in carefully controlled, infinitesimal doses. Black hellebore contains two highly toxic glucosides, helleborin and helleborein, which are violently irritant both internally and externally.
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) – Used as a stimulant to promote digestion, strengthen the viscera, and restore body tone. Also called sweating weed, since it was used to increase perspiration. In Appalachia, a tea is made of the leaves and used to treat coughs, consumption and as a laxative. The name came from its use in the treatment of a fever in which the pain was so great that it was called break-bone fever.
Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) – Widely loved for its neat growth and unique aroma. Some think it is almost hypnotic in its effect. Box hedges were esteemed in the countryside to dry lined in. Its leaves were used in a hair dye. A preparation called Buxina was obtained from the powdered bark, but the leaves were mainly used in medicinal decoctions. Boxwood also has the reputation as a purgative and diaphoretic.
Butterfly weed or Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberose) – This plant has been used as an expectorant, diaphoretic, emetic, and to treat rheumatism and dysentery. Employed for colds and fevers, especially in the Southern states. Butterfly weed should be included in herb gardens, not only for its history, but because it is a beautiful spot of color attracting butterflies in mid-summer.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – Tinctures of calendula flowers have been recommended in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments including amenorrhea, cramps, toothaches, fever, flu, stomachaches, even tuberculosis and syphilis. The plant is supposed to induce sweating in a fever, increase urination, aid digestion, and act as a general tonic. Others apply calendula remedies to external sores, cuts, bruises, burns, and rashes.
Castor bean (Ricinus commums) – Because it is fairly mild, castor oil is still widely prescribed as a laxative for children and elderly patients. Too much can bring on nausea and vomiting. The oil is also used as an ingredient in contraceptive creams and eye medications. The seeds are poisonous, and other parts are irritating to sensitive individuals. Just one seed can kill a child. Some people break out in a rash when they simply touch the leaves of the plant.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Catnip tea was used in England and America for its flavor as much as for its many medicinal virtues. Catnip tea should always be infused, never boiled. The hot tea is given to relieve a fever, cold, bronchitis, and diarrhea. It is also given for nervous headaches and restlessness for nightmares. Rats are reputed to dislike catnip as much as cats like it.
Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) – You would hardly guess that a spice so hot to the tongue could have any soothing medicinal properties. Yet herbalist for many years hve used cayenne in the treatment of a variety of symptoms- from gas and diarrhea to asthma and toothaches. Mature hot peppers are bursting not only with heat, but with nutrition as well. Ounce per ounce, they have more vitamin C and A than any thing else you could probably grow in your garden. Some authorities highly recommend cayenne as a gargle for a sore throat and as a remedy for a hangover.
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobilis) – The tea prepared from the dried blossoms can reduce fever and inflammation in wounds and slight sprains. It is bitter but soothing and digestive. Like most herb teas, it should be brewed in a covered class or china pot to keep the volatile oils form dissipating. Chamomile can also be used as a bath infusion and as a tea to remove weariness from aching joints. In many European countries today Chamomile tea is used in place of regular tea and coffee. The oil of Chamomile adds fragrance to perfume, cosmetics and blends of tobacco. Some believe the more it is stepped on while growing, the more is will spread. It is most attractive to bees.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – Chives belong to the onion family and have great culinary value. The delicate flavor is best used in uncooked foods, or added at the very end of cooking. Sulfur oil, which is contained in chives, is an antiseptic and helps lower blood pressure, but only in fairly large quantities. The onion (Allium capa) has had various medicinal uses in treating colds, influenza and bronchitis. Also used in the treatment of anemia and as a diuretic.
Clover, Red (Trifolium pretense) – Red clover tea is still used today in folk medicine as a remedy for sore throats, colds, and coughs. Pharmacologists state that no scientific data have been reported to validate these medicinal uses for the plant.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) – The leaves and root have been valued for centuries in England and Europe for their healing properties. The herb is a source of vitamin B-12 and contains calcium and other minerals. The root was dug, peeled and dried to make the medicinal tea to cure broken bones, which gave the plant the folk name “knit-bone”. In recent years a substance called Allantoin has been isolated from comfrey which has drug properties for internal and external disorders. Now used in face creams. Good for impetigo.
Coneflower, Purple or Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) – The American Indians are credited with discovering which part of the plant yielded its medicinal properties: the roots. They contain a substance called caffeic acid glycoside, which reacts with other substances in the body’s cells and facilitates the wound-healing process. In folk medicine, this unidentified substance was used as a “blood purifier” to cure a wide variety of ailments: rheumatism, streptococcus infections, bee stings, poisonous snakebites, dyspepsia, tumors, syphilis, gangrene, eczema, hemorrhoids, and a host of pains and wounds. While it is not found in any modern commercial drugs, many American herbalist still regard Echinacea as one of the very best blood purifiers, as well as an effective antibiotic.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – The juice of the dandelion root is still used by European herbalists to treat diabetes and liver diseases. They regard dandelion as one of the best herbs for building up the blood and for curing anemia. It is said to act as a diuretic. It also is prescribed as a mild laxative, as an aid to digestion, and as an appetite stimulant. Concerns exist over possible carcinogenic action.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) – The ferny green leaves and dried seeds widely used in cooking, especially in pickling. The seeds were used to increase the flow of mother’s milk and in Colonial times housewives made a tea of them to soothe the pains of colic in babies. The name dill is derived from the Saxon verb “dilla”, to lull, because of its sedative action on the nervous system.
Dogwood (Cornus florida) – Once widely used to break a fever and as a substitute for quinine in treating intermittent, or recurring, fevers such as malaria, dogwood bark tea is now regarded chiefly as an appetite stimulant. There is no evidence that any of these uses are effective.
Fennel (Foeniculum officinale) – Has one of the richest histories of any herb. A symbol of flattery and as an emblem of heroism, it was known for centuries before the Christian era. Now widely used in salads, for a seasoning and sauce for seafoods. The seeds are used to spice rolls and other hot breads. A decoction of the leaves is used to take away hiccups. The volatile oil of the seed can be irritating or even dangerous to those with allergies or skin sensitivities.
Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium) – A traditional remedy for reducing fevers, feverfew has also been used as a treatment for nervousness, hysteria, and low spirits. Herbalists recommend a tea made from the leaves to treat colds, indigestion, and diarrhea, and a tea from the flowers to promote menstrual flow. Studies show that feverfew extracts may delay the onset of migraine headaches.
Flax (Linum usitatissimum) - A soothing mucilage obtained from the seed is used externally as a poultice for boils and burns, and internally as a demulcent, soothing inflamed or irritated mucous membranes, as a laxative. Immature seed pods are especially poisonous, and it is possible to overdose when consuming any portion of the flax plant.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) – Perhaps the most famous of all medical plants. Digitalis, the drug known for its powerful effect on the heart is a mixture of glycosides found in the leaves of the plant. In heart failure it is often the best, or the only, life-saving drug. Its primary action is to increase the force of the heart beat; this, in turn increases the amount of blood that the heart is pumping, slows the rate of heart beat and helps the body to dispose of excess fluids, through the kidneys. Used over a long period of time, digitalis may have toxic effects, but for the acute case of heart failure, it is without equal.
Goldenrod (Solidago odora) – Herbalist still recommend a goldenrod leaf tea to alleviate intestinal gas and to promote sweating in cases of fever. Pharmacologists state that its use as a carminative (for intestinal gas) is probably valid. The flowers reportedly have laxative properties, and a tea made from them has been used in treating urinary obstructions.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) – The plant is a source of flavoring for candies, teas, and syrups used in folk medicine as cold and cough remedies. Pharmacologists who have studied the plant conclude that it is probably effective as an expectorant. Horehound is effective as an appetite stimulant because bitters usually stimulate that stomach to produce acids that cause a desire to eat. Horehound may be mildly sedative and laxative if it is taken in quantity.
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) – The fresh root of horseradish has been used by herbalist for internal and external medicine for centuries. The chief active constituent of horseradish root is allylisothiocyanate, or mustard oil. The root also contains an antibiotic substance and vitamin C; the vitamin remains in the root, without weakening, for as long as it is kept in cool storage. Externally, chopped or grated fresh horseradish has been mixed with a little water and applied as a heat-producing and pain-relieving compress for neuralgia, stiffness, and pain in the back of the neck. The classic internal use of horseradish is to treat kidney conditions in which excessive amounts of water are retained. Horseradish is believed to be one of the more potent herbal diuretics.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – Through the centuries herbalist have prescribed a tea of hyssop flower tops as a treatment for respiratory problems. Today herbalist recommend the herb for easing coughs, hoarseness, and sore throat, and for loosening phlegm. Pharmacologists state that hyssop probably does act as a demulcent, this may explain its effectiveness in alleviating respiratory problems.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) – Lemon balm was used like a mild form of Valium in the past centuries. This could be attributed to its pleasant lemony fragrance, which is cherry enough by itself. The oil of lemon balm also seems to inhibit bacteria and viruses.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) – Popular for wedding boquets, the flowers are also an ingredient of perfumes. All parts of the plant are used in various preparations for the treatment of heart disease. Pharmacologist studies prove that the plant does have cardiotonic (heart-strengthening) properties. Investigations do not bear out claims that it is an expectorant and emmenagogue.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflate) – Lobelia is a powerful poison that doesn’t belong on the home medical shelf. Similar to nicotine, it has been used in over-the-counter preparations to help stop smoking, even though there is no indication that it is effective. It is also advertised as a tobacco that will help you reduce weight- not surprisingly, since taking lobelia in any form induces vomiting. Given in the right amount, it opens the bronchioles; however, if too much is administered, it slows respiration and lowers blood pressure drastically. The plant can be safely used externally, and some herbalists recommend it to relieve rheumatism and soothe bruises and bites.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) – Early herbalist recommend Lovage as a diuretic and carminative, and occasionally as a cure for rheumatism, jaundice, malaria, sore throat, and kidney stones. Lovage has proven value for relieving gas pains, and research indicates that it probably acts as a breath deodorizer too. Pharmacologists have not confirmed the value of lovage root tea as a diuretic or for bringing on menstruation.
Marigold (Calendula officinalis) – Marigold is chiefly used as a local remedy. Its action is stimulant and diaphoretic. Given internally, it assists local action and prevents suppuration. It has been asserted that the Marigold flower, rubbed on the affected part, is an admirable remedy for the pain and swelling caused by being stung by an insect. A lotion made from the flowers is most useful for sprains and wounds, and a water distilled from them is good for inflamed and sore eyes. An infusion of the freshly-gathered flowers is employed in fevers, as it gently promotes perspiration and throws out any eruption – a decoction of the flowers is used in rural areas to bring out smallpox and measles.
Mint (Mentha spp.) – Probably the most typical complaints mint cures include indigestion, flatulence, and colic. Taking a few drops of mint oil, sipping hot mint tea, or drinking warm milk heated with fresh or dried peppermint leaves is said to calm an upset stomach or relieve muscle spasms such as menstrual cramps. Other uses for mint include flu or cold, insomnia, fever, headache, toothache, bad breath, chapped hands, and insect bites or stings.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) – Mullein was collected by Colonial housewives to make fomentations, poultices, and the yellow petals were preserved in olive oil to use for earaches. The dried leaves were used as a demulcent, diuretic and as a decoction to produce sweating in treatment of chicken pox and measles. The leaves were also smoked by the Native Americans. The Greeks and Romans dipped dried stalks in wax and used them as candles. The Spanish people of New Mexico smoked the dried leaves as a treatment for asthma. Southerners until recent days boiled the leaves to a pulp and mixed them with lard to treat “summer sores” caused by infected insect bites.
Mustard (Brassica hirta) – The mustard plaster is a time-honored cure for the congested chest. It causes the skin to feel warm and opens the lungs to make breathing easier. Left on the skin too long, it will eventually cause blisters. The same plaster, made from the powdered seeds of black mustard or the milder species, has been used to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, toothache, and other causes of soreness or stiffness. The ingredients that make mustard effective externally also make it an appetite stimulant and a powerful internal irritant. In very small doses, mustard is said to stimulate the mucous membrane of the stomach and increase the secretions of the pancreas, thereby improving digestion. Larger doses of the whole mustard seed will induce vomiting. The seeds’ content of oil and fat make them a good laxative. Because of the risk of overdose, remedies made with this herb should be handles with special care. Over a prolonged period, large doses of black mustard could irritate the stomach and intestines.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – Nasturtiums have a peppery taste. Toss the fresh flowers or young leaves into salads. The flowers make stunning garnishes. Float them in bowls of punch. The pickled flower buds can stand in for imported capers. Cure them in vinegar.
Oregon grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) – The active ingredient that makes Oregon grape such an effective remedy is an alkaloid called berberine. This constituent is found is other powerful healing herbs such as goldenseal. Berberine stimulates bile secretions, and modern herbalist and homeopaths suggest it promotes good liver function as well as purify the spleen and that blood. A tincture of Oregon grape is also used to treat such skin disorders as eczema, acne, herpes, and psoriasis. The purple fruits are said to have a cooling effect when crushed and included in drinks used by herbalist to break fevers. High in vitamin C, the berries were used to prevent and treat scurvy. They can be dried, made into preserves, or converted into a syrup.
Orris (Iris X germanica var. florentina) – The root powder and juice were used as a cathartic and diuretic, and to treat convulsions, coughs, upset stomachs, bites, and “saucie face,” known to us as acne. Orris is no longer prescribed by today’s physicians or herbalist for treating medical conditions.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – Parsley contains large amounts of vitamins, containing vitamin A, more vitamin C per volume than an orange, several B vitamins, calcium, and iron. Beyond the contribution of its vitamins and minerals, parsley is not significant medicinally, although doctors continue to prescribe parsley tea for you female patients with bladder problems. The root has laxative properties. The distinctive odor common to all parts of the parsley plant is the work of volatile oils, one of which, parsley camphor, has been extracted for medicinal use. Pregnant women should avoid parsley oil and refrain from eating large amounts of parsley.
Peony (Paeonia officinalis) – We meet the peony first in mythology, in the legend where a physician, Peon by name, used the roots to heal the wounds of Pluto. Then from China, where the peonies have been grown for a thousand years. They were valued for their healing property as well as their beauty. In the 18th century the peony was taken to Japan and found its way to Europe during the Middle Ages. The early Colonist brought it to America. The “Pioney”, with its many uses, might be called a true panacea. It was considered an omen of good fortune to have a clump growing by the doorway.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) – Long listed as a tonic and diuretic, pipsissewa is still sometimes prescribed by herbalist for rheumatic, kidney, and urinary tract complaints. Scientist who have investigated the plant question pipsissewa’s effectiveness as a diuretic; however, they find that it most likely has value as a mild urinary antiseptic. Pipsissewa extract is a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, particularly root beers.
Plantain (Plantago major) – Platain can be your friend and not just a weed, if you’re stung by a bee, pick a flesh plantain leaf, crush it, and apply it to the welt. The Native Americans found the leaves to be a good treatment for stings and bites. The crushed leaves are also known to stop the itching of poison ivy. The root can be chewed to ease the pain of a toothache.
Pomogranate (Punica granatum) – The plant is of ancient origin and has been in medicinal use for centuries. The fruit as well as the bark has medicinal properties as is popular to eat. The rind contains large amounts of tannin which is used as medicine for tightening human skin, and is also valued in the tanning of leather. A preparation similar to hemlock is obtained from the bark and is used as a vermifuge. Grenadine made from the juice of pomegranates makes an excellent syrup to mix with other drinks.
Poppy () – Poppies have been used to combat pain of most kinds, nervousness, coughing, and soreness of muscles.
Prickly Ash/ Devil’s Walking Stick/ Angelica Tree (Aralia spinosum) – Modern herbals specify the bark and berries of prickly ash as a treatment for rheumatism and as a stimulant for blood circulation. Researchers, however, question the validity of the medicinal claims made for the plant.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Rosemary has long been included in many herbalists’ stores and remedies. Herbal physicians have prescribed an infusion of the leaves as a tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, stomachic, emmenagogue, expectorant, and cholagogue. They have recommended it in the treatment of depression, headaches, and muscle spasms. Applied externally, an ointment made from the oil of rosemary is reputed to benefit suffers of rheumatism, sore, eczema, bruises, and wounds.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) - Rue is still used in some folk medicines to relieve gas pains and colic, to improve appetite and digestion, and to promote menstruation. There is some doubt about the safety of rue as a medicine, however. Large doses can cause violent gastrointestinal pains and vomiting, mental confusion, prostration, convulsive twitching. It should never be taken by pregnant women as it can trigger abortion; animal experiments have shown that several rue extracts may accomplish this through their action on the uterine muscles. Overexposure to sunlight after ingesting rue can result in severe sunburn, and handling the fresh herb or its juice can cause redness, swelling, and even blistering of the skin, not unlike a poison ivy rash.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) – Root tea was used by the American Indians for “female,” kidney, and stomach ailments, and as a laxative. Smashed plant (leaf poultice) can be applied to insect bites, stings, and cancers.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – Herbalists have long employed an ointment made from St. John’s Wort as an astringent for bruises, skin irritations, insect bites and other wounds. Native Americans used a tea brewed from the plant for tuberculosis and other respiratory aliments. Plant extracts have exhibited anti-inflammatory activity in laboratory animals, and in test tube experiments extracts have been active against the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. The dye does double duty as an antidepressant in humans. The plant contains hypericin, a photosensitizing substance that reacts with light to cause skin burns in light-skinned persons.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – Present-day herbalist sometimes recommend sage tea for excessive sweating, for nervous disorders, to reduce a nursing mother’s milk flow when she is weaning her baby, and as a carminative (a substance that relieves gas pains). They also specify its external use as a gargle and lotion for wounds. Research confirms only sage’s effectiveness as a carminative and, possibly, for lowering a fever. Today the main use of the plant is as a culinary herb.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) – Although the plants volatile oils are toxic, sassafras preparations are safe for external use. The root bark contains antiseptic constituents, making it an effective remedy for skin wounds and sores. It has been recommended for relief from the itching of poison ivy and poison oak. The gummy core of the branches was once used to soothe tired eyes.
Scented Geranium (Pelargonium spp.) – Not much has been made of the medicinal properties of these plants. Folklore has it that scented geraniums work as excellent astringents, and some herbals profess that they are valuable in the treatment of dysentery and ulcers of the stomach and upper intestines. One headache remedy still in circulation is to bathe the scalp and forehead in geranium vinegar. Research in these folk remedies is limited, however. Several studies have shown that scented geranium oil can (the pure essential oil) can cause contact dermatitis, a rasklike condition of the skin, and it should probably be avoided by those with sensitive skin.
Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum) – Known as the lovers’ plant, lad’ love, and maid’s ruin, southernwood was once used in aphrodisiac potions and perfumes. Medicinally, southernwood has been used as an emmenagogue, stimulant-tonic, diuretic, antiseptic, and as a close relative to wormwood, as a worming medicine. It has also been used against tumors and cancers. Southernwood has an essential oil, absinthol, that is effective against insects, intestinal worms, and some germs.
Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed/ Gravel root ( Eupatorium maculatum) – Leaf and root tea used traditionally to eliminate stones in the urinary tract, and treat urinary incontinence in children; and dropsy. Also used for gout, rheumatism, impotence, uterine prolapse, asthma, and chronic coughs. Homeopathically used for gall bladder and urinary ailments.
Sweet shrub/ Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) – The Cherokee Indians used the root or bark to make a tea that was used as a strong emetic, diuretic for kidney and bladder ailments. Cold tea was used as eye drops for failing sight. Settlers also used the tea as a calming tonic for malaria.
Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) – Both Western and Asian doctors have used sweet flag for centuries. During that time, physicians used it for stomach cramps and gas and as a tonic and stimulant. Its short term effects seemed beneficial; only in recent years have we been able to evaluate statistically the long-term effects as a possible carcinogen.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) – Tansy’s use as a folk medicine is on hold because of questions of its safety. Certainly, it is not one for the amateur pharmacist. Tansy was used by the Native Americans to induce abortion, and this treatment was potentially fatal. The signs of poisoning include a fast, weak pulse, spasm, and foaming at the mouth. The leaves were used externally to encourage the fertility of the sexual organs and to relieve sprains and headaches. Added to bathwater, the herb was thought to ease sore limbs and reduce fever. The dried leaves are an effective insect repellent. In folk medicine today, tansy still serves as a vermifuge (to expel worms), an emmenagogue (to bring on menstruation), and an antispasmodic. Pharmacologist studying the plant for its medicinal value find some evidence for its use as an antispasmodic but little or no evidence for its use as a vermifuge or an emmenagogue.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – Thyme takes its place in herbal medicine with other old-fashioned “simples,” like sage and lavender, as a treatment for a variety of ailments. IT has served as a carminative, vermifuge, rubefacient, and antiseptic. Thyme is particularly beneficial in quieting gastrointestinal complaints, and it was boiled in wine for a digestive drink. A tea has been prescribed for shortness of breath and congested lungs. The Greeks used thyme for nervous conditions, as an antiseptic, and as a fumigator. Apparently, the herb has antispasmodic qualities that make it effective in relieving asthma, whooping cough, and stomach cramps. Herbalists have prescribed a cold infusion of the entire plant for dyspepsia; a warm infusion was recommended for hysteria, flatulence, colic, headache, and dysmenorrheal. Inflammations and sores may be soothed by a poultice made by mashing the leaves into a paste. The essential oil of thyme is thymol. If taken in pure form, it can cause such adverse symptoms as dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, headache, vomiting, and muscular weakness. It can also have a depressing effect on the heart, respiration, and body temperature, and it can overstimulate the thyroid gland. For internal use take thyme-based preparations in moderation. The oil may even irritate sensitive skin, so proceed cautiously if you apply a poultice of the leaves.
Tropical Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) – Tropical periwinkle received official status as a medical plant only in recent years. Vinblastine sulfate, made from tropical periwinkle, is used to treat Hodgkin’s disease and choriocarcinoma, a type of skin or lymph cancer. An alkaloid in the plant, vincristine, is employed in childhood leukemias and breast cancer. Administered together in a test, the two substances produced beneficial results in 43% of patients with malignant lymphoma. In addition, a vinblastine sulfate ointment has been used to treat psoriasis. Vincristine and vinblastine sulfates are both very potent drugs. The former is neurotoxic, damaging the nervous system, while the latter decreases the number of white blood cells. Tropical periwinkle should never be used without medical supervision. An overdose can be fatal.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – Valerian has long been used as a stomachic, antispasmodic, carminative, and antidote to the plague. It has also been used since ancient times in the treatment of epilepsy. Combined with cinchona, valerian yielded a medicine to treat fevers. A number of scientific studies have shown that active ingredients of valerian, the valepotriates, do act as tranquilizers in small animals and humans. Valerian does have a negative side. Large doses may cause vomiting, stupor, and dizziness, and continued use may lead to depression.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) – Native Americans highly valued tea made from wild ginger root for indigestion, coughs, colds, heart conditions, “female ailments,” throat ailments, nervous conditions, and cramps. Wild ginger is known to relieve gas, promote sweating, expectorant; used for fever, colds, and sore throats. It contains the anti-tumor compound aristolochic acid.
Winter savory (Satureja montana) – Winter savory has been used as a remedy for gas pains, as an appetite stimulant, and as an antiseptic gargle. Researchers confirm that winter savory’s uses as a carminative (an agent that relieves gas pains) and as an antiseptic gargle are valid. The crumbled dried leaves are a fragrant seasoning, making some foods more digestible.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) – A tea steeped from the leaves and bark has long been employed for ulcers and hemorrhoids. The Native Americans drank the tea as a general tonic and used it as a rinse for mouth and throat irritations. They also found relief from feverish colds, coughing, and heavy phlegm in witch hazel steam baths. Witch hazel compresses were used to treat headaches, inflamed eyes, skin irritations, insect bites, burns, and infections. An extract was applied to strained muscles and arthritic joints. The leaves, twigs, and bark all contain tannic acid, gallic acid, and volatile oils. The liquid or dry extract of witch hazel has been recommended as a treatment for hemorrhoids.
Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) – Wormwood was used as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, sedative, stomachic, tonic, and stimulant. It has been given to those suffering from poor circulation, rheumatism, fever, colds, and jaundice, and to women in labor. The bitter herb has long been used as an insect repellant. The active ingredient of wormwood is thujone, which in large amounts is a convulsant poison and narcotic. Compresses soaked in wormwood tea are recommended for irritations, bruises, and sprains. The leaves and flowering tops of wormwood was the main ingredient used in the making of Absinthe, a green liqueur. Absinthe was an addicting and deteriorating drink that led to serious mental disturbances, to seizures, and sometimes to death. Among the lovers of absinthe was the impressionist painter Vincent van Gough. Allegedly, van Gough was whacked out on absinthe when he cut off his ear to send to a lady friend.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) – At least 46 Native American tribes used yarrow, and they found 28 ailments that responded to the herb. Yarrows have been prescribed for just about every aliment at one time or another, but certain medical uses recur throughout history. And chemical analysis has detected some compounds that might explain, and validate, theses applications. For centuries yarrows have been used on wounds, and in the 1950’s an alkaloid from the plant was found to have some ability to make blood clot faster. As far as yarrow’s alleged ability to keep wounds from becoming inflamed, a volatile oil called azulene and related compounds have show anti-inflammatory activity. Research from the 1960’s indicates that yarrows show some antispasmodic effects, perhaps because of substances called flavanoids. The plant also has salicylic acid derivatives (salicylic acid is aspirin), and these may account for its use in treating fevers and reducing pain. Finally the plant contains thujone, which in sufficient quantities can cause abortions. Perhaps this explains the plant’s use in treating various women’s complaints.