We live in an amazing time, don’t we? There’s boundless information about anything we want to learn about—right at our fingertips! Sorting through this mass amount of information can take some time and effort because for every solid, evidence-based articles there are five that are overstated or bogus. The result of this? Google is both an amazing tool to educate yourself and an endless vortex of conflicting information.
This is particularly true in the world of herbal medicines and natural health remedies. Because so many herbs have been used for centuries in traditional medical systems—like ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Native American medicine—the evidence on many herbs is largely anecdotal.
But that is not always the case! As a functional medicine practitioner, my job is to fuse the best of both ancient and modern medicine to provide the most evidence-based yet natural tools to enhance one’s wellness. Here are five of my favorite well-researched herbs that you can incorporate into your routine:
This popular herb has been used for centuries for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Most of ginger’s health benefits are believed to come specifically from the bioactive compound gingerol.
While ginger can help with a variety of ailments, the majority of studies surrounding ginger focus on its ability to calm digestive distress and soothe nausea. When it comes to nausea, studies have actually shown that ginger is just as effective as the anti-nausea medication Dramamine with fewer, if any, side effects. For those with gut problems, ginger has carminative and antiemetic abilities that help break down gas and support the proper function of the digestive system, including bowel movements. Since it’s also anti-inflammatory, it can work to calm an irritated gut.
The great thing about ginger is that you can easily incorporate it into your daily life. You can add fresh ginger to basically any recipes, or it can be taken in tea form before and after meals. If you’re a fan of ginger, you could also consider adding galangal broth into your routine. Galangal is another root part of the same rhizome family of plants as ginger with a similar, yet more potent, flavor. Galangal broth is a great vegan alternative to bone broth.
Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with adaptogens—the kingdom of plant and herbal medicines that can help restore balance to almost every area of the body—and rhodiola is no exception. Often referred to as the stress calmer, Rhodiola rosea is a flowering plant whose root is used to help reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and enhance sleep quality.
For my patients dealing with adrenal fatigue, this is a great choice as it works to support your sympathetic nervous system—the stress control center of your body—by regulating cortisol levels. Because of its assistance in overcoming fatigue, it’s often used specifically as an energy booster. In fact, it’s been shown to help enhance endurance in athletes.
Because it is such a powerful energy booster, it can be overstimulating for sensitive individuals, so being mindful of dosage is important for those just trying rhodiola for the first time. Make sure to listen to your body and adjust dosage or stop if necessary.
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3. Lemon Balm
For being easy to find and having such a light, refreshing flavor, lemon balm packs an extremely intense punch against viruses. Also known as Melissa officinalis, this lemon-scented member of the mint family is a next-level antiviral. It has been shown to be particularly effective at fighting the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1)—the same group of viruses that cause cold sores, mono, chickenpox, shingles, and chronic fatigue (Epstein-Barr virus).
In one randomized, double-blind trial of 116 patients with cold sores, researchers saw that 96 percent of those who used lemon balm extract five times a day on their cold sores had a complete clearing after eight days. Another study using lemon balm essential oil had similar results, with participants showing improvements within 72 hours.
With the constant onslaught of toxins in our everyday lives, it’s important to make regular detoxing a priority and finding ways to make our lives a cleanse. Since the rise of autoimmune conditions can be correlated to the rise in modern-day toxin use, it’s more important than ever to incorporate regular detoxing protocols into your day.
To many of us, dandelions are just the annoying weeds that sprout up in our yards every year. But for those looking to enhance their health, dandelions are one of the best tools we have for supporting our detoxification pathways. For starters, they’re packed with B vitamins, which act as fuel for methylation—your body’s biochemical superhighway that controls your ability to detox. Additionally, dandelion supports your liver, your body’s main detox organ due to its polysaccharide content.
It seems like we could all use a little immune boost, especially during cold and flu season, and no one does it better than astragalus. This root adaptogen is both antibacterial and antiviral and has the ability to boost immune-regulating T-cells. It also works to restore balance to Th1 and Th2 pro-inflammatory cytokines, which need to be balanced for your immune system to function properly.
So there you have it! Five herbs that are definitely worthy of adding to your routine and turning to when you need to fend off stress, detox, or give your immune system a boost.