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A Quick Guide to Medicinal Plants

Medicinal Plants

If you’ve been in the Kratom Spot community for long, you know we’re big believers in the power of Plants, Not Pills. And we’re certainly not alone! Medicinal plants have been used for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of ailments.

And while manufactured medicines hold the spotlight in the modern age, the medicinal properties of traditional medicine remedies may still be an attractive option for many health concerns. Could medicinal plants be the right option for you?

In this article, we cover some of the most common and well-established medicinal plants. From their traditional origins to their modern uses and reputation, this quick crash course will get you up to speed on some of the standouts of traditional medicinal plants. Think of it as a follow-up to our guide to the Top 7 Edible Tree Leaves, but with a more therapeutic bent. Let’s jump in!

#1: Chamomile

Medicinal Parts of the Plant: Flowers

Uses: Nausea, anxiety, anti-inflammatory

Taken as: Tea, capsule, topical

Chamomile is widely used throughout the world for a wide variety of purposes, though those purposes change from region to region. In the US, chamomile is most often brewed into a tea used for relaxation and its anti-anxiety benefits. Many European countries have historically used chamomile as an anti-inflammatory, often in topical form.

Using chamomile in these ways is widely supported by both anecdotal evidence and a number of research studies.

While chamomile is recognized as being generally safe by the FDA, it does have some complications that are worth keeping in mind. First, chamomile may cause drowsiness, particularly if taken alongside other medications that do so. It may also interfere with how the body absorbs certain medications, so patients taking prescription meds should definitely consult their doctor before taking chamomile.

#2: Ginseng

Medicinal Parts of the Plant: Roots

Uses: Boost energy, reduce stress, lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol

Taken as: Root shavings, garnish, capsule, powder

The term “Ginseng” actually refers to at least 11 related, though slightly different, medicinal plants. The chemical makeup and uses for each strain vary, but all are traditionally lauded for the same core medicinal purposes. These include a boost to general vitality, reduced blood sugar and stress, and even (according to some) improved sexual function in men.

However, most of these claims are poorly researched and not currently backed by clinical studies. What’s more, the existing research has come under scrutiny for being of questionable quality. However, ginseng has many avid devotees who swear by the usefulness of this medicinal plant.

Ginseng is considered safe by the FDA but may cause side effects in some users. These include high blood pressure and elevated heart rate.

Ginseng can interfere with several medications, including warfarin, heparin, several anti-inflammatory medications, estrogens, digoxin, and corticosteroids. Patients taking any of these should consult their physician before beginning to take ginseng.

#3: Ginkgo

Medicinal Parts of the Plant: Leaf

Uses: Improving memory and cognitive function, reducing the severity of asthma and bronchitis, reducing fatigue

Taken as: Leaf extract

Ginkgo is one of the most famous medicinal plants in American discourse. In specific communities, it is praised as a marvelous tool for improving memory, cognition, and general function. In others, practitioners use the active ingredients in its leaves to treat several common respiratory ailments.

Research into ginkgo’s effectiveness is mixed. On the one hand, handfuls of studies have found that it has some limited impact on the ailments for which it is traditionally used. On the other, several recent research reviews argue that the evidence is unclear, and there is no conclusive evidence of ginkgo’s efficacy.

Most sources agree that moderate use of ginkgo leaf extracts is generally safe. However, only the leaves should be used. Ginkgo seeds (and potentially other portions of the plant) contain “ginkgo toxin,” which can cause seizures or death.

Some limited studies have suggested that ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding. Ginkgo should not be taken alongside anticoagulants, anti-inflammatory medicines, tricyclic antidepressants, or anticonvulsant medications.

#4: Saint John’s Wort

Medicinal Parts of the Plant: Flower, leaf

Uses: Anti-depressant

Taken as: Pill, capsule

Saint John’s Wort has been used for centuries to improve mood and treat several mental health conditions. Most notably, it has often been used as a mild anti-depressant and is often lauded for its ability to improve users’ general outlook.

Taking Saint John’s Wort as a treatment for mild depression has been backed and supported by a number of clinical studies. However, reviews of the available studies suggest that it is not consistently effective, especially for cases of severe depression.

Researchers suggest that Saint John’s Wort should never replace conventional care for depression.

This medicinal plant can weaken the effect of several traditional medications, including birth control pills, digoxin, oxycodone, some HIV drugs, some cancer medications, and warfarin. Always consult your doctor before taking St. John’s Wort, especially if you are taking any of these medications.

#5: Garlic

Medicinal Parts of the Plant: Bulb

Uses: Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective

Taken as: Cooking ingredient, capsule

Although this aromatic bulb is better known as a cooking ingredient, garlic is also a beloved medicinal plant with a wide variety of time-honored applications in traditional medicine. These include reducing swelling and inflammation, fighting infections, and improving general heart health.

What’s more, these uses are well-established by comprehensive clinical research. A number of research studies have demonstrated that garlic has a significant impact on heart health, can serve as a potent anti-oxidant, and offers a host of other general wellness benefits.

For garlic lovers, the good news only gets better. The FDA considers garlic safe even in large quantities, and it does not commonly cause side effects for most users.

Although it does not commonly interact with many medications, large amounts of garlic can increase the risk of bleeding. As such, it should not be taken with blood thinners like warfarin. Many dentists also recommend avoiding garlic before dental procedures for the same reason.

#6: Echinacea

Medicinal Parts of the Plant: Leaf, stalk, root

Uses: Cold and flu prevention, treating infections

Taken as: Capsule, tea

A favorite of holistic wellness practitioners everywhere, ginseng is commonly used to treat and prevent the flu, colds, and treat a variety of upper respiratory infections. Available in capsule form or aromatic teas, it’s a staple of medicinal plants used throughout the world.

Studies support that echinacea may reduce the severity of upper respiratory infections. While a number of studies have looked into its efficacy for preventing the cold and flu, the findings have been inconclusive.

Echinacea is generally recommended only for short-to-moderate duration use. Some studies suggest that long-term use of echinacea or its active ingredients may negatively affect the user’s immune system.

Allergic reactions to echinacea are not uncommon. This is especially true for users allergic to members of the daisy family, including marigolds, chrysanthemums, ragweed, and common daisies.

Medicinal Plants, In Closing

Are medicinal plants a good option for you? Certainly, the medicinal properties of these plants’ active ingredients make for some compelling uses. It’s no wonder that holistic medicine remains so popular throughout the world.

What’s more, this crash-course on medicinal plants has only scratched the surface! There are thousands of medicinal plants out there, valued in many cultures for their wide variety of benefits.

Much like kratom itself, these plants offer users the opportunity to take control of their health and wellness, embrace the power of Mother Nature, and improve their quality of life. One thing’s for sure: with a bit of research and practice, the world of medicinal plants opens whole new frontiers for your health, happiness, and welfare.