When getting into holistic health, a plant-based diet, or natural approaches to wellness, we often want to continue exploring, to go deeper, and learn more. For many of us, that leads us to healing herbs.
But healing and medicinal herbs represent a vast world, requiring years of study, training, reading research studies, interacting with plants and herbs, using them on ourselves and with clients, and feeling the effects that result. There is an endless world to explore, especially when you begin to realize there is only a little overlap among the extensive herbal pharmacopoeias of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Western herbalism.
Nonetheless, there are a handful of herbs that everyone should know, because not only are they easily added to food, but they address many of our most common and pressing ailments.
As a health and wellness practitioner trained in Eastern medicine and herbs (Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda) and now learning Western herbs, I find the same same complaints coming up over and over again, primarily around digestion, detox, energy, liver and sexual health, and everything inflammation-related.
Since I’m a firm believer in holistic health, I always advise starting with a whole food diet and managing key lifestyle factors (like sufficient sleep and stress relief). Nonetheless, I often get asked ‘what herb would you recommend for this?’ or ‘what herb should I take for that?’
5 Healing Herbs Everyone Should Know
Turmeric, while thought of as merely a spice, it is actually a powerful medicinal herb used in both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Turmeric is a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. It may help prevent cancer, as well as alleviate some digestive and menstrual complaints.
Perhaps most importantly is turmeric’s ability to reduce inflammation; inflammation has been linked to joint pain, acne and other skin issues, allergies, and even metabolic syndrome.
It is easy to add turmeric to cooking with vegetables, curry, soups, stir-fry and more, or else look for the Curcumin longa extract in capsule form.
Another seemingly simple spice, ginger is also used in both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda primarily for digestive issues. Ginger can be used to prevent or reduce motion sickness, nausea, arthritis, the common cold (and cold limbs) and to improve digestion and energy levels.
It is my go-to remedy to stopping a cold from coming on. You can boil fresh ginger root into a spicy warming infusion, grate the root into salad dressings, slice it into stir-fry, use it to tenderize meat, sprinkle the dried powder onto squash before cooking, or blend it into juices for a little kick.
Sometimes called wolfberries or gouqi, these bright reddish-orange raisin-like dried fruit are actually an adaptogen, meaning they help the body better cope with stress, balancing and normalizing endocrine function, while doing no harm. They help to nourish and energize, regenerate liver cells, support healthy gut flora, lower LDL cholesterol, and protect the eyes.
They also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. You can eat goji berries like raisins, add them to tea or blend them into smoothies, or rehydrate them for use in salads, stir-fry, and rice.
Native to Peru, Maca is a root vegetable used as both food and medicine. Maca supports energy, stamina, memory, athletic performance, the immune system, and balances the hormones. It may also act as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer, encouraging sexual energy in both genders.
Maca is most commonly found in a capsule or powder; the powder can be added to smoothies or mixed into any food that doesn’t require heating, such as no-bake desserts.
Silybum marianum is a potent liver protector and rejuvenator of liver cells. For anyone who drinks alcohol, regularly takes pain killers, or is exposed to heavy metals, milk thistle should be a regular supplement in their life, as it can help prevent the damaging effects of these substances on the liver.
It may also act as an antioxidant and reduce inflammation. You’ll find milk thistle seeds in capsules and tinctures, or you can add the ground seeds to smoothies.
These herbs are all generally safe, easy to find and can be thought of as food supplements and incorporated into cooking (or smoothies). Because of this, they top my list of most recommend herbs.