Ever meandered through the pharmacy aisles of Whole Foods, Sprouts, or even Trader Joe’s and wished you knew more about the various supplements and which ones could possibly benefit you? Herbal/dietary supplements (also called botanicals) are plants used for their therapeutic properties, and the roots of herbalism go back to the beginning of humanity. The following list contains some of the more popular herbs that are generally accepted to have psychoactive and/or medicinal properties with positive effects in humans:
• Black Cohosh: This herb first became popular for treating women’s health issues in Europe in the mid-1950s. Commonly used for premenstrual syndrome, painful menstruation, and menopause, it has also been considered beneficial in the bone loss condition of osteoporosis.
• Chamomile: This gentle herb is suggested as a muscle relaxant for muscular pains and menstrual cramps, as well as the digestive issues of nausea, indigestion, and bloating. Taken at bedtime, it calms the senses and induces sleep. Don’t use chamomile if you have allergies to plants such as ragweed, and check with your doctor before taking chamomile if you also take anti-depressants.
• Evening Primrose: Because this herb is a dietary source of essential fatty acids, it has been helpful in conditions such as tender breasts, PMS, menopause symptoms of hot flashes, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and hyperactivity in children. Fatty acids have additionally been linked to decreasing inflammation in the conditions of arthritis and eczema. Caution is advised if you have diabetes, alcohol dependence, liver disease, or schizophrenia.
• Ginkgo Biloba: Used for improving blood flow by widening vessels, Ginkgo Biloba is known as the “brain herb” and is recommended for improving poor memory in dementia and Alzheimer’s. Ginkgo is also used to treat dizziness, ringing in ears, leg cramps, and circulation problems, as well as slowing the progression of glaucoma and macular degeneration.
• St. John’s Wort: Also known as Hypericum, this herb is widely and successfully used for treating dysthymia (mild depression), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One of the best herbs for the entire nervous system, hypericum is also recommended for anxiety, tension, fitful sleep, bed-wetting, and sleepwalking.
• Valerian: A powerful natural sedative, Valerian will not cause dependence or a “hangover” feeling in the morning. The herb can be used as a sedative in all sorts of nervous conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, migraines, palpitations, and breathlessness. Valerian is an excellent remedy for nervous dyspepsia, stomach cramps, and irritable bowel, and is also helpful for menstrual cramps.
For most people, herbal medicine provides a gentle and effective way of maintaining health and relieving symptoms; however, dangerous side effects or interactions may occur, and the FDA is not required to review these products for safety or effectiveness. Therefore, it’s very important that you talk with your doctor or pharmacist before using any herbal medicine, particularly if you:
• Are pregnant
• Are breast-feeding
• Are taking any other medicines (prescription, herbal, or over-the-counter)
• Have any major health condition (such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, heart disease or HIV/AIDS).
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Deborah Vogt Purscell, Psy.D., is a school psychologist and nutritional consultant. Comments and suggestions are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.