10 Herbal Remedies That Really Work
Use it for: Memory, inflammation, and PMS
Primarily known as a memory booster, research also shows that Ginkgo can help improve thinking skills in people of all ages, reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and relieve symptoms of PMS like breast tenderness.
Is it safe? Generally, yes. Ginkgo can be a blood thinner so people with clotting disorders or who use medications that slow blood clotting (including Ibuprofen) should steer clear. Common side effects include upset stomach and headaches, but these are generally mild.
Use it for: Diabetes and pre-diabetes
This tasty seed often found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines packs a powerful antioxidant punch. People swear by fenugreek for helping with everything from PMS to appetite loss to menopause, but there's only research to support its ability to reduce blood glucose, which is great for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Is it safe? Yes. This seasoning has been used in cooking for thousands of years and as long as you're using it prudently (don't swallow an entire bottle of the stuff), there are no scary side effects. One thing to note: Historically, fenugreek has been used to induce childbirth, so women should be cautious when taking fenugreek during pregnancy.
Use it for: Sore throat, IBS, heartburn
There's a reason your mom used to hand you a warm cup of peppermint tea to help soothe your sore throat or upset stomach. Research shows that peppermint can help soothe symptoms of common illnesses, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and heartburn. Applying peppermint oil to your forehead can also help relieve tension headaches. It's not a miracle worker, but if you enjoy mint, the comfort factor alone makes this one worth a shot.
Is it safe? Yes. While the research is inconclusive for many uses, there aren't really any side effects and most people find it delicious.
Use it for: Diarrhea and digestive issues
You can find lactobacillus in the herbal section of your local health food store, even though it's technically a bacteria and not a plant. Research shows this superstar supplement is very effective for treating diarrhea and digestive issues brought on by taking antibiotics. It can also help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and yeast infections.
Is it safe? Yes. Whether you take lactobacillus supplements or get it from eating yogurt, kefir, or other fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, the health benefits are great and side effects—usually gas, bloating, or indigestion—are generally mild.
Use it for: Urinary tract infections, dental plaque
Cranberry is most commonly used for prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs), but not all cranberry is created equal. While drinking cranberry juice seems to help prevent UTIs, so far it doesn't seem to be effective in treating a UTI once you have it. Other proven benefits include decreasing your risk for stomach ulcers and reducing dental plaque.
Is it safe? Yes. Pass the cranberry sauce to brighten up your smile this holiday season. Or, if you're prone to UTIs, take the tart berry in pill form.
Use it for: Heart health and boosting immunity
Coenzyme Q-10 has long had a reputation for fighting the effects of heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and migraines, as well as helping boost your immune system in general—all supported by the existing research. Recently however, the coenzyme has been touted as an athletic enhancer. Unfortunately science says this one's a myth.
Is it safe? Generally, yes. You should avoid coenzyme Q-10 if you're taking blood thinners or red yeast. The most common side effect is mild upset stomach.
Use it for: Preventing the common cold
As the temperature drops, more Americans start to take echinacea to bolster their immune system. While studies on the supplement's efficacy show conflicting results, it's likely due to variation in the contents of product tests. One species in particular, Echinacea purpurea, works best.
Is it safe? Generally, yes. There's no harm in trying it unless you're allergic to ragweed, have an autoimmune disorder, or are taking drugs that can hurt the liver.
Use it for: Varicose veins
Varicose veins are high on the list of things women dread most about aging. Beyond aesthetics, poor blood flow in the legs can also cause pain, itchiness, and swelling. But horse chestnut seed extract can help! Research shows that this herb helps treat painful varicose veins just as well as wearing compression stockings.
Is it safe? Yes. The extract is safe when properly processed, but raw horse chestnut seeds, leaves, bark, and flowers contain a chemical called esculin that is toxic.
Use it for: Sleeping problems
Does counting sheep really work for anyone? Give it a rest—literally. Multiple studies have found that taking melatonin 30-60 minutes before bedtime decreases sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), increases the feeling of sleepiness, and may increase the duration of sleep.
Is it safe? Yes. Since melatonin is used as a sleep aid, you should not drive or operate machinery within four hours of taking the supplement.
Use it for: Stomach problems
Ginger is a multi-talented herb. Beyond adding distinct flavor to your food, it's also used to treat various types of stomach problems, including motion sickness, morning sickness, gas, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting after surgery, and appetite loss.
Is it safe? Generally, yes. Ginger interacts with medications that slow blood clotting so be sure to check with your doctor first if you take any anti-clotting meds, even aspirin.
Remember: Even though they are natural, supplements can interact with other herbs and prescription drugs. If you decide to try one, consult with your doctor first.