Sage, sarsaparilla, saw palmetto, senna, skullcap, slippery elm, spirulina, squaw vine, St. John’s wort, stevia, stinging nettle,

Medicinal Herbs S

Medicinal Herbs S

© 2006 Wellness Clubs of

Sage, sometimes called red sage, has been used worldwide for centuries, not only in cooking, but as a medicinal herb. Its very name is derived from a latin term meaning “to be in good health.” It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it beneficial in infectious diseases. It reduces nearly all bodily secretions including perspiration, saliva, and even breast milk. One of its constituents, thujone, is effective in helping the body expel worms from the intestinal tract. It is considered a tonic for the nervous system and eases smooth muscle spasms. It contains phytoestrogens and is useful in easing menstrual cramping and improving menstrual regularity. Some have reported that it lessens muscular tremor.

Sarsaparilla grows throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. The root is used medicinally. Sarsaparilla purifies the urinary tract and was widely used as a treatment for venereal diseases including syphilis and gonorrhea. It was a popular ingredient in sodas during the days of the “Wild West” and it is said that cowboys frequently ordered sarsaparilla drinks after visiting local brothels. Sarsaparilla stimulates the production of testosterone and progesterone and has a reputation of enhancing libido. It is also considered beneficial in clearing heavy metals from the blood.

Saw Palmetto berries grow on a small palm tree native to the Southern Atlantic Coast of the United States. The berries contain fatty acids called liposterols, which have hormone-like activity. Saw palmetto is best known for its ability to decrease the symptoms associated with prostatic enlargement. It does so by blocking estrogen activity in the gland, which facilitates the elimination of dihydrotestosterone, the chemical that is largely responsible for enlarging the gland. Saw palmetto is also helpful in soothing mucous membranes and decreasing nasal discharge. It is helpful in balancing metabolism, improving digestion, increasing appetite, and promoting weight gain.

Senna leaves and pods have been used as a laxative for centuries. Senna’s laxative effects appear to be due to its irritation of the lining of the large intestine and its ability to block fluid absorption, which leaves the stools softer as they move through the colon. Senna should not be used for more than ten consecutive days, however, as repeated use may aggravate constipation by weakening the muscle tone of the colon. Senna is not recommended during pregnancy or while breast-feeding and it should not be given to children. It is contraindicated when Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, intestinal obstructions, and abdominal pain are present.

Skullcap is so named because the base of its flower has the appearance of a helmet or skull. It is valued for its ability to calm anxiety. It has been used in formulations used to ease premenstrual and menopausal symptoms and has also been used to treat seizure disorders. Extracts have antibacterial properties and are effective against the influenza virus. Skullcap is beneficial in managing sleep disorders, improving circulation, strengthening heart muscles, relieving skeletal muscle cramps, and reducing the effects of stress. The herb has also been helpful in reducing symptoms during withdrawal from barbiturates.

Slippery Elm has a very high mucilage content, which accounts for its ability to soothe irritated mucus membranes. Its primary use is in easing the symptoms of sore throats and bronchial infections. It promotes increased mucus flow, which provides protection for the lining of the respiratory tract. Slippery elm is also useful in disorders of the digestive tract and is said to ease inflammation in the urinary tract as well. The inner bark, which is used medicinally, has also been used as a food. The American Continental Army is said to have survived on slippery elm bark when food supplies ran out at Valley Forge. It is safe for use in pregnancy and has been added to infant feedings as a nutritive and milk substitute.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in salt water lakes and ponds, most commonly in Central and South America and Africa. It is a rich source of chlorophyll, a blood and bowel cleanser. It is high in protein and it is one of the few non-meat sources of vitamin B-12. Spirulina is considered one of the most nutritious substances available.

Squaw Vine was used by Native American and pioneer women as a means of improving labor and easing childbearing. It was taken for several weeks prior to delivery and was believed to decrease the likelihood of a premature birth. It is still used in formulations to ease menstrual discomfort. It is also said to ease nervous exhaustion and irritability. Squaw vine is extremely safe and has no known contraindications.

St. John’s Wort is one of the most widely recognized herbs in the United States, primarily because of its popularity as an antidepressant and mood elevator. Its name, however, originates from the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem who used it to treat battlefield wounds. It is still highly beneficial in promoting wound healing when used in topical preparations. Its scientific name hypericum means “over an apparition” because the plant’s strong odor was believed to be effective in warding off evil spirits. The primary active constituent is believed to be hypericum, which produces a blood-red color. In addition to its ability to improve depression, St. John’s Wort has antiviral properties that have made it popular among people with HIV. St. John’s Wort is not innocuous. It is capable of causing photosensitivity leading to a rash on sun-exposed areas. It can cause birth defects and should not be taken by women who may become pregnant. It may block the effectiveness of birth control pills. It has also been reported to interact adversely with anticoagulants, antidepressants, seizure medications, anti-rejection drugs and certain drugs used to treat HIV infections.

Stevia is indigenous to the rain forests of Brazil and Paraguay, but due to its popularity as a sweetener it is now grown in Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China. It is estimated that stevia accounts for half of the total sweetener market in Japan. It has been used by South American natives as a sweetener for centuries, but its use in the rest of the world was limited until a Chinese method of herb preparation was found to eliminate the herb’s objectionable aftertaste. Unlike refined sugar, stevia contains nutrients such as chromium that are required to process sugar. It has been used since pre-Columbian times to treat diabetes in South American countries. It is safe for use in diabetics, in whom it may improve blood sugar control. Stevia has also been found to prevent dental plaque and improve bleeding gums. Citing studies demonstrating DNA damage caused by stevia the FDA has refused to approve its use as a sweetener in the United States. Those studies, however, have since been shown to have been flawed. Over 500 studies now document its safety.

Stinging Nettle has anti-inflammatory effects and has been used to ease arthritic symptoms. It is extremely effective in easing the symptoms of hay fever and other seasonal allergies. When used in shampoos and hair tonics it is said to prevent hair loss, promote hair growth, and support return of natural hair color. Mild stomach upset has been reported, but this is a rare occurrence.

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