Herbs and spice were the first line of medical defense for our ancestors.
Long before there were antibiotics and prescription drugs, civilization was built on the back of these powerful herbs.
With increasing fears over questionable claims and dangerous side-effects of prescription drugs, many doctors are moving forward by looking to the solutions of the past.
Functional vs Adaptogenic Herbs
The main difference between functional and adaptogenic herbs is that a functional herb typically has a direct impact on your body and specific ailment whereas adaptogenic herbs support your adrenal glands to support your body’s normal function in periods of high stress (1,2).
Functional Herbs And Spices
The root was traditionally used to treat scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. It’s also used to boost immune system to fight the common cold and flu and improve symptoms like sore throat cough, and fever (3).
It can also relieve pain, reduce inflammation, regulate hormones, fight viruses and free radical (3).
Valerian has been used to ease insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness for almost two thousand years. It’s thought to work similarly to alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain (4). To use, steep 1 teaspoon of dried root in 1 cup of boiled water for 5-10 minutes. However, it may take a few weeks of daily use to begin to feel its effects.
Turmeric well-known for its curcumin, is a bright orange root similar to ginger. It’s used as a flavoring agent and anti-inflammatory medicine (5). It’s also effective in relieving symptoms of indigestion, prevent irritable bowel syndrome, fight symptoms of depression better than medication and alleviate knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. It can even kill cancerous cells.
4. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is one of the oldest living tree species and is commonly used to enhance cognition and improve blood circulation (6). It can also help improve memory, stabilize mood, relieve anxiety and prevent brain fog.
5. Milk Thistle
This herb is traditionally used to treat liver, kidney, and gall bladder problems. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties protect the liver from toxins, including certain drugs and promotes liver regeneration.
It’s particularly used for treating hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver disease and fatal mushroom poisoning (7). It fights cancer by preventing cell division and reproduction, inducing apoptosis and preventing blood flow to tumors.
Adaptogenic Herbs And Spices
The root and berry of ashwagandha, also called ‘Indian ginseng’ is used against arthritis, tumors, tuberculosis, asthma, a skin condition marked by white patchiness (leukoderma), bronchitis, backache, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, hiccups, and chronic liver disease (8). It’s most commonly used to improve thinking ability, fight pain and inflammation, boost fertility and cure anxiety and insomnia.
7. Siberian Ginseng
Not all ginseng is created equal: Siberian ginseng contains different active chemical components than American or Asian ginseng (9). It’s known to prevent colds and flu and to increase energy, longevity, stamina and vitality. Russians typically use it to increase mental alertness and boost quality of life. This ginseng isn’t for everyone so make sure to never administer to children unless under strict medical supervision.
8. Holy Basil
Holy basil isn’t the same as sweet basil, in fact, it’s much more medicinal.
Early research found that taking 500 mg of holy basil leaf extract twice daily after meals for 60 days reduced anxiety and associated stress and depression in people with anxiety.
A preliminary clinical trial using holy basil extract found that taking 400 mg orally in the morning and 800 mg at night for 6 weeks decreased self reported symptoms of stress including forgetfulness, sexual problems, frequency of exhaustion, and sleep problems. (10) It may also be beneficial in improving longevity, diabetes as well as killing cancer.
Maca enhances energy by fighting anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), improve stamina and enhance athletic performance, memory, and fertility.
It can also boost immunity, fight depression and ease homonal imbalance in women (11).
As with any major health decision, it’s important to talk to your doctor and nutritionist as some of these functional and adaptogenic herbs or spices can interact with prescription drug or worsen preexisting condition.