10 Healing Herbs

There’s a whole new arsenal of supplements that natural medicine experts “prescribe” for themselves and their patients-because they’re backed by compelling research that proves they really work. Your doctor isn’t likely to tell you about them, so you’ll just have to discover them for yourself. Here are the top ten natural remedies that live up to their promise.

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1. Andrographis

Although it isn't as well known as echinacea, andrographis has been used for centuries to treat colds and fevers, and it seems to work better, reducing inflammation and stimulating the immune system. TriMune (which also includes vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea) and Kold Kare are two common brands.

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2. Arnica

Ointments and creams made from this herb can be used to ease swelling and promote healing of injuries that cause inflammation. Use it to treat bruises and burns; strains, sprains, and sore muscles; bursitis and tendinitis; and even carpal tunnel syndrome. Just take care not to use it on broken or bleeding skin.

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3. Bromelain

Derived from pineapple stems, bromelain is an enzyme that encourages good digestion. Bromelain supplements help break down food and complete digestion, making them helpful for conditions such as flatulence or inflammatory bowel disease. Bromelain also eases swelling and bruising by blocking body chemicals that cause inflammation, helpful for treating bruises, muscle soreness, and bee stings.

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4. Capsaicin

Capsaicin is the chemical that gives hot peppers their heat. It helps relieve pain by short-circuiting pain signals from skin nerves to the brain. It's available as a cream in strengths ranging from 0.025 to 0.075 per cent. Apply it to the skin for osteoarthritis, shingles, neck ache, or carpal tunnel syndrome, or as a patch for back pain. An initial burning feeling fades quickly. Start with the mildest form and wash your hands after applying. Never use capsaicin on broken skin or blisters. Leaving a patch on too long may cause skin irritation.

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5. Devil's Claw

This bitter-tasting African herb contains compounds called harpagosides that reduce inflammation, making it helpful for conditions such as chronic back pain, neck aches, and osteoarthritis. It's commonly available in a liquid and as a powder.

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6. Elderberry and Elderflower

During flu season, keep Sambucol, a concentrated extract of elderberries, on hand. When you feel flu symptoms coming on, take a tablespoon four times a day for three to five days to boost your immune system and shorten the duration of the attack. Also keep a jar of elderflowers; a tea made from them will help you sweat and help break a fever.

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7. Evening Primrose Oil

Made by pressing tiny seeds of the evening primrose flower, this remedy is rich in an essential fatty acid that eases inflammation and can be used to treat asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, PMS bloating and menstrual cramps, and impotence. It also helps moisturize skin, hair, and nails and can be taken orally to help brittle nails and dry hair from the inside out. It comes as an oil or in gel-filled capsules.

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8. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is an old-time remedy and as a tea is used for treating insomnia, shingles, and-mixed with dandelion and crushed fennel seeds-inflammatory bowel disease. It has been found to contain compounds that are potent virus fighters and is also available as a concentrated ointment that is used to speed recovery from a cold sore outbreak.

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9. Lysine

Lysine is an amino acid that has been shown to help fight viruses, especially herpes, by blocking the activity of arginine, another amino acid that viruses need to replicate. Taking the supplement can help control outbreaks of oral and genital herpes, when combined with restrictions on arginine-rich foods, such as nuts, chocolate, and raisins. It also helps to eat lysine-rich foods, such as cheese, eggs, chicken, milk, and lima beans.

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10. Quercetin

Quercetin is an antioxidant derived from plants that acts much like an antihistamine. Take it to relieve or help prevent allergy symptoms, such as watery eyes, stuffy nose, and sneezing, or to help ease airway inflammation in asthma.