Unveiling the Wonders of 12 Herbal Supplements
With so many herbal supplements out there, it can be overwhelming to decide which ones are worth your time and money. To help you make an informed decision, we reached out to experts with diverse backgrounds who could provide insight into a dozen herbs that have been backed by either research or anecdotal evidence (or both!).
Get to Know the Herbalists:
- DR. SHARI AUTH, DACM, LAC, LMT
With more than two decades of experience as a holistic health practitioner, Shari Auth has established herself as an esteemed figure in the industry. She is not only cofounder of WTHN, an acupuncture clinic in New York City, but also holds great credentials such as her license for doctorate of acupuncture and Chinese medicine along with master’s degree in herbology. Additionally she is board-certified Chinese herbalist which encompasses extensive training Vedic and Western herbs alike!
- ROY UPTON, RH, DAYU
Roy Upton is a master of herbalism, having studied and practiced this art since 1981. His expertise in the field spans Ayurvedic, traditional Chinese, and Western medicine, allowing him to expand his knowledge base beyond conventional limits. As an accomplished botanist-advisor on various committees as well as executive director and editor at American Herbal Pharmacopoeia & cofounder of the American Herbalists Guild – Roy Upton is indeed a leader in the herbal sphere.
Get to Know the Scientist:
- JAMES ADAMS, PHD
Dr. James Adams, a highly respected associate professor at the USC School of Pharmacy holds an impressive PhD in pharmacology and toxicology. In addition to completing his postdoctoral work with both the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and National Institutes of Health, he’s spent fourteen years training closely with a traditional Chumash healer; which has further molded his research agenda towards California medicinal plants.
Get to Know the Plants:
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
FUNDAMENTALS: This spice, which is reminiscent of ginger, can be found in abundance across Asia and Central America.
APPLICATION: The adaptability of turmeric is unparalleled – its uses range from both a culinary spice and medicinal herb. According to Auth, regular consumption of this powerful root can help keep one’s joints healthy, digestion strong and skin glowing! Upton even recommends it as an integral part in managing inflammatory issues.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Turmeric is among the most extensively investigated herbs in existence, and its active component curcumin has garnered fame for its anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, turmeric may not be easily absorbed by the body’s natural processes; thus, consider opting for supplements which include black pepper to ensure superior absorption.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
FUNDAMENTALS: An adaptogenic supplement that is derived from the root and occasionally leaf of a nightshade plant.
APPLICATION: Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen, helping the body withstand and combat everyday stress. It has been referred to as “the perfect antidote for modern life” by Auth, with users claiming it can assist in improving sleep patterns and boosting immunity through ingesting either tablets or adding one to two teaspoons of powder into smoothies!
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Multiple studies have uncovered that ashwagandha has multiple potential uses. However, the most impressive research to date is related to its ability to aid in alleviating anxiety. Although we do not yet know why this plant can promote balance and wellness for several different body systems, there are some clues: Ashwagandha contains mild anti-inflammatory agents as well as antioxidants – both of which may contribute to its powerful effects. It’s worth noting that Adams also observed that “because ashwagandha contains various pharmacologically active compounds, it is difficult at this time to pinpoint exactly which ones are responsible for producing the clinical results.”
Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
FUNDAMENTALS: Asian ginseng, which is native to Eastern Asia and commonly found in Chinese or Korean varieties, is a perennial plant that blooms year-round.
APPLICATION: In the realm of traditional Chinese medicine, Upton elucidates that Asian ginseng is prescribed for “qi deficiency,” which in essence indicates tiredness or exhaustion. Generally speaking, this herbal solution is mainly recommended to older adults who lack nutritional value from their diet and/or suffer from excessive levels of stress. According to Auth, it possesses multiple advantageous properties such as an adaptogen (calming agent), a nootropic (mental cognitive enhancer), an aphrodisiac and even a beauty herb! Not only can Asian ginseng help you optimize on multiple fronts but it’s also held in high regard by many experts.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Numerous studies have explored the effects of ginseng on psychomotor performance, such as strength, speed and movement. Adams references clinical research that suggests it can also improve physical activity; one twelve-week trial found that a ginseng extract improved exercise in sedentary people while another showed an extract decreasing muscle damage after intense exertion. Fascinatingly, blood cortisol levels were reportedly lower too. While ginseng has not been heavily researched, there have been a few studies that suggest it may help to boost the immune system and regulate glucose metabolism. These results are promising and require further investigation for confirmation.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
FUNDAMENTALS: This plant belonging to the daisy family can be found throughout North America and Europe, gracing gardens with its delicate petals.
APPLICATION: Upton and Auth warn of the overuse of echinacea for cold treatment, suggesting that combining it with other herbs such as astragalus is more beneficial in terms of long-term immune support. While capsules or tea are typical methods to consume echinacea, Upton recommends topical usage for alleviating gum infections.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: The jury is still out on the immune-boosting properties of echinacea – a 2014 systematic review was inconclusive. However, according to Adams’ recent research in 2016, colossal clinical trials determined that consuming echinacea can both prevent and reduce cold symptoms. This is because it contains alkamides which work together with other compounds to activate your body’s defense mechanisms. Plus, you’ll experience a tingly sensation in your mouth when taking high-quality echinacea. For maximum concentrations of alkamides, seek preparations that contain Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
FUNDAMENTALS: Chamomile, a delicate flower that’s been enjoyed throughout the ages as a soothing and aromatic tea.
APPLICATION: Chamomile has commonly been seen as a calming tea, which Upton even calls it a digestive tonic. Auth finds chamomile to be particularly beneficial in her practice as it is used to soothe the nervous system and promote better sleep. Not only that but it’s safe for babies, pregnant women and can be used for teething children by making chamomile-tea ice cubes which they can suck on! Clearly Chamomile’s properties are unique – no wonder why people have found themselves so taken with this mild drink over centuries of use.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: A multitude of clinical studies have demonstrated that chamomile can reduce stress and improve sleep quality. Furthermore, its topical effects are also noteworthy. Amongst migraine patients, evidence suggests that rubbing the oil on their forehead or temples eased migraine pain and intensity due to a compound known as ‘chamazulene’. This chemical may suppress nitric oxide release and inflammation which could be triggering headaches in these individuals. Adams underscores this statement claiming “Chamazulene is likely responsible for anxiety/pain relief”.
Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis)
FUNDAMENTALS: Valerian, famously known as “nature’s Valium,” is a beautiful pink flower that traces its roots back to Europe and Asia.
APPLICATION: According to Auth, valerian is the “hero herb” of her practice – she recommends it to help clients relax and fall asleep faster. However, its taste isn’t so pleasant which makes taking it in tablet form or combining with other calming herbs more appealing. Upton cautions that while this medicinal plant has powerful sedative-like effects, people may experience various reactions like night terrors, hyperactivity and a rapid pulse rate; additionally they can wake up feeling groggy the next morning. Therefore, Upton prefers other herbs that are more conducive to long-term relaxation over any quick fix sedatives.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Research definitely demonstrates the sedative effects of valerian root. A 2006 meta-analysis revealed that it effectively improved sleep quality for patients with insomnia. Women in particular may have distinct advantages from taking valerian root: a 530 milligram capsule twice daily was found to reduce the frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes over two months, while three 255 milligram capsules per day lessened pain associated with menstruation. Valerian root’s calming properties are too valuable to pass up!
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
FUNDAMENTALS: Cinnamon, an aromatic and renowned spice derived from the bark of Cinnamomum trees, tantalizes taste buds with its sweet yet pungent flavor.
APPLICATION: Auth and Upton have acknowledged the delicious addition of cinnamon to your banana bread recipe, however it is also beneficial for other than just flavor. This incredible botanical offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can be either ingested through food or a capsule – making it an extremely versatile source. Upton considers this his “go-to botanical” when addressing sugar regulation, as he normally combines with additional supportive ingredients like glucose and cardiovascular health ones.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Various clinical trials have validated that cinnamon can regulate blood sugar levels and aid people with type 2 diabetes by reducing cholesterol and glucose concentrations. Yet, Adams has found even more reliable data to prove the use of cactus (various Opuntia species) as a natural remedy for those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
FUNDAMENTALS: A dark-purple berry from elder trees that can be turned into a scrumptious syrup.
APPLICATION: Upton recommends elderberry as a preventative measure against the flu and for early-stage flu treatment. He states that, while it is safe for children, senior citizens benefit more from its general cold prevention capabilities. On the contrary, Auth believes that astragalus and reishi are better suited to bolster one’s immunity system since not enough research has been done with regards to elderberry’s use.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Although there is limited research on elderberry, a 2016 study of Australians who took the flower before traveling overseas found that they experienced less intense colds and shorter durations. The flowers contain anthocyanins, which are flavonoids responsible for color in food items; these have also been demonstrated to impede the flu and cold virus from affecting cells within test tubes.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
FUNDAMENTALS: In India, Tulsi, or holy basil is treated with reverence and respect due to its adaptogenic properties.
APPLICATION: Auth extols the virtues of ‘holy basil’, also known as “the yoga of herbs” for its ability to reduce stress and improve sleep. To get the full benefit, she recommends drinking it in tea form each day – a refreshing tonic that will soothe your nerves. Upton second this recommendation and states that daily intake is optimal for combating anxiety.
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: A significant number of preclinical studies, as well as a handful of promising clinical trials, have proven that holy basil can be used to combat anxiety and stress. According to Adams’ research at RMIT University in Melbourne, the leaf extract from holy basil has been found to improve cognitive performance among healthy people. Additionally, it may even modulate immune system functioning; one clinical trial highlighted an increase in white blood cell counts (such as T helper cells and natural killer T cells) due to use of this herb.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
FUNDAMENTALS: A refreshing member of the mint family, lemon balm hails from both Europe and Asia and tastes divine when brewed into a cup of tea.
APPLICATION: In Upton’s opinion, lemon balm is far too underrated for its capacity to reduce stress. In addition, he utilizes it as part of a cardio-health program and applies it topically in the treatment of herpes. Lemon balm tops Auth’s list of preferred herbs due to its simplicity to cultivate and compatibility with many foods such as hot tea or baked treats!
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Preclinical research provides evidence of the anti-anxiety effects that lemon balm may have, yet clinical trials are still limited in number. A study regarding insomnia revealed that a supplement containing lemon balm improved sleep, leading to a decrease in anxiety and depression levels. Moreover, two other studies on type 2 diabetes patients and coronary heart disease showed promising results for its use as an aid towards cardiovascular health. For these reasons, further robust research is necessary to ascertain if lemon balm can serve as an effective remedy against human anxiety.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
FUNDAMENTALS: Magnificently known as golden root, this hardy flower flourishes in the frigid Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America.
APPLICATION: For those seeking an increase in physical energy and mental focus, Rhodiola is the perfect solution. An adaptogen as well as a nootropic, this superherb assists your body to keep relaxed while sustaining emotional composure and clarity of thought. Whether you prefer tablets or smoothies, adding two teaspoons of organic rhodiola will give you that extra boost!
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Adams explains, “Rhodiola’s impressive potential as an antidepressant has been made apparent in numerous studies.” In a 2019 review of the herb conducted by Chinese researchers, Rhodiola was found to have various advantages such as augmenting physical endurance and strength, fighting chronic fatigue syndrome, reducing anxiety levels and improving mental stamina alongside cognitive ability.
Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinesis)
FUNDAMENTALS: You might not find this news pleasant, but Cordyceps is in fact a fungus that happens to be parasitic and grows on specific caterpillars living in the mountainous regions of China. Nowadays, most supplements are produced synthetically in laboratories.
APPLICATION: According to Auth, cordyceps could be the key to unlocking a longer life with increased energy levels. But that’s not all: it can also increase your sex drive and enhance men’s sexual functioning. People usually take this supplement in tablet form or add powdered cordyceps into their smoothies for added nutrition. Cordyceps is even used as an ingredient for culinary purposes; you may have noticed its orange mushroom-like look on top of pastas dishes!
RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Recent evidence suggests that cordyceps may positively affect men’s sexual health. What is more, Adams highlights preliminary research displaying the potential of cordyceps to boost immunity via stimulation of natural killer cells (a white blood cell type). Additionally, a 2014 study found it beneficial for individuals with chronic kidney disease. Its effects are likely attributed to the polysaccharides — carbohydrates molecules — in its composition according to Adams.