What are medicinal herbs?
Cultures around the world have been using herbs and spices since ancient times to enhance flavour and aroma of their meals and to benefit from their medicinal properties. Many parts of the world use herbs such as turmeric, ashwagandha, garlic, gingko biloba, moringa, shallaki and lavender as medicine to boost their health, improve their overall well-being and reduce their risk of many illnesses. So, what are medicinal herbs?
Medicinal herbs are a rich source of bioactive compounds with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. These compounds have incredible healing properties and studies show these ingredients can help ease pain, reduce inflammation, delay premature ageing, detoxify, improve brain function and help manage symptoms in many chronic, inflammatory conditions. Certain herbs can even help with stress and anxiety, and promote good sleep.
Medicinal Benefits of Herbs
Each plant or herb is unique in terms of what it offers, and which can be found in their leaves, roots, stems or flowers. For example, the root of turmeric is loaded with bioactive compounds that helps to ease pain and inflammation. Moringa leaves are rich in important vitamins, minerals and amino acids that fulfil the body's nutritional needs. Let us explore the benefits of medicinal herbs and how these herbs with medicinal properties can help in improving overall well-being.
- Herbs can help with anxiety:
Prescription medicines that reduce anxiety and depression are associated with severe side effects if used for prolonged periods; making herbal supplements a good alternative. Some of the side effects of anxiety medication include drowsiness, confusion, dry mouth and – disconcertingly - dependence. If you are looking for medicinal herbs for anxiety, using ashwagandha, valerian root and chamomile can be really effective. These herbs calm the mind and are useful in relieving symptoms of stress, anxiety and insomnia, without causing any lingering side-effects.
- Herbs can ease pain :
Doctors typically prescribe NSAIDs and opioids for chronic pain. Long-term use can damage liver, kidneys and immunity. They also increase your risk of stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. Studies suggest that turmeric is as effective as conventional medicines in reducing pain and inflammation in conditions such as arthritis. In addition to turmeric, you could consider other medicinal herbs such as ginger, Boswellia serrata (Shallaki) and Devil’s claw for pain relief.
- Herbs can help with diabetes :
Some herbs can help reduce diabetes symptoms and even reduce the risk of health complications typically associated with high blood sugar levels. Aloe vera, ginger, turmeric, holy basil and gurmar are some examples of herbs that can be effective in patients with type 2 diabetes. Gurmar (Gymnemate Sylvestre) is one of the best herbal supplements for type 2 diabetes. It reduces sugar cravings, regulates blood sugar levels and protects beta cells of the pancreas.
- Herbs can help improve memory and focus :
Herbs such as brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), turmeric, gingko biloba, ashwagandha, saffron, sage and rhodiola rosea are considered very effective in supporting cognitive health, especially functions such as mental focus and memory.
- Herbs can boost immunity :
Herbs can strengthen our immunity and help the body fight infections. Turmeric, amla (Indian gooseberry), ginger and holy basil are herbs with strong anti-microbial and healing properties. These herbs keep your immune system active, reduce the risk of infections and also help in detoxification. Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) is another powerful immune-boosting herb that helps reduce fever, inflammation and allergy symptoms.
10 Most Powerful Medicinal Herbs and their Health Benefits
The root of turmeric plant is well-known for its medicinal benefits. It is one of the most powerful medicinal herbs and is loaded with bioactive compounds (curcuminoids) that exhibit strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Curcumin, one of the most researched active ingredients found in turmeric, and blocks the production of pro-inflammatory molecules that cause pain, fever and swelling. Turmeric supplements can be very effective in reducing painful symptoms and improving mobility in people with arthritis [1-2]. Turmeric also boosts immunity, supports heart health and controls high blood sugar levels.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb known for its amazing ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Since it is an adaptogen, it regulates the HPA axis, reduces cortisol levels, calms the nervous system and helps the body cope with stress. Try ashwagandha if you are suffering from anxiety and looking for a herbal supplement that can help with symptoms such nervousness and fatigue. It can also help you sleep better.
3. Ginko biloba
Gingko biloba is rich in flavonoids and terpenoids, antioxidant compounds that fight free radicals and reduce oxidative damage. Terpenoids present in gingko biloba help dilate blood vessels and make blood less viscous, thus improving blood circulation to various parts of the body. Gingko is good for heart, memory and brain health.
Popularly known as bacopa, brahmi is an antioxidant herb that is mostly known for its ability to sharpen memory and focus.  Brahmi supplements are used to boost learning, memory and overall cognitive functions. Like ashwagandha, brahmi is also an adaptogenic herb and works by maintaining overall balance in the body. It reduces fatigue, lowers cortisol (stress hormone), boosts immunity and improves energy levels.
Struggling with sleep problems? This fragrant flower can help with insomnia and restlessness when used as an essential oil. It calms the nervous system, boosts mood and reduces anxiety. Applying it topically may also help with migraines and headaches. Tea made with lavender can help reduce stress and anxiety.
6. Grapeseed extract
Loaded with antioxidant compounds such as oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) and flavonoids, grape seed is helpful in various conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and age-related macular degeneration. Grape seed extract also helps fight bacterial and fungal infections.
Garlic provides tremendous health benefits, especially for immunity, heart health and blood pressure. Studies show that garlic can improve cholesterol levels, reduce high blood pressure and help the body fight a cold and other infections.
Shallaki or Boswellia serrata is popularly used as a herbal supplement to manage inflammatory conditions such as arthritis  and inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, when combined with turmeric, it works as one of the best herbs for healing and relieving joint pain.
Boswellic acids, one of the main boactives in shallaki, help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. These compounds block the production of enzymes and molecules that cause inflammation and pain. Shallaki also provides relief in asthma.
Need a dietary supplement to meet your nutritional requirements and protect your tissues from the oxidative damage? The leaves of moringa plant are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. A moringa supplement not only packs a nutritional punch but also maintains hormonal balance and gut health. If you are suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia, moringa supplement can be a good fix with its rich iron, vitamin C and folate content.
10. Reishi mushroom
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) contains a wide range of bioactive compounds, for example polysaccharides (beta-D-glucans), triterpenes (ganoderic acids) and sterols, that have amazing healing and balancing properties. Reishi mushroom reduces fatigue, regulates immunity and protects heart health.
Medicinal herbs for your health
Medicinal herbs are loaded with a wide range of bioactive compounds that have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. These bioactive compounds help boost immunity and fight infections, reduce the risk of heart disease, keep liver healthy, help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, relieve pain, ease symptoms of stress and anxiety and help you sleep well. Using whole herbs, with all their bioactive compounds present and working together in synergy, can be extremely useful to maintain your overall health and empower the body to deal with stress, pain, toxins and infections.
If you are planning to add any herb to your wellness routine, it’s best to first consult a healthcare practitioner. Medicinal herbs are generally safe but they can interact with prescription medications and trigger unwanted symptoms and side effects. They can cause unexpected outcomes if not used correctly and in the right dosage. Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with serious medical conditions should never take herbal medicines without consulting a trained and certified healthcare practitioner.
1. What are the best herbs for arthritis?
Shallaki (Boswellia serrata), Turmeric (Curcumin longa), ginger and aloe vera are some of the best herbs for arthritis.
2. What are the best herbs for improving learning and memory?
Brahmi (Bacopa monneri), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) are some of the most powerful and popular herbs for learning, memory and focus. Turmeric and saffron also support brain health.
3. What are the best herbs for stress and anxiety?
Ashwagandha, lavender, valerian root and chamomile are great herbs to ease symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- V Kuptniratsaikul et al. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Clin Interv Aging. 2014
- Chandran et al. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012
- Banerjee et al. Bacosides from Bacopa monnieri extract: An overview of the effects on neurological disorders. Phytotherapy Research. 2021
- Yu et al. Effectiveness of Boswellia and Boswellia extract for osteoarthritis patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. 2020.