History and Uses of Medicinal Herbs (Adaptogens)
Plants are Mother Nature’s first medicine for us! These plants stand the test of time as a part of the medical systems in China, India, Greece, Egypt and the Americas for thousands of years. All are regarded as safe for human consumption, with minimal side effects and interactions with other drugs. These herbs go by many names including: Tonic, Rasayana, Rejuvenative, Restorative, Adaptogen, Balancer, Stabilizer and Stress-Reliever. Imagine the following list as millions of hours of trial and error condensed into one list.
As Stabilizers, these herbs help the body regulate homeostasis, so if something is too high, it gets lowered, and vice versa. All of these have antioxidant properties, essentially slowing the aging process and promoting vitality at all ages. As always, talk with a doctor and herbalist before medicating with these herbs especially if you have any medical conditions.
You can find organic versions of these items (in bulk) online. Cost per dose averages about 10 cents per day. Banyan Botanicals (banyanbotanicals.com) and Blue Mountain Organics (www.bluemountainorganics.com) are top sources.
Medicinal Herbs Listed
He Shou Wu
Spirulina and Chlorella
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Uses: Fat loss; increased brain function; increased physical endurance; cancer/diabetes/heart disease prevention.
Precautions: Avoid mixing with stimulants / drinking before bed.
History: Used in ancient Chinese culture, cultivation dates back to some of the first Zen monasteries.
Fun Fact: Green tea, black tea, oolong tea and pu-erh tea all come from the Camellia sinensis plant.
Uses: Enhance brain function; reduce anxiety and Alzheimer’s risk; increase circulation.
Precautions: Avoid with anticoagulants like Aspirin/Wayfarin.
History: Similar to Green Tea, Gingko has a long history as food and medicine in ancient China.
Fun Fact: Gingko trees can live to be over 1,000 years old.
Uses: Increase testosterone and fertility in men; aphrodisiac; reduce stress and depression; reduce inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer risk; increase lean muscle mass and strength.
Precautions: Avoid with low blood pressure and ulcers.
History: Used in ancient India as a major medical staple to treat cases of weakness, infertility and immune disorders for at least 3,000 years.
Fun Fact: In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means “smells like a horse,” referencing its ability to give you the vigor of a young stallion.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Uses: Support heart, nervous system and immune health; improve neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s/multiple sclerosis; enhance cognitive function; stimulate nerve growth.
Precautions: No recorded side effects (intense focus in high doses).
History: Common mushroom to forage for food and medicine in China for hundreds of years.
Fun Fact: In Asia, Lion’s Mane is known for giving you “nerves of steel and the memory of a lion.” Lions must have exceptional memories.
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Origin: Global (Common Across All Continents)
Uses: Balancing the immune system; reducing cancer risk.
Precautions: No recorded side effects.
History: Turkey tail grows in many kinds of forests, making it a common food among various cultures. In Japan, it is approved as a cancer treatment and FDA is running trials on its efficacy in the US.
Fun Fact: The cloud imagery associated with these mushrooms resembles “longevity, spiritual attunement and infinity.”
Origin: India and Himalayas
Uses: Female fertility; aphrodisiac; stress relief; improving digestion.
Precautions: Occasional stomach upset/diarrhea.
History: Used in ancient India for hundreds of years as a common treatment for reproductive health.
Fun Fact: Shatavari means “woman with a hundred husbands.”
Uses: Reduce allergies; boosting the immune system; lowering cholesterol; ulcer/cancer/diabetes/arthritis/heart disease prevention; STD treatment of hepatitis, syphilis, and gonorrhea.
Precautions: Use caution with Autoimmune diseases (may stimulate immune system) and pregnancy.
History: The earliest Ayurvedic doctors highly respected this plant because of its incredible range of healing, calling it Amrita or “divine nectar.”
Fun Fact: Amrita when translated directly, means “immortality.”
Origin: Global Sulfur Cycle (Ocean plankton make sulfur gas, which rises into clouds, and rains down into soil, where it is extracted).
Uses: Joint health; reduce allergies; arthritis and pain relief; improve digestion and autoimmune conditions.
Precautions: Occasional nausea and diarrhea.
History: We have been exposed to sulfur since the beginning, raw fruits, veggies and meats (and obviously rain water) all have sulfur.
Fun Fact: MSM (Methyl-Sulfonyl-Methane) is a bioactive sulfur compound. Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the body responsible for hundreds of biological functions. All living beings use MSM.
Origin: Central America
Uses: Improve heart health; balance blood sugar; lower cholesterol; improve mood and cognitive function.
Precautions: Nervousness and fast heartbeat in high doses.
History: Central American indigenous tribes, Aztecs and Mayans are some of the first to have social and ceremonial uses of cacao (chocolate). The Aztecs grew chocolate trees in the front yards of their homes. Now, the chocolate trade is a $100 billion global market. Cacao is the raw, unprocessed version of cocoa (cooked beans) most common today.
Fun Fact: Theobromine, a chemical cousin of caffeine and the active component in chocolate, releases a chemical in the brain known as “anandamide,” or the bliss molecule – which is normally released during exercise, sex, and states of euphoria. Chocolate and cannabis are the only two external compounds known to directly release anandamide.
“The Bees Knees”
Origin: Flowers and Honey Bees
Uses: Reduce allergies; boost immune system; improve sleep; relieve coughing; wound healing (especially Manuka Honey).
Precautions: Weakness and heart problems in high doses.
History: Used in prehistoric cultures as a food source, then in Ayurveda as a healing agent and detoxifier.
Fun Fact: Bees actually digest honey then spit it out for you to eat.
“The Google Tree”
Uses: Detoxify; support immune system; promote healthy skin and joints; support menstrual cycle; increase metabolism and weight-loss; lowering cholesterol/heart disease prevention; improving digestion.
Precautions: Occasional nausea and headaches.
History: Used in Ayurveda for millennia as the foundation of many medicinal compounds, specifically because of its ability to carry other medicines deep into the bodily tissues.
Fun Fact: In Sanskrit, Guggulu (the resin of the Myrrh tree) means “protects from disease.”
He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti)
“Mr. He’s Secret”
Uses: Muscular endurance; boosting the immune system; increasing metabolism; lowering cholesterol/heart disease prevention; reversing graying of hair; longevity.
Precautions: Occasional numbness and diarrhea.
History: According to legend, an older man (Mr. He) went into the forest and got lost. For a while, he lived only on He Shou Wu, and when he came back to his town, his hair had gone from grey to jet black and he fathered many more children. Everyone asked his secret, he willingly told them about He Shou Wu. Now, Chinese medicine considers He Shou Wu to be the main vital energy-restoring herb.
Fun Fact: He Shou Wu translates to “the black-haired Mr. He.”
“Aztec Party Plant”
Origin: Central America
Uses: Aphrodisiac; improve mood; enhance dreaming; relieve headache; relieve stress; improve digestion.
Precautions: Can lower blood sugar in diabetics.
History: Used by Mayans, Aztecs, and Incans for hundreds of years as a social drink and medicine to decrease nervousness and sexual debility – even being given to children, because of its relative safety.
Fun Fact: Damiana comes from the Greek word damia, which means “taming the wild one,” because of its calming effects.
Origin: Europe, Americas and Asia
Uses: Relieve hysteria and epilespy; support healthy menstruation; enhance dreaming; detoxify liver; lowering cholesterol/heart disease prevention; anti-parasitic and anti-worm; improve digestion.
Precautions: Occasional diarrhea.
History: Mugwort has been used by many cultures for thousands of years in social, religious and medical practices. Ancient Romans placed mugwort in their shoes to keep their feet from getting tired.
Fun Fact: Mugwort has anecdotal ties to the spirit world across many cultures including Christians and Native Americans: in warding off ghosts and enhancing prophetic dreams. It is mildly hallucinogenic and the active ingredient in absinth. Mugwort is one of the nastiest tasting substances known to mankind.
Uses: Detoxify; lower cholesterol; improve heart and brain function; improve digestion and elimination.
Precautions: Occasional diarrhea.
History: Used for thousands of years in Ayurveda, its earliest reference is in the medical text Sushrut Samhita, which dates back 3,500 years.
Fun Fact: Triphala means “three fruits” which are amylaki, haritaki and bibhitaki. The Buddha is often shown holding a haritaki fruit in his extended hand signifying its ancient medical use in Asia.
Spirulina and Chlorella Algae
Origin: Tropical and subtropical fresh waters that contain a high mineral content.
Uses: Muscular endurance; boosting the immune system; improving memory; increasing metabolism; lowering cholesterol/heart disease prevention; healing wounds; and improving digestion.
Precautions: Autoimmune diseases and avoid when pregnant or breastfeeding.
History: Used in ancient cultures as a food source, this is a popular organic supplement for hikers, Olympians and the elderly because of its wide range of health benefits.
Fun Fact: It is now grown as a staple in Africa to treat chronic malnutrition.
Origin: Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.
Uses: Improving digestion; aphrodisiac; reducing motion sickness, gas, diarrhea, IBS; relieving arthritis, menstrual pain, migraines, bronchitis, anxiety, diabetes, muscle cramps.
Precautions: May cause increased risk of bleeding with someone with bleeding disorders, and increased insulin levels and/or lower blood sugar.
History: Used in global cuisines and medical systems for over 6,000 years.
Fun Fact: Mixing honey and sliced ginger in a tea is an world-class remedy for breathing issues.
Uses: Treating arthritis, muscle tension, depression, heartburn, joint pain, stomach pain, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, jaundice, liver problems, IBS, gallbladder disorders, high cholesterol, skin inflammation, bronchitis, colds, and lung infections.
Precautions: May slow blood clotting, cause upset stomach, and decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes.
History: Used as a medicine and main ingredient in curry recipes for 6,000 years. Turmeric is a specific species of the ginger plant.
Fun Fact: Turmeric is more effective at treating chronic medical conditions than at least fourteen prescription medications (see Uses above). There are thousands of studies indicating turmeric's effectiveness as a natural remedy.
Parsley, Dandelion and Cilantro
Origin: China and the Mediterranean
Uses: Detoxing from heavy metal exposure; enhancing dreams and visions; treating digestion problems, loss of appetite, hernia, nausea, diarrhea, bowel spasms, intestinal gas, hemorrhoids, toothaches, and joint pain.
Precautions: May consider avoiding any dosage if pregnant.
History: The Egyptians and Mesopotamians used these herbs in cooking, and the Conquistadors brought cilantro to the Americas where it flourished.
Fun Fact: Cilantro is a member of the Parsley species, and the seeds are ground to make Coriander spice.
Origin: Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
Uses: Treating gastrointestinal upset, menstrual cramps, colds, and the flu.
Precautions: Can lower blood sugar with type 2 diabetes.
History: Ancient Greek kings prized this spice so much that they believed that Cinnamon came directly from the gods on top of Mount Olympus. Cinnamon has a global history in the early spice trade.
Fun Fact: Most cinnamon in stores is “Cassia,” a similar tree bark known as “false cinnamon.” Ceylon Cinnamon is sweeter and spicier than Cassia.
Origin: China and Korea
Uses: Balancing the immune system; treating viral infections, swine flu, avian flu, lung conditions (asthma and bronchitis), heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, liver disease, HIV, altitude sickness, chronic fatigue, insomnia, stomach ulcers, Candida, chemical poisoning, chemotherapy and herpes pain.
Precautions: May cause increased bleeding and lower blood pressure.
History: Chinese Emperors prized this woody fungi for its ability to strengthen the body and promote lucid dreaming.
Fun Fact: Reishi breathes just like humans, in with oxygen and out with carbon dioxide.
“The Human Root”
Origin: Siberia, Asia, and the Americas
Uses: Treating stress, boosting the immune system, and gastritis.
Precautions: Avoid if pregnant, may lower blood sugar with people with diabetes, causes sleep problems and agitation for mental conditions.
History: There are many Ginseng species, including Asian, Siberian, Korean, American and Brazilian. Asian (Panax species: “all healing”) is the “true” ginseng, and has been a main component of Chinese medicine for millennia.
Fun Fact: The word ginseng means “person + root” in Chinese due to the fact it looks like a person with arms, legs and a head when you take it out of the ground.
Origin: China, Mongolia and North Korea
Uses: Treating common cold, upper respiratory infections, allergies, fibromyalgia, anemia, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Precautions: Avoid using with an Autoimmune Disease.
History: Astragalus, like Ginseng, is one of the main roots used in Chinese medicine. Of the 2,000 species of Astragalus, only two species, “Astragalus mebranaceous” and “Astragalus mongholicus” are used for medicine.
Fun Fact: The Chinese word for Astragalus, “huang-qi” means “superior earth” referring to it's ability to regenerate the spleen.
Origin: China and Russia
Uses: Preventing aging, normalizing blood sugar, reducing blood pressure, stimulating the immune system, treating liver disease, high cholesterol, coughs, asthma, insomnia, spontaneous sweating, involuntary discharge of semen, erectile dysfunction, exhaustion, excessive urination, depression, irritability, astigmatism and memory loss.
Precautions: Side effects include increased stomach acid with individuals that have GERD disease.
History: Chinese and Tibetans have used this herb for at least 2,000 years, and more recently in the Russian strongman community.
Fun Fact: The five flavors refer to bitter, sour, sweet, pungent and salty – the main tastes regions on the tongue. Schisandra is the only known plant to contain all of these flavors in one.
“The Miracle Tree”
Origin: Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan
Uses: Treating anemia, arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, cancer, constipation, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, stomach pain, stomach and intestinal ulcers, intestinal spasms, headache, heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders, and infections.
Precautions: Avoid using when pregnant.
History: Indian Medicine has used the moringa tree for building materials and as a medicine for 5,000 years. It is one of the most commonly grown herbs across the globe today.
Fun Fact: Moringa is one of very few plants to contain Vitamin B12.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Uses: Treating colds, flus, H1N1 virus (swine flu), diabetes, bronchitis, earache, headache, stomach upset, heart disease, fever, viral hepatitis, stress, and tuberculosis.
Precautions: May slow blood clotting.
History: Hindus use Tulsi in religious traditions and as a medicine and essential oil promoted for its “merciful“ quality. Tulsi is unique and means “unmatched” or “incomparable.”
Fun Fact: Tulsi is a sacred herb grown in many Indian home gardens, as a “good luck” symbol of health, fortune and prosperity.
“The Amazon Wonder”
Origin: South America
Uses: Treating cancer and tumors, diabetes, male sexual performance problems, and applied to the skin for wounds and skin problems.
Precautions: Suma can cause asthma symptoms if the root powder is inhaled.
History: Indigenous Amazon tribes have used this herb for millenia, as an aphrodisiac, calming herb and strengthener.
Fun Fact: A relative of ginseng, Suma means “for all,” as a traditional Brazilian medicine for all problems.
“Sweet Stomach Soother”
Origin: Europe and Asia
Uses: Treating stomach ulcers, bronchitis, osteoarthritis, lupus, malaria, tuberculosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Precautions: When used for several weeks it can cause high blood pressure, low potassium levels, weakness, paralysis, and occasionally brain damage.
History: Licorice has been used to treat digestive conditions in India and China for millennia.
Fun Fact: Licorice root is now mixed with sugar to make black licorice candy. It is biologically unrelated to anise and fennel, which have a similar taste.
Uses: Treating infections, shingles, leprosy, cholera, dysentery, syphilis, colds, flu, H1N1, tuberculosis, and schistosomiasis.
Precautions: May cause too much sleepiness if combined with medications used during and after surgery.
History: People have used this herb for thousands of years in India, China and Indonesia for calming and rejuvenating of the soul. It is one of the most commonly used herbs in Indian medicine today.
Fun Fact: When people saw elephants munching on gotu kola leaves, and knowing how long elephants live, they decided it must increase your lifespan. Science shows this herb has a rare anti-oxidant recycling biological function, making it a unique herb for longevity and mental performance.
Origin: Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America
Uses: Treating Alzheimer's, improving memory, anxiety, ADHD, backache, mental illness, epilepsy, and joint pain.
Precautions: May increase secretions in urinary tract, may cause increased levels of thyroid hormone, could worsen lung conditions (asthma), slow down heart beat, and cause congestion in intestines.
History: Brahmi means “to expand and create” and this plant has a place in Yoga traditions for expanding the mind. One of the earliest Indian systems of writing is called Brahmi. It has been a common medicine in India for 2,500 years.
Fun Fact: Brahmi has neuroprotective qualities that make it useful for clear thoughts.
“Breath of America”
Origin: Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada
Uses: Treating sore throats, bronchitis, cough, colds, influenza, H1N1 virus (swine flu), viral infections, and pneumonia.
Precautions: Avoid when pregnant.
History: Native Americans regularly used this herb to treat heart and lung conditions.
Fun Fact: Osha is a species in the Parsley family.
“Conqueror of Mountains”
Origin: Himalaya Mountains
Uses: Treating arthritis, stress, and aging (both mental and physical); enhancing strength.
Precautions: May lower blood pressure and reduce blood sugar in diabetics.
History: Ancient cultures revered this mineral resin for its ability to enhance mountain climbing ability and clear the mind. It has been used as a staple in Indian medicine for the trace minerals it possesses.
Fun Fact: Shilajit is millions of years old plant matter that has been squeezed out of cracks in the mountains by tectonic plate movement.
“The Truth Serum”
Uses: Treating Alzheimer's, glaucoma, arthritis, diabetes, muscle spasms, nausea, insomnia, depression, poor appetite, anxiety, epilepsy, nerve pain; inhibiting tumors and viruses.
Precautions: May cause depersonalization and anxiety.
History: Cannabis has a sacred place in world religions and medicine dating back at least 5,000 years. Today, it is one of the most commonly used herbs as a mild euphoriant and sedative.
Fun Fact: Ancient Greeks and Indians traded gold for cannabis oil to burn in the temples.
Black Cumin Seed Oil
“Cures All But Death”
Origin: Europe and the Middle East
Uses: Treating MRSA (staph) infection, psoriasis, eczema, epilepsy, heavy metal poisoning, tumors (esp. leukemia), diarrhea; increasing urine flow, menstruation.
Precautions: May slow blood clotting and lower blood sugar.
History: Black cumin (Nigella sativa) is different from the spice cumin (Cuminum cyminum) or turmeric (Curcumin). It has been a part of Greek and Egyptian medicine for it's ability to enhance the immune system.
Fun Fact: Mohammed (the Prophet of Islam) is known for saying that Black Cumin Oil “cures everything, except for death.”
Oregano Leaf Oil
“Delight of The Mountain”
Origin: Europe and Asia
Uses: Internal - Treating intestinal parasites, allergies, sinus pain, arthritis, cold and flu. External - Treating acne, athlete's foot, dandruff, canker sores, warts, ringworm, rosacea, and psoriasis.
Precautions: May cause increased risk of bleeding, allergic reaction, and low blood sugar.
History: Oregano has been used in Mediterranean cooking and medicine for at least 4,000 years.
Fun Fact: The ancient Greeks believed the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, created oregano as a symbol of happiness, so newlyweds are crowned with laurels of oregano.
Remember to use common sense! Disclaimer: This information is not a substitute for medical advice and is for educational purposes only.
About Peter Fettis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As a Registered Yoga Teacher and and Certified Personal Trainer, Peter practices optimizing human potential as a way of life. His latest book How to Eat Well and Love Yourself dives into the practical principles of mindfulness and plant-based nutrition to give you a taste of the abundant harvest from the mind's inner garden of awareness. Peter’s vision with H2O Human is to make waves in the current culture by rallying the wider public to recognize their inner healing power using a proactive, gentle approach.