Today, we rely a lot on modern medicine and drugs. But, many times, our grandparents relied on cures that could be found in the kitchen. As it turns out, that trove is still rich with effective remedies.
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In fact, even modern medicine relies on plants more than many of us realize, says Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD, senior attending pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital and chief editor of publications for the Natural Standard Research Collaboration, which evaluates scientific data on herbs.
“Practically all of the most widely used drugs have an herbal origin,” Ulbricht says. “The number one OTC medication, aspirin, is a synthetic version of a compound found in the willow tree. Many statins are based on fungi; and Tamiflu originated from Chinese star anise.”
Following, you’ll find a host of age-old remedies whose remarkable effectiveness has been confirmed by new research. Because botanical medicines can interact with other drugs, consult your doctor before taking them. The exceptions are the common food items–onions, parsley, and cayenne–when consumed in natural form and conventional amounts.
Tradition says: Melissa officinalis, a lemon-scented member of the mint family, has long been used to banish anxiety, boost memory, and aid sleep and digestion. It is “good against the biting of venomous beasts, comforts the heart, and driveth away all melancholy and sadnesse,” wrote Elizabethan-era herbalist John Gerard in 1597.
Got a presentation or other stressful situation to deal with? A cup of tea made of lemon balm may help you sleep soundly the night before and keep you calm and focused.
Research suggests this plant is effective in extreme situations too. Four weeks of lemon balm aromatherapy cut agitation in patients with severe dementia, reports a 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Lemon balm appears to calm an overactive thyroid (Graves’ disease), according to Eric Yarnell, ND, an assistant professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University. It also fights viruses; recent studies indicate that lemon balm cream speeds healing of oral herpes lesions and reduces the frequency of outbreaks.
Get the benefit: For lemon balm’s calming effects, try a daily tea made with one-half to one full dropper of tincture or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb steeped in 1 cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes, says herbalist Linda Different Cloud, a PhD candidate in ethnobotany at Montana State University. Ask your doctor first if you take thyroid medication, as the botanical may change the amount you need. To use topically, follow the instructions on OTC creams, such as Cold Sore Relief or WiseWays Herbals Lemon Balm Cream, available online or at drugstores or health food stores.