Since ancient times, people have used plants to heal themselves. Frescos dating to 1500 or 1600 B.C. found on a Greek island are said to depict a goddess cultivating saffron for medicinal use. Today, using plants to treat disease is widespread in most cultures. And did you know that many herbal remedies can be found in your garden? Check out our list of common remedies that may have you reconsidering what's a weed.
Just like prescription drugs, plants can cause adverse side effects. Always consult a medical professional before taking any medications, including herbal remedies.
The well-known garden pest can help arthritis and eczema. (Photo: shes_so_high/flickr)
Yes, the hated weeds — can be a diuretic. They also contain potassium, which experts say is lost through excessive urination. Some apply it topically to treat eczema, while others take it internally for arthritis and even intestinal disorders. Its leaves are thought to regulate blood sugar levels.
Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary is part of the mint family Lamiaceae. A recent study found that the carnosic acid in rosemary may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The oil in its flowers is antibacterial and anti-fungal. It improves circulation to the brain, which is why it has often been associated with "remembrance."
Lavender is among the plants that act as natural insect repellents. (Photo: Limbo Poet/flickr)
Lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means "to wash." While lavender is well-known for its fragrance, it also has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. In ancient Greece, Rome and the Middle East, lavender was used as an antiseptic.
Through the ages, it has also been used to treat anxiety, migraines, insomnia and depression. A recent study from Kagoshima University in Japan suggests that smelling lavender (as opposed to applying it topically or ingesting it) can help ease anxiety due to the linalool, a naturally-occurring alcohol in the plant. Linalool activates certain neurotransmitter receptors in the brain through olfactory neurons.
The clear gel from an aloe vera plant has been used for centuries to treat burns, cuts and skin infections. Experts note that it may have properties to reduce skin inflammation. But aloe vera can also help relieve constipation. As the Mayo Clinic points out, “dried latex from the inner lining of the leaf has traditionally been used as an oral laxative.” Some also use it to treat heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome.
This herb has been used as a digestive aid for children with upset tummies. It also works as an antibiotic and has been used for centuries to treat wounds. It has also been used as an anti-fungal against toenail problems. And if you pick up a bottle of mouthwash, check the label. Thymol, one of the main active ingredients, is a derivative of thyme.
Celery seed extract has been shown to reduce blood pressure in animal studies. It also functions as a diuretic and can be used to treat psoriasis. However, large amounts might cause photodermatitis, so herbalists urge caution with its use. The essential oil of celery seed is known to have a “sedative and anticonvulsant effect.”
As the Massachusetts Medical Society Gardens notes, "a tea made from the leaves is an astringent, a diuretic, an expectorant and an agent to reduce fever.” Because of these properties, sunflowers have been used to treat all sorts of colds and coughs. It can also extract toxic ingredients from the soil and was used by the Russian government to help clean up after the Chernobyl disaster.
Peppermint is known to soothe headaches, skin irritations, nausea, pain, diarrhea and flatulence. Because it calms the stomach, it can aid indigestion. Is there anything this minty plant can’t do? Some studies have shown it also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Preparations made from its leaves can also relieve chest congestion.
Chewing on catnip could be why kitties rarely have toothaches. (Photo: ali graney/flickr)
Catnip is not just a happy-time elixir for cats. Chewing on catnip leaves can help toothaches. It also makes you sweat, which can lower fevers. According to WebMD, It is also known to be a mild sedative to humans. Some people use catnip oil as an insect repellent. Some research suggests that it repels mosquitoes 10 times more effectively than DEET.
Sweet basil is an effective insect repellent, but did you know that the early Greeks used its leaves to treat scorpion stings? Ancient Romans used it to “alleviate flatulence, counteract poisonings and to stimulate breast milk production.” Today, a variety called holy basil is used in India to treat stress, diabetes and even asthma. Some studies have shown that it may have antiviral and anticancer properties.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in July 2015.