Medicinal Plants and Herbs

MD advice on medicinal plants and herbs: your safety and health depends on it

When you were browsing the store shelves looking at medicinal plants and herbs, did you wish you could ask someone a question? But then you hesitated to ask because you weren’t really sure the answer would be dependable? Just because a product is natural, does that mean it is automatically safe? What if it interacts with your prescriptions or other herbal medications? Does it really work?

Great questions. Herbs are one of my great loves as a practicing physician. I want to use this time to inform you about herbal medications which work well, and to make sure you have reliable information on safety as well.

Why medicinal plants and herbs anyway? In my practice of holistic medicine , safety is one of the first reasons. These plant based medications consist of a mixture of generally low concentrations of biologically active compounds. These work more slowly and gently than pharmacologic drugs, and are less likely to cause serious side effects and toxicity. This approach, working gently in harmony with the body’s own wisdom, fits with my medical philosophy that there is a healing power built in to human beings by nature. My job as a physician is to use the most gentle approach possible to tip the balance in your favor.

Here is a short list of a few of my favorite medicinal herbs and the conditions for which they are effective.

Feverfew and butterbur are often effective to prevent migraine headaches. 

Adrenal fatigue can be addressed by adaptogens (tonic herbs) such asRhodiola rosea and ginseng. In fact, there are two types of ginseng to talk about which have very different profiles of action and which I would recommend to very different patients: Asian ginseng and American ginseng.

The benefits of licorice root for adrenal function are significant, but this is also one of the reasons I believe a licorice supplement should only be taken under the direction of a physician knowledgeable in herbal medicine; licorice root side effects can also be significant and potentially dangerous. 

Echinacea is one of the most popular herbal medications on the market, but very misunderstood. It works well to stop a cold (viral respiratory infection), but only when used correctly. 

Herbs for Stress Reduction include both adaptogens (tonics) and herbs which reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

Herbal medications can play a significant role in cardiovascular disease risk reduction; examples include garlic, hawthorne, olive leaf capsules,red yeast rice, and phytosterols, among others.

Freeze-dried stinging nettle is as effective as some antihistamines forallergies.

Anxiety disorder can be addressed by hops, valerian root, chamomile,passion flower, and kava (with a big caution flag on kava).

For building immunity and stamina, tonics such as ashwaganda and astragalus are worth consideration. 

Turmeric and ginger , closely related plants, are both very potent anti-inflammatory herbal medicines which can reduce pain in joints and also may prevent dementia and heart disease.

Herbs for depression include of course St John’s Wort, and also eleuthero, peppermint, and ginseng. 

Herbs for menopause are important, including shepherds purse which can stop excess bleeding rapidly. 

Cystitis (bladder infection) can often be treated by Uva Ursi, and prevented by cranberry. 

You may be wondering also about homeopathy remedies. Are these herbal or something different?

Finally, it’s delicious and empowering to know about edible plants with effectiveness as medicinal plants and herbs, such as garlic and onions, and mushrooms.

You can get the benefits of herbs in the food you eat every day by putting them in the food that you cook or by selecting recipes that contain herbs and spices high in cancer preventative antioxidants. 

Here’s good information on healthy healing oils that can improve your general health, help with diseases: diabetes, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, cancer, and digestive problems, make your skin and hair healthier, improve your mood, and more. 
This is just a short introduction to a wealth of resources on medicinal plants and herbs. Thank you for letting me be your guide here.


to your health and wellness,


Robert Pendergrast, MD

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