Many old wives’ tales ascribe remarkable medicinal properties to everyday herbs and flowers. But there’s a reason some have persisted – sometimes these remedies really do work, and are clinically proven.
Here are nine everyday plants that you might find growing in your garden and the science behind their health benefits:
1. Chamomile Flowers
One of the most widely-used herbal remedies, and popular for thousands of years, chamomile has been used as a treatment for everything from bruises to fevers. A relative of the common daisy, chamomile is rich in organic chemical compounds known as terpenoids and flavonoids, which have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Experiments have shown they can help with gastrointestinal complaints and boost heart health.
2. Chili Peppers
Originally from Mexico and great for spicing up your dinner, chili is also effective in treating pain and boosting the immune system. These peppers are high in antioxidants, which help neutralize harmful free radical cells in your body (left unchecked they can cause damage to your tissue). Additionally, the active ingredient in chilies that makes them hot – capsaicin – can help treat muscle and joint pain.
3. St John’s Wort
So named because it usually flowers around the feast of St John in late June (‘wort’ is from the Old English wyrt, meaning root), St John’s Wort has been included in traditional medicine stretching back to the ancient Greeks. Known for its calming effects, it contains two active substances, hypericin and hyperforin, that are antidepressants and can help reduce anxiety. Hyperforin is also an anti-bacterial, which can help reduce inflammation.
For centuries ginger has been recommended as a remedy against nausea, particularly for those suffering from pregnancy-related sickness. And there is scientific evidence behind this: ginger not only has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but contains a substance known as gingerols, which helps prevent vomiting.
A classic ingredient in many traditional European dishes, sage also has a long history as an herbal remedy. Sage tea was such a popular treatment for sore throats and stomach pains that it spread from the Mediterranean all the way to China. A member of the mint family, sage is rich in essential oils and flavonal glycosides that not only have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties but can also reduce glucose levels.
6. Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds are used in a variety of dishes around the world, from casseroles to breads to desserts, and for that you have Finland to thank: it produces 28% of the world’s caraway exports. Caraway seeds contain essential oils and flavonoids that can ease the digestion of fatty foods and have an antispasmodic effect reducing gas, abdominal cramps and bloating. Caraway also has anti-microbial effects, thus inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.
7. Milk Thistle
Famous as the national flower of Scotland, this spiky plant has now spread around the world. It contains the compound silymarin, which protects cells from damage, and can help treat liver and stomach ailments, such as cramps and spasms. Milk thistle’s ingredients can have a relaxation effect on the gastrointestinal muscles and help boost digestion.
Nettles are usually associated with the pain caused from touching the stinging variety, but they have also been used for centuries in herbal remedies. Nettles are a natural diuretic, which aids in gastric health and can help lower high blood pressure. The plant also has nephritic properties, meaning it can help break down stones in the kidney and gallbladder.
9. Peppermint Leaves
Peppermint has been used as a remedy for indigestion and to relieve cramps since ancient Egypt. Dried peppermint leaves were even found in Egyptian pyramids. The plant is rich in essential oils (especially menthol and menthone) that have not only been proven to help with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, but have also been found to be effective in treating headaches.
While these traditional remedies can have beneficial effects, you should remember that like any medicine, the active ingredients within them may clash with other medications and could cause unpleasant side effects. You should always read labels carefully or check with a doctor if you are unsure about any medicine.