Herbal supplements have been used for centuries by different cultures for many medicinal purposes. Herbs can be used for their flavors, scents, or potentially therapeutic qualities. Herb-based supplements can come in the form of tablets, capsules, teas, extracts, and powders. When shopping for an herbal supplement, it is very important to evaluate your current medications and if there are any interactions that could affect the strength of the medication. Some of the most popular choices for herbal supplements include: ginger, chamomile, ginseng, St. John's Wort, garlic, lavender, grape seed extract, tea tree oil, and echinacea. These can be used for a variety of purposes, from sleep aide/relaxation to strengthening of the immune system.
The first recorded use of herbs was by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago. The Ancient Egyptians also recorded their usage of herb-based medicines, some of which we still use today! The study of medicine for quite some time was centered around the use of herbs, as they did not have the advanced machinery and clinical formulations we have today. The herbal movement was revolutionized in the 1960’s and 1970’s after the counterculture movement, and many public figures endorsed the usage of alternative medicine over clinical medicine. Today, many people around the world choose to take a nontraditional supplement to help with ailments of the mind and body.
While there is much potential for the utilization of these unconventional forms of medicine, there is still work that needs to be done in the study and analysis of the benefits and risks. Take Valerian root for example. There have been notable studies regarding its efficacy of aiding with sleep disorders, like insomnia. However, it could be difficult to come to a general conclusion because of the different tested amounts in the studies and procedural differences. This is not to say that Valerian root wouldn’t help, it just means that it’s proving difficult to claim that it is a “cure-all” for sleep disorders. Another example is St. John’s Wort. This herbal medicine has been used in Europe to treat mild to moderate forms of depression. This could be a great alternative for those who are unable to pay for doctor’s appointments to receive a prescription for an antidepressant. However, more studies need to be done regarding the interactions with other medications, like oral contraceptives, and the side effects.