As a medical herbalist, I specialize in creating customized blends of herbal supplements tailored to the specific needs of my clients. Formulating these blends involves drawing on a huge variety of herbal supplements, each with proven properties that affect health and wellness. But, even if you don’t regularly take a full regime, having a basic herbal arsenal at your disposal is a great way to manage daily concerns, like low energy, lack of focus or fighting the flu, and improve overall general health. So, I boiled down my Top 10 Herbal Supplements, featuring my short-list of the most beneficial herbs out there.
1. Medicinal mushrooms. Ok, I’m already cheating since this is not actually an herb! But, medicinal mushrooms have such an amazing mix of ingredients, from immune-boosting glucans to stress-busting and anti-cancer compounds. Taking a medicinal mushroom blend, or a single all-rounder like Reshi, can help keep you from getting sick, while also providing a rich source of B-vitamins. I love Four Sigma Foods Instant Reishi, $30 for 20 convenient instant sachets.
2. Garlic contains a compound called allinin, which gets converted into allicin when the bulb is crushed. Allicin is both a natural antibiotic, shown to be effective in combating harmful organisms like MRSA, and a resource for fighting against cardiovascular disease. Many studies have shown allicin decreases hypertension by as much as 30 points. And, according to a clinic study at UCLA, garlic may help prevent strokes by slowing arterial blockages and lowering levels of homocysteine, a chemical that leads to plaque buildup.
Reaping the health benefits of allicin is simple. Just crush cloves of garlic and set them aside for 15 minutes. Then, incorporate the garlic anywhere in your meal. If you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen or want to skip ingesting the recommended 5 cloves, you can always take concentrated Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract, which is coated to protect the delicate allicin from stomach acid.
3. Rhodiola, or rose root, has been widely studied to significantly improve energy, stamina and focus. Known as an “adapotgen,” the herb helps the body adapt during times of stress and has been shown to be useful in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Because taking Rhodiola has both energizing and uplifting effects, in most cases, it’s best to take the supplement for six weeks and follow with a break. I recommend Gaia Herbs Adrenal Health, $30.
4. Milk thistle is an effective remedy for those with liver disease, or those who want to protect their liver from damage. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, acts as an antioxidant, stabilizing liver cell membranes and increasing glutathione production. Silymarin may also have the added ability to inhibit toxins binding with liver cells. Notably, it has been proven to reduce insulin resistance and cholesterol in diabetic patients.
Because silymarin is fat soluble, it’s important to buy a high-alcohol extract in order to get the most benefit from this liver-aiding ingredient. To tell if the extract is ideal, look to confirm that it appears milky when added to water. Then, add the recommended dose to shakes, smoothies, and other drinks. I like Standard Process Milk Thistle 1:1, $56 for 20ml.
Related Read: Tinctures & Treatments at the Organic Pharmacy
5. Melissa, or lemon balm, is often used for low mood and digestive disorders, but also has antiviral benefits when applied topically. Clinical studies have shown that it promotes calmness and increases alertness, by raising levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitters GABA and acetylcholine. Because of these effects, lemon balm has been used in the treatment of symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD and anxiety. Topical preparations, however, are often used for the treatment of herpes breakouts and cold sores. I recommend Gaia Herbs Lemon Balm, $12.
6. Turmeric can do almost everything! Its active ingredient, curcumin has been proven to help improve a variety of serious and even life-threatening conditions, including multiple myeloma, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, psoriasis, arthritis, major depression and Alzheimer’s Disease. Curcumin possesses potent anti-inflammatory qualities that aide in the treatment of conditions associated with inflammation, ranging from autoimmune disease to arthritis. The only issue with this miracle ingredient is that it’s hard for your body to absorb. Scientists are currently researching better methods of administration. For now, the ingredient piperene, found in black pepper, is used to improve the bioavailability of turmeric (up to 200%). I recommend Gaia Herbs Turmeric Extreme, $30, which also contains black pepper.
7. St Johns Wort. Did you know this European herb traditionally blooms and is harvested on the longest day of the year? It has been used as an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety. One of the main components, hypericium, is also an anti-viral. So, taking the herb is a good preventative measure against winter viruses, like the flu. St Johns Wort can also be administered topically for the treatment of pain caused by nerve damage or irritation, known as neuralgia. I suggest Gaia Herbs St. Johns Wort Emotional Health, $29.
8. Ginger herbal supplements come in two forms—fresh and dried. The fresh version is useful in reducing nausea and also has great antiviral properties to help fight the common cold. Dried ginger has increased anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous benefits. Use fresh ginger tea at the first sign of a cold or when nauseous. Alternatively, use dried ginger tea bags to reduce the pain of arthritis or improve peripheral circulation.
9. Panax Ginseng, also called Korean ginseng, is a proven adapotgen and a favorite among herbalists. Like rhodiola, panax ginseng helps the body cope with stress and increases immunity, energy, working memory and focus. It also helps normalize blood sugar. Because of these properties, it is most effective when taken during periods of stress and debility, versus when taken on a long term basis. Try Solgar Korean Ginseng Extract, $17.
10. Echinacea, or cone flower, is an herb native to North America. Due to its immune-boosting and antiviral properties, echinacea can reduce the severity and duration of colds, in addition to treating chronic infections, such as sinusitis and acne. Take a whole herb extract to receive the antiviral and immune enhancing benefits. I recommend A. Force Echinaforce, $14 for 1.7oz., taken every four hours during an acute infection.
Related Read: A Kick-Starter’s Guide to Herbal Supplements