one green planet
one green planet

Isn’t it frustrating to wait around for a doctor’s appointment just to get his signature on a prescription slip, then wait around again at a pharmacy to get an expensive prescription filled? Despite the expense and side effects of prescription medications, and their tendency to become habit-forming or lose effectiveness, many see them as the only option.

This shouldn’t be the case. Most drug stores, health food stores, and supermarkets have a whole aisle filled with herbal remedies that can help treat minor ailments without the dangers associated with prescription medications. Next time you’re there picking up vitamin C for a cold, take a peek at the other bottles on that shelf. You may be surprised to learn how many common problems can be treated with over-the-counter herbs available for pennies a dose. With your doctor’s approval, ask about using one of these natural herbs instead of pouring your savings into habit-forming drugs that could have scary side effects.

The list below is just a small sampling of safe, tried-and-true herbal remedies, but hopefully it will inspire you to explore natural medicine in greater depth.

1. St. John’s Wort

wikipedia wort

In a recent study, researchers in Germany found that St. John’s wort, which is commonly used to treat depression in Germany, can be as effective in treating depression as standard prescription drugs. The bad news is, the herb can interact badly with other medications, such as birth control pills and liver medications, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying St. John’s wort, especially if you’re being treated for another condition.

2. Valerian Root

valerian wikimedia commons

If you can get past the funky smell, valerian root is a gentle alternative to fight insomnia and relieve anxiety without the morning drowsiness common with prescription sleeping pills. The absence of serious side effects makes it a smart choice for children and the elderly. From personal experience, this herb has an added bonus of stimulating memorable, surreal dreams.

3. Turmeric

Turmericroot wikimedia commons

Though studies on its effectiveness have had mixed results, this wonder spice has been used to treat various conditions for over 4,000 years, so it couldn’t hurt to add a little extra to your curry or tofu scramble. Research shows it may help treat digestive problems, ulcers, osteoarthritis, bacterial and viral infections, and certain types of cancers.

4. Peppermint

mint wikipedia

Peppermint sure smells nice (it’s no valerian root), so lucky for us it has several medicinal uses too. A 2007 Italian study found that taking peppermint oil capsules helps relieve irritable bowel syndrome, and research from Wheeling Jesuit University linked smelling peppermint to greater alertness and lower frustration. Other studies — though less solid — found that peppermint oil can relieve tension headaches when applied topically, and a mixture of peppermint and caraway oils may curb indigestion.

5. Black Cohosh Root

cohosh lady bird johnson wildflower center

Native Americans have been using black cohosh root for centuries to relieve menstrual cramps and physical and psychological symptoms of menopause. Clinical studies back up these traditional uses, and many experts consider it a safer alternative to hormone replacement therapy. This herb has been associated with a few cases of liver toxicity and has more side effects than most herbs, so check with your doctor before using it, especially in the long-term.

6. Thyme

Thyme-spice wikipedia

A fresh new study published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine found that thyme oil works better than ibuprofen to treat menstrual cramps, without the unpleasant side effects. Even better, thyme oil is natural, so the body recognizes it and doesn’t build up a tolerance like it does with synthetic drugs. So thyme oil’s pain relieving qualities will be equally effective with each dose.

Lead image source: Wikipedia