What Are Botanicals and What Health Benefits Do They Have?
Living in the modern age is a wonder; we have medicines that can cure headaches, banish allergies, and more, all at our fingertips. We can restart hearts, battle dangerous forms of cancer, replace organs, and even foster the seeds of life. But as our medical knowledge continues to advance, many practitioners are looking back to ancient remedies and wisdom.
Botanical remedies have been around for thousands of years, and new research is showing that some of these plants may have genuine benefits. If you’ve ever wondered “What are botanicals?” read on to learn more about these substances and how they could improve your health.
What Are Botanicals?
Before we dive into the benefits botanicals can have, let’s talk some about what botanicals actually are. A botanical is a plant or a plant product that is believed to have some medicinal properties. You may also hear these remedies referred to as herbal products or phytomedicines.
You can find botanicals in a variety of different forms, ranging from fresh plants to dried products to capsules. Some botanicals are meant to be consumed as a tea, while others are made into tinctures or supplements. You may also find botanicals in extract or essential oil form, depending on the nature of the plant.
You likely recognize the first botanical on this list from your Thanksgiving table: the cranberry. This evergreen shrub grows in the Northeast in bogs that are flooded when it’s time to harvest the berries. The fruits and leaves of the cranberry plant are the most popular parts used for medicinal reasons.
The most common use of cranberry as a botanical is as a treatment for urinary tract infections. In fact, this is what most research around cranberry as a medicine focuses on. Some studies have shown limited evidence that cranberry can be helpful for preventing UTIs, though it’s important to note that there is no evidence it helps with treating them once they occur.
You may also be familiar with saw palmetto from brochures for vacations in tropical places. These broad-leaved plants have a fan-like structure to their leaves and thrive in the southeastern part of the country. Saw palmetto has been popular as a treatment for migraine, hair loss, and a variety of genital diseases.
Most research around saw palmetto use has focused around its effectiveness at treating UTIs associated with an enlarged prostate. A few small studies have shown it to be helpful, but no larger, more reputable studies have found evidence that it’s more effective than a placebo. However, saw palmetto tends to have very mild side effects, if any at all.
Garlic is a fantastic ingredient for making sauces and pasta dishes taste delicious, but it can also have some health benefits. This bulb is a member of the lily family, and the edible root is the best part of the plant for creating botanical remedies. Most research on garlic has studied its effectiveness for reducing blood pressure and blood lipid levels.
Although more research is still needed, some preliminary evidence shows that garlic may help to reduce cholesterol levels. It can also reduce high levels of low-density lipoproteins, as well as high blood pressure. There still isn’t enough evidence to determine if garlic is helpful in curing the common cold or not.
Ginkgo, also known as ginkgo biloba, is one of the oldest and most popular botanical extracts in the world. It has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and has spread to the west in more recent years. Most modern practitioners use extracts from ginkgo leaves to create dietary supplements.
Although a lot of research has been done on ginkgo and its effectiveness for various conditions, there have been no conclusive results. Some small studies have shown that it may be helpful in managing some symptoms of dementia. It may also be effective in managing anxiety, glaucoma, schizophrenia, vertigo, and several other conditions.
Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is a member of the daisy family and traces its roots back to traditional Native American medicine. There are nine species of echinacea, though only two (purpurea and angustifolia) are commonly used in botanical remedies. You can find echinacea in both a supplement form and as a topical ointment, depending on what you’re using it for.
There has been a lot of research done about whether echinacea can help with treating the common cold. There is evidence to suggest that it can help prevent you from catching a cold, but no evidence that it will cure a cold once you have it. Echinacea may also be helpful in stimulating the immune system, though more evidence is needed.
Milk thistle is a spiky purple plant native to Europe; today, it’s found on every continent except Antarctica. You may also hear this plant called Mary thistle, holy thistle, or silymarin. As of today, there is relatively little reputable research on whether milk thistle is effective as a botanical treatment in humans.
There have been a few studies suggesting that milk thistle may help in managing or treating diabetes. Some other studies have shown that it may be useful for mitigating chronic hepatitis C infections. There have also been some studies on milk thistle for liver disease, but none of them have been conclusive.
Black cohosh is a feathery white flowering plant that’s a member of the buttercup family. It grows natively in North America and has been used as a Native American remedy for centuries. In general, practitioners use the root or underground stem of the black cohosh plant, rather than its flowers, for botanical remedies.
Most research on black cohosh has been centered on its effectiveness in reducing symptoms of menopause. The research in this area has been promising, showing that an extract from this plant can help to reduce hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. There is not yet enough data to show if black cohosh is effective in dealing with hot flashes related to breast cancer.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a beautiful small yellow flower that also goes by the name goatweed. Its use as a medicine can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and its name refers to St. John the Baptist.
Reputable studies have shown that St. John’s wort may be effective for treating mild and moderate depression. It may also be helpful in managing symptoms of menopause, as well as promoting wound healing.
It is very important to note that St. John’s wort can interact in dangerous or life-threatening ways with a variety of medicines. Always talk to your doctor before using this or any other supplement.
The name “ginseng” is one many of us associate with traditional Chinese medicine, and for good reason. This herb is native to China, Korea, and parts of Siberia and has been a part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years. There are several types of ginseng, but one of the most common in botanical remedies is Asian or red ginseng.
There has been relatively little modern research about the effectiveness of ginseng, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it is. However, some studies have shown that it may help to improve metabolism and lower blood sugar. This may depend in large part on the ginseng preparation, however.
You may know chamomile as the tea you drink when you’re having a hard time falling asleep at night. This flower is a member of the daisy family and has been a part of botanical medicine since ancient times. In particular, it was a popular remedy in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
Studies on chamomile so far have been small, variable, and generally unreliable. Preliminary studies have shown this plant may help manage generalized anxiety disorder, and it could help to soothe an upset stomach. There has been no solid evidence that chamomile helps with insomnia, but it is also safe to use for this purpose.
Ginger is another common kitchen ingredient that may have uses as a natural remedy. In general, the term “ginger” refers to the root of the plant, which is large, fibrous, and aromatic. This root has been used as a part of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,500 years, and it has been popular in India and Japan since the sixteenth century.
Ginger is one of the more well-studied botanical remedies, and results have been promising. Several studies have shown that ginger can help to reduce nausea and vomiting, especially in people who are pregnant. It can also be helpful in alleviating menstrual cramps; there isn’t enough evidence to show whether it’s helpful for arthritis or not.
Valerian is native to Europe and Asia and also goes by the names setwall and phu. Most of the time, practitioners use the roots and stems of this plant to create supplements that people can incorporate into their diet. It traces its history as a botanical remedy back to the time of Ancient Greece and Rome.
There have been a number of studies done on valerian, most of which focused on its effectiveness at treating insomnia. The results showed that this botanical can help people to fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. More research is needed to confirm this, however, since these studies had some design flaws.
Green tea has been an important part of Asian culture and medicine for thousands of years. This plant is actually the same as the plant that produces black and oolong teas; the difference lies in how they are prepared. You can, of course, find green tea as a beverage, but it also comes in supplement and topical forms.
The FDA has approved the use of a topical ointment containing green tea for treatment of genital warts. Additional research has suggested green tea may be useful in reducing risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. There is no evidence to suggest that drinking green tea can help you lose weight.
Safe Supplement Use
When you’re taking botanicals or supplements of any variety, there are a few things you need to know first. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any sort of new supplement or treatment. Some of these botanicals can interact with other medications you’re taking and could make them less effective.
It’s also important to note that, unlike traditional medications, there is no regulatory body that oversees the production of supplements. When you pick up a bottle claiming to contain milk thistle, there’s no way to know if that’s what’s really in the bottle or not. Always buy from reputable vendors who you can trust to sell you a quality product that matches the label.
Learn More About Botanicals
In recent years, scientists have begun to turn their attention back to ancient wisdom and traditional cures. Recent studies have shown that some of these botanical remedies can have a variety of benefits, ranging from curing insomnia to improving heart health. Always talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement so you can make a safe and informed decision for your health plan.
If you’d like to further answer the question “What are botanicals?” check out the rest of our site at Lyf Fit. We have information about all sorts of natural cures, from peptides to botanicals and more. Read our vitamin supplement articles today and discover what the power of the natural world could do for you.