Healing herbs have been used in countries such as China for thousands of years. Since the 1960s, they have been sold commercially in the US and Europe, although folk traditions on both of these continents made healing herbs popular prior to the establishment of medical colleges and pharmaceuticals. Certain types of medicinal herbs do appear to have healing powers. One should consult with a physician before ingesting herbs, because they can sometimes cause severe reactions in people who are taking prescription medications.
Some healing herbs are well-known, and double as culinary herbs that add to a healthy diet. Garlic is said to have antiseptic and antibiotic properties, and is thought by many to aid in digestion and help rid the body of parasites. Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked, and is also available in supplement form. Fennel is another dual-purpose herb, popular in cooking but also effective in treating nausea. People with sore throats sometimes gargle with a tea made from fennel.
Many homes in sunny, hot climates feature at least one or two aloe vera plants. The sap from the aloe vera leaves soothes sunburn, but it is also applied as a topical ointment on canker sores and patches of eczema. Ginger and ginseng are two herbs with a history dating back to ancient China. The former is thought to be effective against stomach ailments and heart problems, while the latter is an anti-inflammatory and decongestant. Some studies have indicated that ginger is one of the healing herbs that can help ease the pain and stiffness of arthritis.
Echinacea has become extremely popular as an over-the-counter herbal supplement since the 1990s. Users take it to combat the common cold, and believe that it strengthens the immune system. Native Americans often made a tea of echinacea, and drank it to alleviate the pain of toothaches.
Popular healing herbs common to the US include yarrow and slippery elm. Yarrow is particularly common in the Rocky Mountain states, and is traditionally taken as a tea. Though clinical studies on yarrow are inconclusive in terms of efficacy, it has been used to treat everything from stomach flu to kidney disease to stomach ulcers. Slippery elm is traditionally formed into a poultice and applied to wounds, rashes, and boils.
Many people prefer healing herbs over standard pharmaceuticals, viewing them as a pure and organic restorative. The medical community generally believes that while healing herbs might have some value, they are almost always less potent that prescription medications. The herbs might provide some relief for minor ailments, but again, serious disorders require the attention of a licensed physician.