Rich in soluble fiber, psyllium seeds and their husks have long been enlisted to ease constipation and digestive system upset. During the Middle Ages, Arab physicians regularly recommended a formula for constipation that included psyllium as a principal ingredient. Today, a number of studies suggest that psyllium may also be effective in lowering cholesterol, promoting weight loss (it makes you feel full), and aiding numerous other conditions.
An herb prized for its medicinal benefits and distinctive flavor, peppermint (Mentha piperata) is a naturally occurring hybrid of spearmint (M. spicata) and water mint (M. aquatica). Unlike other mints, however, peppermint contains in its healing volatile oil the powerful therapeutic ingredient menthol, as well as menthone, menthyl acetate and some 40 other compounds. The oil is made by steam-distilling the plant’s aromatic leaves and stems, which are gathered just before its light-purple flowers appear in the summer.
Healers have used the prickly milk thistle plant to treat liver ailments for more than 2,000 years. Somehow these early practitioners figured out that preparations of this purple-flowered member of the sunflower family could stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, improving digestion and various liver-related ills.
Nutritional supplements known as lipotropic combinations (or lipotropic factors) are designed to enhance liver function and increase the flow of fats and bile from the liver and gallbladder. By definition, a lipotropic substance decreases the deposit, or speeds up the removal, of fat (lipo=fat, tropic=stimulate) within the liver. Lipotropic combinations are well known in naturopathic medicine but are little used by conventional physicians.
Lecithin is a fatty substance manufactured in the body and widely found in many animal- and plant-based foods, including eggs, liver, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat germ. Lecithin is often used as an additive in such processed foods as ice cream, margarine, and salad dressings, because it helps blend (or emulsify) fats with water. Lecithin is also available in supplement form.
The word “dandelion” derives from the French “dent de lion,” meaning lion’s tooth. The jagged edges of the plant’s shiny, smooth leaves account for its fierce-sounding name. In Europe the medicinal properties of this perennial (Taraxacum officinale) are so prized that it is grown commercially, but in North America dandelion is often dismissed as a bothersome weed. It wasn’t always so, however. Wise minds at England’s Hudson Bay Company, which was founded in 1670, made sure that employees in their Canadian outposts received shipments of vitamin- and mineral-rich dandelion roots to supplement an excessively meat-laden diet. Ordinary English settlers, too, planted dandelion in their window boxes and herb gardens.