Commonly known as geranium, Pelargonium sidoides is part of a genus of flowering plants first cultivated in South Africa. Geraniums, which bloom in a variety of shapes and colors, are typically grown for their beauty; and some fragrant species of Pelargonium are used to create perfumes. But the P. sidoides species also offers medicinal benefits. It has a long history in tribal South Africa as being used to treat coughs, upper respiratory infections and gastrointestinal illnesses. P. sidoides is often marketed as EPs 7630 or Umckaloabo, meaning “heavy cough” in Zulu tribal language.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral. Every cell in the body needs this nutrient and hundreds of body processes rely on it, from the immune system and the enzymes that produce DNA to the senses of taste and smell. Although the body does not produce zinc on its own, this mineral is readily available in drinking water and certain foods. Even so, a surprising number of adults fail to get enough of this mineral through their diet. Better food choices and a good multivitamin and mineral supplement can help compensate for such mild deficiencies.
In the eighteenth century, seasoned sailors found that by sucking on lemons they could avoid scurvy, a debilitating disease that often developed during long voyages when fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce. When the lemon’s key nutrient was formally identified in 1928, it was named ascorbic acid for its anti-scurvy, or antiscorbutic, action. Today ascorbic acid is widely known as vitamin C.
This famed vision-enhancing nutrient was isolated in 1930, the first fat-soluble vitamin to be discovered. The body acquires some of its vitamin A through animal fats. The rest it synthesizes in the intestines from the beta-carotene and other carotenoids abundant in many fruits and vegetables.
Well before the first European settlers arrived in North America, Native American tribes had discovered that by scraping away the rough outer bark of the majestic slippery elm tree (Ulmus rubra), they could uncover a remarkable healing substance in the inner bark. They beat the bark into a powder and added water to create a “slippery” concoction ideal for soothing toothaches, healing scrapes, and dispelling constipation.
Raspberry leaf tea (not ‘raspberry flavored’) has been a household remedy since ancient Greece. Leaves from the readily available shrub contain a variety of valuable therapeutic compounds, including astringent tannins and key nutrients.
From generation to generation, the majestic oak tree has provided shade on sunny days, timber for furniture-makers and ship-builders, and even food in times of famine. Many Native American tribes relied on its acorns for nourishment.
Not surprisingly, medicinal uses for the oak tree have a long history as well. Of the hundreds of Quercus species found in the northern hemisphere, Quercus alba is most valued in North America for medicinal purposes. Europeans rely more heavily on Quercus robur and Q. petraea.
Since ancient times, Europeans have relied on the root of the marshmallow plant (Althea officinalis) to concoct cough and sore throat remedies. Interestingly, the “Althea” in the herb’s botanical name comes from the Greek word for “heal” or “cure.” And the plant’s common name–marshmallow–comes from the habitat that it favors: marshes and other damp environments.
Along with its well-earned reputation for discouraging friends and repelling potential lovers, this powerful herb has a storied culinary and medical history. Egyptian pyramid builders took it for strength and endurance. Medieval healers recommended it as protection against supernatural forces–vampires in particular. The French scientist Louis Pasteur investigated its antibacterial properties, and doctors in the two World Wars treated battle wounds with garlic juice when other drugs were unavailable. Most recently, garlic has been touted for heart health as well.
One of the most popular herbal remedies in the world, echinacea contains active ingredients thought to fight colds, flu, and other infections. There are nine species of this herb, commonly called the purple coneflower, but just three (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea) are used medicinally. Various parts of the plant (flowers, leaves, stems, or roots) from a variety of species appear in literally hundreds of commercial preparations. Depending on the species and plant part used, the herb will stimulate the immune system and combat bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing microbes.
Thought to have originated in Cayenne, French Guiana, cayenne is a spice derived from several varieties of dried hot peppers in the Capsicum species. Cayenne is a relative of the mild bell pepper used in salads and also of the fiery peppers found in chili powders and hot sauces, but it has no connection to black table pepper. Used for centuries by cooks around the world to add “heat” to traditional dishes, cayenne has gained a solid reputation both as a painkiller and digestive aid.
From its bristly stems to its blue star-shaped flowers, virtually all parts of the borage plant (Borago officinalis) have been used over the centuries for their healing properties and as a flavoring for foods. As early as the 1600s, Europeans mixed borage leaves and flowers into a wine that was renown for relieving boredom and dispelling melancholy.
The prickly stemmed, flowering blackberry bushes that grow wild across parts of Europe and North America yield plump, blue-black berries for eating as well as for healing. Ancient Greeks called the plant “goutberry” because it was relied upon to lessen gout-related joint pain. Traveling salesmen of yore were known to tuck a flask of blackberry brandy into their bags to treat the loose stools that often occurred after eating unfamiliar foods. Today, blackberry is probably best known for this very use–as a soothing remedy for diarrhea.