Recently, the delicious and easy-to-crack nuts from the walnut tree (Juglans regia) have received a lot of attention because of their rich stores of omega-3 fatty acids and other healing nutrients. But for centuries herbalists have recognized the healing properties of another part of the walnut tree–its pointy green leaves.
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.
A source of fiber for linen fabric since ancient times, the slender flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) also boasts a long history as a healing herb. First cultivated in Europe, the plant’s brown seeds were regularly used to prepare balms for inflamed skin and healing slurries for constipation. Today, flaxseeds–also called linseeds–are best known for the therapeutic oil that is derived by pressing them. Rich in essential fatty acids, or EFAs, flaxseed oil has earned a solid reputation for treating a range of ailments, from heart disease to lupus.
Sold in pharmacies and other drug outlets, colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) is not intended for a saucepan on the stove. Instead, this natural product is more suited to the water in the bathtub, where it helps soothe and soften dry skin and relieve itchy skin rashes.
One of the safest medicinal herbs, chamomile is a soothing, gentle relaxant that has been shown to work for a variety of complaints from stress to menstrual cramps. This herb has a satisfying, applelike aroma and flavor (the name chamomile is derived from the Greek kamai melon, meaning ground apple), and it’s most often taken as a delicious, mild therapeutic tea. Concentrated extracts of chamomile are also added to healing creams and lotions or packaged as pills and tinctures.
A succulent perennial plant belonging to the lily family, aloe vera grows wild in Madagascar and large portions of the African continent. Because of its many therapeutic uses, it is now commercially cultivated in the United States, Japan, and countries in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Many individuals also grow aloe as a houseplant.