Herbs 101: An A–Z List of Herbs for a Healthier You

There’s no denying that we’re all slowly going back to nature. And I mean that literally. People nowadays are starting to live simpler and healthier by going back to the basics. How basic? Well, a lot of people turning to herbs as an alternative way of healing.

Herbal medicine has been around for centuries. According to Steven Chasens, an herbalist,  “Herbal medicine has been used as kitchen medicine for thousands of years, and while our body’s response to these natural treatments has not changed, we now have more global choices than ever.”

That means that we now have more access to healthy herbs than we did before. This is definitely a good thing.  

What Is an Herb?

Herbs and spices get mixed up a lot. So to set them apart, let’s first define each. Herbs are simply the leaves of a plant. That’s it.

Spices come from the roots, bark, or seeds. So basically, any part of a plant that is not a leaf is automatically considered a spice.

Some plants have both. Take the cilantro plant, for example. The herb here is called the cilantro (leaves). The spice is called coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant).

Examples of Healthy Herbs

Herbs are found virtually everywhere, even in your own backyard! Some are even mistaken for weeds!

Here are some examples of common and not-so-common herbs that are packed with health benefits you didn’t know about. Take note that this is not a complete list of herbs that boasts of numerous health benefits.

Alfalfa

This herb is commonly used to treat arthritis, digestive problems, and high cholesterol. It also acts as a diuretic. It helps boost the immune system as well. Its chlorophyll content is great for reducing bad breath and body odor.

Aloe

The gel extracted from aloe leaves topically treats minor burns, cuts, and scrapes. It also helps soothe the skin from sunburn. In addition, it keeps skin smooth and supple and can treat acne and other skin problems as well.

Ashwagandha

The leaves of this herb contain anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and sedative properties. Ashwagandha leaves are brewed to make tea. This tea improves the overall performance of the human body. It also relieves stress and strengthens the immune system.

Basil

The basil leaf has a number of benefits. For one, it keeps breakouts at bay. Just boil a handful of fresh basil leaves and use the liquid over your breakout zones. Other benefits are it soothes indigestion, cures cough and colds, reduces stress, helps insect stings and bites, lowers blood sugar, combats bloating, and helps during PMS.

Bearberry

This is one of the most useful herbs around. The leaves are used to make tea. It is a traditional bladder treatment in Northern Europe. For Native Americans, they use this herb to prevent miscarriage and help women recover after childbirth.

The leaves are smoked to relieve headaches. However, this practice is carefully regulated because of the narcotic effect it brings.

Salve from the leaves also treat canker sores, sore gums, burns, and minor cuts.

Internally, bearberry boosts the immune system due to its antibacterial agents. It also detoxifies the body, eases stomach problems, speeds up the body’s healing process, and reduces inflammation.

Bee Balm

The leaves make medicinal tea. It treats colds, headaches, fevers, digestive disorders, nasal congestion, sore throat, menstrual pain, and insomnia. In addition, it acts as an ointment too for eczema, psoriasis, and acne.

Bilberry

The bilberry leaf controls blood sugar levels. It also has histamine. This speeds up the healing properties of the body and cures gastrointestinal ulcers.

Research on the effects of bilberry leaf extracts show that this herb is effective against several strains, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

Boneset

This is a common weed found along the edges of swamps and streams. It is found mainly in the temperate parts of North America, from Florida to Canada.

It treats a wide array of conditions. These include the flu, colds, fevers, migraines, rheumatism, dengue, malaria, and typhoid fever. It can also increase the body’s resistance to infections. Boneset is also used as a laxative and can help soothe other digestive problems.

Butterbur

This herb is a distant relative of the sunflower. It grows well in wet meadows, marshes, flood plains, etc. It has huge leaves that grow big enough to protect a person’s head from the sun or the rain.

The leaves are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, diuretic, and cardiotonic. They treat cough and asthma. It can also strengthen digestion and aid in gastrointestinal problems. It can treat colic. The leaves also treat minor wounds and skin eruptions.

Catnip

The use of catnip leaves and flowers in herbal teas have been around since the early 1730s. Medicinally, it treats indigestion, intestinal cramps, diarrhea, colic, and colds. It also induces menstruation, increases appetite, relieves respiratory ailments, and acts as a sedative. Additionally, catnip can cure insomnia, relieve stress, soothe nervous disorders, and is a good remedy for bug bites.

Chives

This is one of the most common and easy-to-find herbs. Chives possess antibacterial properties, specifically those that can affect the gastrointestinal system. It can also lower cholesterol levels and plaque in the arteries. This lowers the risk of stroke and heart attacks.

In addition, it prevents various types of cancer, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.

Chives can also maintain mineral density in bones, improves eyesight, detoxify the body, boost the immune system, and promote good health during pregnancy (when taken in recommended doses, of course).

Cilantro

You’d be surprised by the numerous benefits you can get from cilantro. First, it lowers blood sugar levels, fights against colon cancer, prevents neurological inflammation, promotes a healthy heart, protects against food poisoning, and supports healthy menstruation. Also, it prevents urinary tract infections, detoxifies the body of heavy metals, protects against oxidative stress, and improves sleep. And finally, it lowers anxiety, settles digestive issues, and soothes skin irritations.

To top it off, cilantro also protects the body from salmonella-based illnesses, possesses anti-allergic properties, helps with anemia, cures mouth ulcers, reduces blood pressure, promotes bone health, cures smallpox, helps improve eye health, and enhances libido.

Dandelion

A lot of people consider the dandelion as a useless weed, but contrary to popular belief, this is one of the herbs with the most number of benefits. For one, it promotes bone and joint health, supports healthy liver function, and stimulates urinary function for cleansing.

It purifies the blood, prevents gallstones, fights Alzheimer’s, and helps settle bad digestion. In addition, it promotes weight loss, generates red blood cells, regulates heart rate and blood pressure, provides healthy skin, and improves vision.

Also, it detoxifies the body, serves as a laxative, treats aching muscles, fights against diabetes, and boosts the body’s immunity system.

Dill

It’s commonly known as the dill weed, but still considered part of the herb family. And like a lot of the other herbs in this list, dill also provides a lot of benefits for the human body.

First, it is a very effective bug repellent and is a safer alternative to pesticides. It treats depression, reduces menstrual cramps, boosts energy, promotes good digestion, provides antimicrobial effects, fights against bad free radicals, lowers cholesterol, and may treat epilepsy. In addition, it can treat insomnia, promote bone health, fights diabetes, prevent excess gas, boosts the immune system, cure hiccups, inhibits fungal infections, treats diarrhea, and reduces inflammation. It also reduces stomach acid secretions, cures the common cold, remedies earaches, and treats head lice and hemorrhoids.   

Fennel

The fennel promotes collagen synthesis to keep the skin firm and tight. It protects against the signs of aging, combats cancer, soothes colicky babies, relieves menstrual cramps, prevents osteoporosis, and fights against obesity.

It can also lower blood pressure, aids in digestion, increases satiety, decreases the chances of heart disease, promotes eye health, treats anemia, reduces flatulence, treats most intestinal issues, and boosts brain function.

Holy Basil

This is a distant cousin to the basil. Unlike basil, which has a sweet taste, the holy basil has a peppery clove-like flavor. It is a native herb to Southeast Asia, specifically in India.

And like all the herbs in this list, the holy basil has its own benefits to boast of.

It cures fevers, treats bronchitis, relieves respiratory congestion, treats asthma, and treats lung disorders. It can also promotes cardiovascular health, relieves stress, acts as a mouth freshener, inhibits the growth of oral cancer, fights against bad breath, and destroys dental cavities, plaque, and tartar.

In addition, it cleans out kidney stones, cures skin infections, treats migraines, cures cough and colds, and fights the signs of aging.

Lavender

Aaah, lavender. Its smell can soothe even the most irritable beast. But it’s not just the lavender scent that’s good about it. This is one of the herbs that doesn’t only look pretty, but is really beneficial as well.

First and foremost, it soothes stress and anxiety. It balances your mood. Lavender also cures sleep issues. This includes apnea, restless sleep patterns, and insomnia. It eases aching muscles, reduces inflammation, quickly heals wounds, prevents development of infections on wound sites, reduces the chance of heart diseases, and relieves bloating and other digestive issues.

It can also cure chronic skin conditions, like eczema, acne, and psoriasis. Not only that, lavender can also boost the health of follicle beds and hair.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle has been used for over a thousand years in traditional medicine. It supports kidney, gallbladder, and liver health. It also contains potential anti-cancer properties. Milk thistle also promotes heart health, regulates blood sugar levels, and boosts brain health. In addition, it improves skin conditions, reduces skin damage caused by radiation treatment, prevents free radical damage, reduces visible signs of aging, and maintains healthy eyes.

Mint

Everyone is familiar with a sprig of mint in a lot of drinks. It adds a refreshing burst of flavor. But mint improves your body as well.

It acts as a great palate cleanser. Mint also promotes healthy digestion, soothes upset stomachs, cures nausea and headaches, clears up nasal congestion, relieves chronic coughing, and helps with asthma.

For breastfeeding moms, it can reduce nipple cracks and nipple pain from breastfeeding. Mint fights against depression and fatigue, aids in memory loss, gets rid of pimples, and helps in weight loss. This herb heals and soothes burns, treats rheumatism, boosts brain activity, and induces sweating on people with fever. It can also soothe muscle ache, relieves heartburn (if taken in small doses), prevents cancer, and improves eye health.

Oregano

Oregano is one of the popular herbs people use mainly in the kitchen to add oomph to their dishes. However, this herb not only enhances the flavor of your dish, it also gives you tons of benefits.

First, it reduces oxidative stress, fights against harmful free radicals, defends the body against harmful bacteria, speeds up metabolism, and promotes good digestion. Also, it balances out cholesterol levels, reduces inflammation in the cardiovascular system, speeds up the process of toxin elimination, and promotes bone health.

Oregano can also rejuvenate the body and keeps it energized, treats urinary tract infections, remedies sleeping problems, relieves cough and colds, prevents degenerative arthritis, and heals wounds and insect bites.

Parsley

Parsley is widely known and used as a garnish, but it’s actually more than that. It is a very helpful herb that boasts of time-tested benefits.

For one, it aids in bone health, boosts the immune system, fights the effects of aging, protects the body from free radical damage, and supports healthy kidney function.

It can also relieve joint pains, relaxes stiff muscles, promotes good digestion, treats anemia, and contains cancer-fighting compounds.

Lastly, it protects against rheumatoid arthritis, cleanses the liver, balances hormones, acts as a diuretic, reduces bad breath, and improves appetites.

Rosemary

Another of the popular herbs, this can be easily found in the garden. And again, this too provides numerous health benefits.

Rosemary helps boost concentration and memory retention. It eases stress levels and improves hair growth. It also treats muscle aches and pains, relieves gastrointestinal issues, prevents cancer cells from replicating, treats gout, reduces high blood pressure, fights against eczema, and soothes toothaches.

In addition, rosemary also boosts the immune system, fights against bacterial infections, stimulates blood flow, provides pain relief, and gives naturally fresh and clean breath.

Sage

The sage helps a lot with digestive problems, which include flatulence, gastritis, loss of appetite, bloating, diarrhea, and heartburn.

For women, it soothes painful menstrual cramps, corrects excessive milk flow for breastfeeding moms, and reduces hot flashes for menopausal women.

It also functions as an effective brain booster, possesses anti-inflammatory properties, prevents oxidative stress, fights against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, promotes bone strength, and helps in keeping skin healthy.

In addition, it lowers blood glucose, lowers cholesterol, improves fertility, and treats night sweats in tuberculosis patients.

Stinging Nettle

The stinging nettle is correctly named. Its long stinging hairs inject an array of chemicals when touched. This produces an irritating and uncomfortable feeling on the skin. One should take great care in handling this herb.

However, its numerous benefits far outweigh this one bad thing.

For one, it cleanses the body of toxins. It also improves the nutrient uptake efficiency of the gut, stimulates red blood cell production, speeds up wound healing, boosts energy levels, and relieves fatigue and anemia.

Stinging nettle helps with women’s issues too. It helps ease painful labor in pregnant women, reduces bleeding during childbirth, stimulates the production of milk for breastfeeding, soothes menstrual cramps, reduces blood flow during the red days, and helps in hormonal shifts in menopausal women.

Stinging nettle also breaks down stones found in the gallbladder and kidney, protects against excess fluid retention, maintains calcium content in our bones, reduce allergic reactions, treat asthma, lower  blood pressure, and relieves tension in the cardiovascular system.  

Thyme

Last but not least in this list of healthy herbs is thyme. Thyme and thyme again, because of its distinctive flavor, it’s used in plenty of recipes. Thyme is used healthwise as well.

It is an effective acne treatment, lowers blood pressure, remedies cough, boosts the immune system, and acts as a disinfectant.

In addition, thyme can fight sore throats, lowers cholesterol levels, prevents food poisoning, prevents and treats colon cancer, treats bronchitis, and improves your mood.

A Word of Caution

Always practice precautionary measures before using any of these herbs. Consult with a medical professional for the best way of using them. This warning is is especially for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, people taking blood thinners, people with high blood pressure, etc.

Kate B. Forsyth is a writer for Be Healthy Today, who specializes in health and nutrition. Her passion is to help people get an overall transformation of health that lasts a lifetime. In her blog posts, she goes beyond research by providing health-concerned citizens doable and simple tricks to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

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