The following herbs are well-known for their effectiveness, versatility, and safety. Together, they make a wonderful apothecary for any budding herbalist. As you’ll begin to realize, most herbs are multitaskers; getting to know just a handful can open up a world of remedies. If you are pregnant or nursing, are taking medication, or have a chronic or serious condition, check with your health-care practitioner before using herbs medicinally.
Parts Used: Leaf, flower
Properties: Expectorant, astringent, demulcent (soothing), antispasmodic
Used For: Infections of the respiratory system, coughs, colds, congestion. Wound healing, and as a topical herb for infections. Mullein flowers infused in olive oil are used as drops to treat ear infections.
Flavor: Mild; blends well with other flavors
Part Used: Root
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, antiviral, demulcent (soothing)
Used For: Primary herb for adrenal support. Respiratory- and reproductive-system support.
Flavor: Very sweet. Blends well with other herbs; considered the “great harmonizer” in traditional Chinese medicine.
Safety Notes: Use only with supervision if you take heart medication or diuretics or have high blood pressure.
Part Used: Root
Properties: Warming, decongestant, mild stimulant
Used For: Digestive problems, including motion sickness. Respiratory, circulatory, and reproductive problems. Often used as a catalyst herb in medicinal blends.
Flavor: Spicy-hot, pungent
Safety Notes: Avoid taking large doses if you are taking blood-thinning medication.
4. Dong Quai
Part Used: Root
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic, antibiotic, antimicrobial, immune support
Used For: Nourishing tonic. Blood tonic. Reproductive tonic for women; useful for PMS and other menstrual difficulties.
Flavor: Sweet, pungent
Safety Note: Not recommended for use during menstruation.
Avena sativa, A. fatua
Part Used: Milky green tops of grain; stems (called oatstraw)
Properties: Antidepressant, nutritive, demulcent (soothing)
Used For: Prevention and treatment for nervous exhaustion, depression, decreased vitality. Adjunct therapy for nerve regeneration in MS and for neurological pain. Skin problems such as acne. Often used as a supportive herb in formulas.
Flavor: Sweet, soothing
6. Blue Elder
Part Used: Berries, flowers
Properties: Diaphoretic (increases sweating), diuretic, anti-inflammatory, immune-enhancing
Used For: Colds and flus; syrup famous for sore throat. Skin problems.
Flavor: Berries are tart but delicious when sweetened. Flowers are mildly sweet.
Safety Note: Do not confuse with red elder (Sambucus racemosa),which is toxic.
Chamomilla recutita, C nobile
Part Used: Mainly flowers
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative (anti-gas), mild bitter, relaxant
Used For: Gentle nervous-system tonic; useful for stress. Digestive aid; useful for indigestion and “nervous stomach.” Skin problems.
Flavor: Mildly bitter with sweet undertones
Safety Note: Can cause allergies in people allergic to plants of the same family
Part Used: Leaf, flower, berry
Properties: Bioflavonoid-rich, antioxidant, antidepressant
Used For: Cardiac problems; used as a cardiac tonic and for congestive heart failure. Enhances memory. Gentle remedy for depression; uplifts the spirits.
Flavor: Pleasantly fruity; both sweet and tart
Safety Note: Consult your health-care practitioner if you are taking heart medication.
9. Lemon Balm
Part Used: Leaf, flower
Properties: Antispasmodic, antiviral, diaphoretic (increases sweating), antidepressant
Used For: Stress, anxiety, depression; is relaxing, calming, somewhat uplifting. Digestive aid for “nervous stomach.”
Flavor: Sweet, aromatic; blends well with other herbs
Safety Note: Use only with supervision if you have thyroid dysfunction.
Cinnamomum verum, C. zeylanicum, C. spp.
Part Used: Bark
Properties: Warming, decongestive, carminative (anti-gas), stimulant, antiseptic, antiviral
Used For: Treating colds and coughs. Digestive problems. Often used as a catalyst herb in medicinal blends.
Flavor: Warming, pungent, sweet. Helps to blend the flavors of other herbs.
11. Vitex (chaste tree)
Vitex Agnus castus
Part Used: Berry
Properties: Hormonal regulator; stimulant and normalizer of pituitary-gland function; restores balance of estrogen and progesterone.
Used For: Women’s hormonal imbalances, such as PMS, irregular menstrual cycle, symptoms of menopause, infertility, acne associated with menstrual cycle.
Flavor: Spicy-hot, warming
Part Used: Leaf and flower
Properties: Stimulant, carminative (anti-gas), antimicrobial, antibacterial, antispasmodic, cooling, flavonoid-rich
Used For: Migraines and headaches. Indigestion. Used in creams for muscle spasms.
Flavor: Minty, uplifting, highly aromatic
Part Used: Leaf and flower
Properties: Astringent, diaphoretic (increases sweating), antispasmodic, fever-reducing
Used For: Wound healing; helps reduce internal and external bleeding. Helps lower blood pressure. Helps regulate menstrual cycle.
Safety Note: May trigger allergic reactions in those sensitive to ragweed.
Echinacea purpurea, E angustifolia
Part Used: Root, leaf, flower, seed
Properties: Immune-enhancing, antimicrobial, antibacterial, wound healing, antibiotic
Used For: Prevention and treatment of respiratory infections. Treats toothaches, insect bites, topical wounds.
Flavor: Sweet, bitter, tingling
Safety Note: People allergic to the family may develop a rash. Those with auto-immune disorders should consult their health-care practitioner.
15. Nettle Urens
Urtica dioica. U. urens, U. pilulifer
Part Used: Mostly leaf
Properties: Anti-allergenic, anti-arthritic, mild diuretic, galatagogue (increases breast milk), nutritive
Used For: Famous tonic herb: supports liver health; supports reproductive system; increases iron levels. Root used for benign prostate hypertrophy.
Flavor: Rich “green” flavor
Safety Note: Fresh nettle has a nasty sting; harvest only with gloves.