Throughout history, people have turned to plants for their medicinal needs – and it’s from these plants that the active ingredients of many modern pharmaceuticals are derived. Here we consider ten of the best-known natural anti-inflammatories.
The bilberry is a tasty relative of the blueberry. As well as being a natural anti-inflammatory, it’s thought to improve night vision. It’s for this reason that some Royal Air Force pilots in World War II ate bilberry jam before embarking on missions. The berries are also a rich source of flavonoids, which contain antioxidant properties.
Buchu, which is endemic to South Africa’s Western Cape, is famous for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It’s also widely used for treating gastro-intestinal and urinary tract infections. This healing herb is commonly drunk as a tea or infused into brandy. It’s also now available in flavoured herbal waters, soft-gel capsules and topical gel.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because this plant was the original source for the flavour used in marshmallow sweets. The roots of the plant, as well as its leaves and flowers, have anti-inflammatory properties. Traditionally the root is used as an ingredient in a gargle for mouth and throat ulcers, and to soothe throat irritations. It’s also used to treat minor skin irritations and wounds.
The bark of white willow has been used throughout history to relieve pain and fever. It was widely used in the time of Hippocrates, and its medicinal properties were known in both Europe and China. Ancient Egyptian, Sumerian and Assyrian texts also mention a tincture made from the sap of the tree. The active ingredient that gives the tree its anti-inflammatory property is salicin, which is similar in chemical make-up to aspirin.
Mullein refers to around 250 specifies of flowering plants in the figwort family, found in both Europe and Asia. Especially in Austria, mullein was widely used to treat disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, veins, locomotor system and gastrointestinal tract. After the plant was introduced into North America, it was also used by the Native Americans in various remedies. Mullein acts as an expectorant, and laboratory tests have verified its anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. It’s also thought to inhibit the tuberculosis bacillus.
Jamaican Dogwood should be used only under the supervision of a doctor because it’s mildly toxic. It’s used to treat nervous conditions and pain. Recent studies have verified that an extract from its bark has anti-inflammatory, sedative and anti-spasmodic effects.
Feverfew grows as a small bush with lemon-scented leaves. The plant was recognized as an effective anti-inflammatory by the Greeks as early as the first century AD. Studies have also shown it to be effective in treating migraines, due to the presence of the chemicals tanetin and parthenolide. The plant, however, should not be taken by pregnant women.
Extracts from leaves of the Gingko Biloba tree contain the flavonoid glycosides known as myricetin and quercetin, which have been used pharmaceutically. A natural concoction of the leaves boiled in water with coconut flesh is popular in Thailand and, aside from serving as a natural anti-inflammatory, is also said to be a nootropic – a memory enhancer.
Extracts from the root of the Sarsaparilla, especially Jamaican Sarsaparilla, are used to make a drink much like root beer, which is popular in Jamaica and in Latin America for treating gout. Herbalists also recommend it for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome, thanks in part to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Oregon grape Root
Plateau Indian tribes were known to use the Oregon grape to treat dyspepsia, commonly referred to simply as indigestion. Extracts from the plant are known to treat inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Recent studies have also shown that the plant may contain a multi-drug resistance (MDR) pump inhibitor, effectively reducing bacterial resistance to antibiotics.