Medicinal herbs are a hot topic for a good reason. They provide a variety of health benefits without the adverse effects of pharmaceuticals and other health solutions. Some herbs, such as rosemary and mint, are well known for their medicinal effects but there’s others that are just as effective but not as popular. Three underrated medicinal herbs which can provide amazing health benefits are saffron, calendula, and borage.
Saffron: A Versatile Medicinal Herb and Culinary Spice
Saffron is an exotic spice native to Southern Europe, but widely used in many cultures around the world for cooking and medicinal purposes. In the kitchen, saffron (Crocus sativus) is used to add vibrant golden color and a sweet, floral and almost nutty flavor to a wide variety of cuisine. Medicinally, saffron contains several botanical compounds that encourage healthy digestion, fight inflammation, and support cognitive function.
In medicine, extracts and tinctures of saffron have been used therapeutically to address many different health concerns, such as:
- Balancing blood sugar
- Supporting brain health
- Calming the nervous system
- Supporting cardiovascular health
- Easing digestive distress
- Supporting vision health
Saffron contains several nutrients known to support health, including:
The carotenoids in saffron are important antioxidants that help protect the cells in the body from cancers, infections, and attacks on the immune system.
Minerals that are found in saffron are important to physiological processes that take place in the nervous, cardiovascular, muscular, immune, and digestive systems. Our bodies use the minerals manganese and copper as cofactors (“helper molecules”) to facilitate the production of antioxidants. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and zinc supports a healthy immune system.
In addition to the robust mineral profile, saffron contains many vitamins including vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C–all of which support optimum health.
Because saffron is very pricey, it is a target for fraud (aka saffron adulteration). There are unethical practices in which less important parts of the saffron plant, minerals, artificial colorant, weight agents, animal substances, and artificial substances are used. Use a reliable source to obtain only the highest quality saffron.
Saffron is not recommended for use during pregnancy or lactation. Drug interactions are possible with any herb, so it is important to speak to a holistic healthcare provider before taking herbs with other medicines or supplements.
Calendula: Herbal Remedy for the Skin and So Much More
The use of calendula tea, oil, extract, and tincture dates back to ancient Egyptian culture and early Christianity. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has many health enhancing properties that can help heal inflamed skin, reduce pain and swelling, and support the renewal of skin cells.
The plant compounds found in calendula’s fiery red and yellow petals contain antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Two types of compounds, saponins and flavonoids, are important for immune function and for protecting cells from free radical damage.
Calendula is still best known for its ability to heal skin inflamed by chafing, blisters, bites and burns and to treat dermatitis, eczema, and diaper rashes. It can be found in medicinal lotions, creams, and ointments that are applied to the skin. Calendula reduces irritation and encourages new tissue growth. For women who would like to avoid taking prescription medications to treat bacterial vaginosis, calendula ointment or suppository is a viable option when used under clinical guidance.
Calendula flowers and leaves are used in capsules, oils, and tinctures. Only the petals are used to make tea, which is a beautiful orange color. Calendula tea can be served warm or cold, depending on how you intend to use it. For example, for menstrual cramps or general relaxation, warm calendula tea is best. For a refreshing boost to your inner health, iced calendula tea hits the spot. The tea has an earthy taste with a hint of pumpkin and mild spice. It’s best enjoyed lightly sweetened with cinnamon and agave or your preferred natural sweetener.
If you are considering medicinal use of calendula, check with a health practitioner to determine which form of calendula is best to address your health concerns.
There are a few precautions for using calendula: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may use calendula topically, but should not take it by mouth. Calendula may interact with other medications, resulting in drowsiness. Since it’s part of the ragweed family, people sensitive to or allergic to marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemums should not use calendula products unless under a doctor’s care.
Borage: an anti inflammatory herb for arthritis
A herb also known as starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and bugloss—is rich in gamma linoleic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid that has been shown to decrease inflammation.
One 2013 animal and test tube study found that borage seed oil helped protect against oxidative cell damage which could contribute to inflammation, significantly increasing the lifespan of the fruit fly it was tested on.
A 18-month, randomized, and double-blind trial from 2014 which used borage seed oil to treat rheumatoid arthritis found that patients who received the oil showed “meaningful clinical responses after 9 months, improvements which persisted for 18 months, and a response similar to matched patients from an RA registry.”
And a double‐blind, placebo‐controlled clinical trial from 2007, which looked at the effects of borage oil-coated undershirts on atopic dermatitis in 32 children, found that the group which wore borage oil undershirts for two weeks showed statistically significant improvements in their erythema and itch compared to the placebo group.
Whether you’re looking for a solution to arthritis, to improve your skin, or to try a versatile herb to try overall health, borage, calendula, and saffron have you covered. Just remember to keep in mind that herbs are for everyone and to read any disclaimers before you take them to ensure they will support your health.
If you want a larger list of medicinal herbs, check out these 10 medicinal herbs that can also support your health.
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