Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1378: Rediscovering the Power of Medicinal Herbs

Our guests are expert herbalists. They share their knowledge on medicinal herbs to help you stay healthy, from Andrographis to thyme.
Current time

Rediscovering the Power of Medicinal Herbs

0% played% buffered

This week, two guests describe their work with the healing power of medicinal herbs. They draw upon family histories of herbalism along with their own studies of how to use botanical medicines.

You may want to listen through your local public radio station or get the live stream at 7 am EDT on your computer or smart phone (wunc.org). Here is a link so you can find which stations carry our broadcast. If you can’t listen to the broadcast, you may wish to hear the podcast later. You can subscribe through your favorite podcast provider, download the mp3 using the link at the bottom of the page, or listen to the stream on this post starting on March 18, 2023.

The Power of Medicinal Herbs:

For centuries, up until almost the middle of the 20th century, people relied primarily on plants for their medicines. The advent of synthetic drugs created and distributed by pharmaceutical companies helped pushed botanical medicines out of favor. Even though schools of medicine and pharmacy are no longer teaching their students how to use plants for healing, the plants have not lost their power. What should you know about them?

Warding Off Colds and Respiratory Infections:

If you come down with influenza, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medicine to help speed healing. If your stuffy nose, sore throat and cough are caused by any of the hundreds of rhinoviruses, coronaviruses or enteroviruses that cause the “common cold,” your health care provider doesn’t have much to offer. There are some prescription medicines that can address individual symptoms, such as benzonatate or guaifenesin for cough. In the drugstore, you can buy multi-symptom cold remedies over the counter. But none of them will actually help you get better faster.

Medicinal Herbs Can Help:

One plant that helps speed recovery from respiratory infections is Andrographis paniculata. Most Americans are unfamiliar with this herbal medicine, but research has shown that it has antiviral and immune-modulating activity (Pharmaceuticals, Aug. 24, 2023). Herbalists also recommend it for digestive disorders, calling it the King of Bitters.

That name may offer a clue to why Andrographis is not very well known in the US. Americans are frequently reluctant to eat or drink things that taste bitter. Mimi Hernandez frequently pairs Andrographis with a far more pleasant-tasting and familiar herb, black elderberry. It too has been used to aid recovery from respiratory tract infections, although more and better clinical trials are needed (BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, April 7, 2021).

Is Goldenrod Just a Nuisance?

Many people blame their fall allergy symptoms on goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  According to Mimi Hernandez, that’s probably inaccurate. Allergies are more often reactions to other plants, possibly inconspicuous ones, that bloom at the same time. Goldenrod itself can be used topically to treat skin problems. It has a reputation for acting as an anti-inflammatory or diuretic when swallowed in a tincture or tea.

Other Medicinal Herbs Tackle Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar:

A couple of plants available in the US are more widely used and respected in Mexico and other countries. One of these is hibiscus, a beautiful red blossom that makes a tangy-tasting tea. In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, this is called agua de jamaica. A few controlled trials have shown that Hibiscus sabdariffa lowers blood pressure in people with mild hypertension (Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, Jul-Sep 2019).

Prickly pear cactus, known as nopales, is used in Mexico to help people with blood sugar control. This might be chalked up as an old wives’ tale, but animal research confirms that polysaccharide compounds from the large flat cactus leaves can lower blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Aug. 10, 2023). Mimi Hernandez is enthusiastic about both these medicinal herbs. She has been working diligently to recapture the wisdom of our forebears regarding the power of healing plants.

Herbs in the Practice of Medicine:

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog was already an accomplished herbalist before she went to medical school. Her innate curiosity helped her turn the rigor she learned for medical research to the scientific study of botanical medicines. Dr. Low Dog is one of the best-informed experts we have ever interviewed on the scientific support for medicinal herbs, where it is present. She is also quick to tell us when that support is lacking.

We asked her about a favorite herb, and she chose a common backyard plant that is easy to grow and easy to use: thyme. One of the components of thyme, thymol, helps calm a cough, probably through its action on TRP channels (Respiratory Research, Feb. 8, 2023).

When Herbs May Be Better:

We asked Dr. Low Dog if there are times when herbs may be a more appropriate treatment than prescription drugs. There are certainly conditions for which lifestyle approaches, including but not limited to botanical medicines, are preferred. Occasional sleeping difficulties are among these. Dr. Low Dog often recommends Ashwagandha for those who are “tired but wired.”

Coughs due to colds are another. After all, OTC cough or cold remedies don’t work very well. Instead, she likes to suggest Andrographis or thyme tea and thyme syrup. Ginger tea can be especially helpful for people with chronic hives, a condition that is difficult to treat with conventional medicines. When medicinal herbs are used properly, they may be gentler than prescription products.

This Week’s Guests:

Mimi Hernandez:

Mimi Prunella Hernandez, MS, RH (AHG), is an internationally recognized clinical herbalist and ethnobotanist with a Master of Science in Herbal Medicine. She is a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild, and has served as the Guild’s executive director for more than ten years. An award-winning student of the revered ethnobotanist James Duke, she has been practicing and teaching herbalism for more than two decades. Hernandez lives in the foothills near Asheville, North Carolina, where she stewards and advocates for native medicinal plants on the PonderLand Sanctuary.
She is the author of National Geographic Herbal: 100 Herbs from the World’s Healing Traditions
Her website is        https://www.mimiprunellahernandez.com/

Mimi Hernandez, MS, RH, author of National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs

Mimi Hernandez, MS, RH, author of National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog:

Tieraona Low Dog, MD, is a founding member of the American Board of Physician Specialties, American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academy of Women’s Health. She was elected Chair of the US Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplements/Botanicals Expert Committee and was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Her books include: Women’s Health in Complementary and Integrative MedicineLife Is Your Best Medicine and Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More. Her website is drlowdog.com

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog describes natural ways to treat heartburn

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog describes natural ways to treat heartburn

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, March 18, 2024, after broadcast on March 16. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.

Download the mp3.

Rate this article
4.5- 53 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.