Since ancient times, when medical knowledge about how our body works was very limited compared to today, different peoples used different remedies to relieve discomfort, pain or symptoms of some diseases.
A large part of them were based on the use of the properties of medicinal plants , the knowledge of which allowed in many cases to alleviate a great deal of suffering.
The different plants considered medicinal have continued to be used since then, even today. However, it is necessary to take into account what effects they have on the body and how to use them, as well as the fact that their healing potential is limited. Throughout this article we will show you some of the medicinal plants that exist and some of their properties.
What is a medicinal plant?
We give the name of medicinal plant to all those plants that have positive properties that can be used either directly or macerated or in an infusion with the aim of contributing to the recovery or improvement of the state of health of a subject with some type of illness.
The use of these substances has been known since ancient times, with the Ebers papyrus (Egypt, around 1550 B.C.) mentioning more than half a thousand medicinal plants. And with the passage of time and the observation of new species and varieties, we can actually find many more.
Knowledge about what they were used for and how to use them has been passed down from generation to generation and has been gradually modernised until today. In fact, although the use of medicinal plants seems to be a thing of the past, the truth is that according to the WHO the percentage of the population that uses some type of medicinal herb is quite high. In many cases we do not even realize it, such as when we take chamomile when we have a tummy ache or we take a lime blossom to relax.
While the use of these plants can generally be beneficial, it must be borne in mind that they have their limitations: often the concentration of active ingredients is very low and their effects are more limited than other alternatives. Also, caution should be taken with possible interactions when consumed with drugs (e.g., consult your doctor if using hypericum and antidepressants).
The use of medicinal plants is also not specially regulated, so that misuse can occur and possible drug interactions and other contraindications can be ignored. And finally, and this is something we have commented on previously, the use of medicinal plants does not have a purely curative objective: it should not replace consultation with a doctor or the taking of medication.
50 medicinal plants
As we have said, there is a very wide variety of medicinal plants that have interesting properties and can help us to alleviate or prevent different problems.
Below, as an example, we show you some twenty of the most popular ones. It should be noted that many of them may have contraindications , and it is advisable to consult a professional before taking them.
Chamomile is one of the medicinal plants that are best known for the properties of its flower. Its effects are especially relevant in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders .
In addition, it has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and relaxing effects. It is used in gastrointestinal and muscular pain, cramps and headaches, eczema, gum inflammation, wounds and sinusitis. It also lowers cholesterol and appears to have anti-cancer properties.
2. Aloe Vera
Another of the best known medicinal plants is Aloe Vera. It is a well-known plant with anti-inflammatory capacity and is used in various personal hygiene products due to its beneficial action for skin regeneration. It contributes to improve stains, burns and wounds.
Also in some foods: ingested, improves intestinal function and strengthens the immune system .
One of the plants that we use most in the kitchen is also one of the best known medicinal plants. Garlic is a powerful immune system enhancer and has effects that promote efficient blood circulation (it is an anticoagulant), as well as being antibacterial and antibiotic and having antioxidant properties .
Common problems such as hypertension or the presence of infections are some of the circumstances in which its use may be beneficial. As an antioxidant, it also reduces the rate of cellular aging.
Eucalyptus is another of the best known medicinal plants, especially with regard to its action on respiratory diseases. Asthma, bronchitis or flu are some of the typical problems in which it is used. It also has antimicrobial capabilities and facilitates the secretion of fluids such as mucus (being a powerful expectorant).
Finally, it also has an effect on lowering blood sugar , which may be useful for the diabetic population. It is used in food, medicinal products or even in body hygiene products.
This plant, in particular its stem, is especially known by those people with cystitis or other infections of the urinary system. It also has positive effects on skin and nails, being a good cell regenerator and also strengthening the skeleton. Rich in silicon and highly diuretic and depurative, it helps to eliminate toxins. It has astringent properties that help control bleeding .
Also called St. John’s wort. This medicinal plant has different properties, but it is worth noting that it has antidepressant properties (in this sense, caution is required if combined with antidepressants, and its consumption is not recommended for more than six months), blocking the reuptake of monoamines.
It has also been found useful in anxiety and insomnia problems, and improving menstrual flow alterations. It is also known for its analgesic and heartburn regulating capacity, as well as its role as help to remedy diarrhea and vomiting . It has also been seen in animals that extracts of St. John’s wort could help improve insulin resistance.
This spice is very useful, possessing multiple properties that make it an increasingly relevant medicinal plant. Besides antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic properties, it has been observed that it has anti-inflammatory and antiemetic effects (it reduces nausea and vomiting).
Digestive problems, fatigue, headaches and menstrual cramps are some of the problems where it has been effective.
- Read more about Ginger in this post
Thyme has antioxidant and antiseptic properties. Rich in flavonoids, vitamin C, iron and magnesium. It stimulates the appetite and is also used as an expectorant . Its antiseptic action meant that in ancient times it was used to treat wounds. It is also good for toning the skin and hair.
Lavender has relaxing properties, being useful for situations of stress and insomnia. In addition, it has healing, anesthetic and circulation-enhancing properties and a well-functioning respiratory system. It also has properties that improve digestion and the secretion of gastric juices.
10. Lime tree
Another well-known medicinal plant with relaxing properties is lime blossom. Whether in the form of a flower or an infusion, it is widely used to reduce the level of stress and anxiety and to relax the body. It also facilitates sleep and is diuretic, as well as having antispasmodic properties. It also increases the excretion of toxins through sweat (which also enhances).
Dandelion is a very nutritious plant (it is proposed that it may have more iron even than products such as spinach) and with multiple medicinal properties. Especially indicated for liver and kidney problems (for example stones or grit), it improves diuresis and detoxification of the body, besides having stimulating properties.
However, is contraindicated for pregnant women and people with bipolar disorder who are medicated with lithium salts, and it may interact with other drugs.
12. Ginkgo biloba
The leaves of this plant appear to have positive properties in terms of stimulating cognitive performance. It is said to improve memory and concentration, although the consensus is not as wide as believed. Also is an antioxidant, and improves blood circulation .
It also has contraindications, especially when taking anticoagulants or other products that already facilitate blood flow.
The plant from which the well-known Argentine drink is made is also very positive for health. It is a powerful antioxidant that also improves the immune system. It also has stimulating effects, like tea or coffee, and helps to lower cholesterol. It promotes physical and mental activity, and in addition is diuretic .
Oregano is an old acquaintance of our kitchens, traditionally very well valued and also has great medicinal properties. Especially known for its antioxidant action, it also has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties.
Cramps, headaches, stomach and molar pains and respiratory problems can benefit from consumption either by ingestion or in tea.
It is a plant that has calming properties. It lowers blood pressure and reduces heart rate. In addition to cardiovascular problems, it is useful in treating sleep problems. It has mild bronchodilator and antispasmodic properties.
It is a painkiller and also helps to calm gastrointestinal problems. In other uses it can be used to treat burns and inflammations .
16. Willow bark
Not only spices, flowers and roots have medicinal properties, but elements such as willow bark can also serve to alleviate certain ailments. The extract of this bark is useful as an anti-inflammatory. It has also been found useful for weight loss, headache treatment (in fact, its active ingredient is salicylic acid, like aspirin), arthritis and bone pain.
As with aspirin, however, this plant may have contraindications (it is not recommended for children, adolescents, or nursing mothers, or for those taking anticoagulants). It is also used to treat skin problems, corns, and warts.
Agave also has medicinal properties. Specifically highlights its use in the healing of wounds and sores , and can be used as a disinfectant (although misused could become poisonous). Its sap, besides being a possible antiseptic, is useful for stimulating the intestinal flora and reducing cholesterol and triglycerides.
Some research shows that it promotes bone calcification and regulation of insulin production (so diabetics and people with bone problems may benefit from this plant). In its time it was used to try to treat syphilis, jaundice or tuberculosis. However, this plant also has contraindications and can generate dermatitis.
Blueberries also have medicinal properties. Its fruit is not only edible but also a powerful antioxidant, which is also diuretic and beneficial in the prevention of urinary and kidney problems. Antibacterial, it helps to treat infections. It is also astringent.
It has positive effects on vision and promotes the repair of retinal cells. In addition, is good for the circulation and for the treatment of ulcers and eczemas . And not only its fruits but also its leaves can be used: it has been observed that they have a hypoglycemic action, reducing blood sugar (something useful for diabetics).
Some varieties of this plant have been used to treat many problems, from lowering fever to purgative, as well as an element that helps combat jaundice. It has diuretic and relaxing effects , in addition to lowering blood pressure and helping to treat digestive problems.
20. Elderberry flower
This beautiful flower has been used as a remedy to treat different problems. With antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as diuretics and laxatives, it has been used to treat flu-like episodes and to reduce coughing and mucus problems. It also appears to lower cholesterol and reduce blood sugar levels.
This perennial shrub is native to certain central regions of South America, in tropical parts. What makes it special is that its roots are very rich in starch and help increase the metabolic rate and lose weight, although it is very important to combine it with foods rich in macronutrients, as this ingredient does not provide them.
It should be borne in mind that constant consumption of large quantities of cassava that is deficient in vitamins and minerals can cause disease, so it is best to ration it sensibly.
This plant is used as an ingredient for infusions that can be used to provide energy and keep people active. In addition, it reduces blood pressure and strengthens the immune system by promoting the production of lymphocytes.
Pennyroyal has long been used for its ability to increase appetite and improve the body’s assimilation of nutrients, which improves the digestion process.
Chamomile is very useful for getting rid of heartburn, among other things. However, caution should be exercised with its consumption, as is contraindicated for pregnant women due to the risk of facilitating an abortion.
Nettle is a plant with a bad reputation because its leaves produce hives, but beyond this annoying characteristic we can find medicinal properties. Specifically, nettle has the capacity to act as a vasoconstrictor, which is useful in cases where bleeding has to be stopped .
On the other hand, because it contains a lot of iron, it can also be used to combat anemia.
This plant is rich in digoxin and digitoxin, which have a diuretic effect and promote blood circulation.
Its antiseptic properties based on sandalwood make the essential oils of this plant a good help to disinfect wounds . It is also an effective diuretic.
Poppy is a herb that grows naturally in a wide variety of environments, and has been used for millennia as an ingredient for its narcotic pain relief properties. These substances have served as the basis for developing psychoactive agents used in codeine and morphine, for example.
Dill seeds have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, especially against pain associated with menstruation (dysmenorrhea) and spasms.
It is normally consumed as an infusion , although on occasions it has also been used to create mixtures applied to wounds and burns and to promote the regeneration of the skin and the cleaning of the exposed area.
Celery is a common ingredient when preparing well-known dishes in the kitchen, but it can also be considered a member of the medicinal plant group. This vegetable is used as a digestive and laxative , due to its high fibre content. The diuretic effects of this thick-stemmed vegetable are also well known.
Wormwood, also known as holy herb or bitter mugwort, is a medicinal plant well known on all continents and has been used for thousands of years.
In particular, is used to whet the appetite (as an appetite suppressant), and in some cases to eliminate parasitic infestations. In addition, it is an ingredient used in alcoholic beverages such as absinthe.
Kava is a medicinal plant native to Polynesia. Its roots are used especially for making mixtures with anesthetic and sedative effects, and for oral consumption .
However, the way in which this plant affects us depends on the type of strain from which the plant to be used comes, given that there is a great variety of groups planted in very different contexts and from artificial selection they have given way to genetically different variants.
The rue is a shrub-like plant with leaves from which it is possible to make essential oils used in traditional medicine. Specifically, this substance is used as an antispasmodic and sedative.
Marigold is another medicinal plant that beyond home remedies has also been used in the kitchen as an ingredient. Its flower is popular for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties , so it is applied to wounds.
35. Rose hip
Rosehip is used to relieve pain related to conditions such as arthritis and certain infections. In addition, it is one of the richest plants in vitamin C, so those who are deficient in this sense can incorporate it into their diet in the form of infusions, jams or soups.
36. Water Vine
The water vine ( Cissus verticillata ) is a climbing plant from areas of Central America, Colombia and Venezuela. It is used as an anticonvulsant and to treat hemorrhages.
The bark of this tree is used for its antibacterial properties, and also as a dietary supplement, as well as against throat irritation (it generates a mucous membrane that protects the tissue).
Fennel is a common medicinal plant in Mediterranean ecosystems. It is appreciated for its diuretic properties and for promoting the expulsion of gases and digestion.
The lemongrass (Melissa officinalis), lemon balm or lemon leaf is a perennial plant used in infusions to promote a state of relaxation . It is a painkiller known for many centuries.
40. Castor oil
Castor oil is a well-known purgative, and is consumed orally despite its unpleasant taste. However, its preparation is very dangerous because it uses seeds that contain a powerful poison. If you do not know how to eliminate these toxic components in the preparation, you should avoid using it as a homemade ingredient.
Konjac ( Amorphophallus konjac ), also known as devil’s tongue, is a plant native to China and Southeast Asia that is used as a dietary supplement due to its high concentration of fiber . It is very common to use it to make gelatin replacing products of animal origin.
42. Wild lettuce
Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is a plant with psychoactive properties that is used as a sedative in some contexts. However, its home use is not recommended, and it is banned in several countries.
43. Gu-sui-bu fern
This variety of fern, whose scientific name is Drynaria roosii , has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to promote the regeneration of bones after suffering damage , and there are studies that support this healing property.
44. Reed matting
This type of reed is used in some regions of Western Asia as an ingredient to be added to foods for tired and low energy people.
Certain parts of this tropical tree are used to help eliminate parasites such as lice or scabies.
This shrub grows in several regions of Africa, and is used as a psychostimulant. However, the fact that it is relatively weak has made it legal in many western countries where cocaine derivatives (from a plant unrelated to cocaine) are prohibited. Nevertheless, abuse of cocaine can lead to long-term cognitive damage.
47. Kaempferia rotunda
This medicinal plant is boiled to be used on the skin to relieve itching.
48. St. Simon’s Wort
Circaea lutetiana has been used for centuries to lower fever and relieve rheumatic discomfort.
49. Kadsura longipedunculata
This shrub native to China and parts of Southeast Asia is used to treat some gastrointestinal problems (slow digestion), and infections.
Infusions of this climbing plant, also called vine, are used as an anti-inflammatory.
- Chevallier, A. (1997). Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Madrid: Acento Editorial.
- Mejía Correa, L., Abad, M. I. and Escobar, V. (2014). The Secrets of the Plants. 3rd edition. Medellín: Fundación Secretos para Contar.
- Ministry of Health, Government of Chile (2009). MHT traditional herbal medicines: 103 plant species. Santiago: Ministry of Health. Social protection network.