The Best Anti-inflammatory Herbs
We are hearing a lot about inflammation these days. It’s a local response to a cellular injury involving capillary dilatation, white blood cells penetration, redness, heat, pain, swelling, and stiffness. According to International Integrative, it serves as a process for initiating the elimination of wastes and damaged tissue.
But inflammation has its bad points. It generates large quantities of free radicals, which, ironically, contribute to tissue damage. Inflamed tissue gets swollen, so circulation gets compromised, and fresh fluids are prevented from replacing toxic ones. That begets more inflammation, and the cycle continues.
Inflammation was designed to be a short-term response to an acute situation. When it goes on for months or years, it creates significant problems. It turns out that many chronic diseases are now thought to involve some degree of inflammation. Of course, chronic inflammatory diseases themselves, such as rheumatoid arthritis and colitis, are part of the group. And lupus as well, which is my case.
Herbs that treat inflammation often mimic or potentiate adrenal steroid hormones or increase the glands’ ability to make these natural chemicals. Some herbal remedies contain favorable eicosanoids, small fat molecules that the body uses to manufacture anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. In turn, others suppress the production of the pro-inflammatory types of prostaglandins. (This is how Aspirin and the herbs it came from, including willow, work.) Other plants are rich in polyphenol substances, which reduce oxidation.
This is a listing of all the anti-inflammatory herbs in a tall order:
- Turmeric, which contains curcumin, is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory substances ever discovered.
- Herbs rich in salicylates (Aspirin is a salicylate). These include willow bark, meadowsweet, and poplar bark or buds. Plant salicylates relieve pain and fever as well as inflammation.
- Licorice root. It has been used since ancient times as food and medicine. In Chinese medicine, licorice is an ingredient in nearly all herbal formulas for “harmonizing” the different herbs, essentially reducing inflammation. The most analyzed active ingredient is glycyrrhizin, which has been found to possess anti-inflammatory and adrenal hormone-like activities.
- Berberine-containing herbs are powerful inflammation fighters. Add goldenseal, barberry, Oregon grape, Phellodendron bark, and Coptis root to the list.
- Saint Johnswort flower. It is an ancient medicine that has been used for hundreds of years in Europe. European and North American herbalists use the herb to treat arthritis, neuralgia, sciatica, and muscle inflammation.
- Feverfew is sometimes called “the aspirin of the eighteenth century.” Traditionally it is used in European herbalism for all types of pain, such as menstrual cramps, headaches, and arthritis. It significantly reduces the incidence of migraine attacks, and herbalists are now recommending feverfew for acute headaches. Evidence is preliminary, but inflammation looks to be part of the picture.
- Rosemary chemistry. Middle Eastern scientists recently conducted an overview and concluded that rosemary and its active ingredients have a therapeutic potential in treating or preventing inflammatory diseases. A study found that rosemary was a more potent antioxidant than turmeric and ginger.
- Red and purple fruits are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds. Think hawthorn berry, arjuna bark, Schisandra berry, and goji berries.
- Amla fruit is profoundly antioxidant, and therefore anti-inflammatory. Scientists recently studied the anti-inflammatory action of amla in animals.
- Ashwagandha has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the brain, explaining its cognition facilitating and anti-aging benefits. In addition to being anti-inflammatory, tulsi (holy basil) has adaptogenic benefits.
- Demulcent herbs, including slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, aloe gel, and plantain leaf, are recommended for digestive inflammation. Externally, calendula and castor oil are used on inflamed tissues.
As we learn more about the role of inflammation in chronic disease, we can turn to a long list of helpful herbs. Which ones are your favorites?