... at the heart of herbal medicine

Evidence for the effectiveness of Herbal Medicine

Tanecetum VulgareHerbal medicine and liver cancer – in a paper published in 2010 the researchers found evidence for the use of turmeric, r esveratrol (a polyphenol found in grape skins, peanuts, berries and red wine), milk thistle and Salvia miltiorrhiza, as well as some traditional Chinese herbal formulae in the effective treatment of liver cancer and cirrhosis, sometimes alongside conventional medication. They didn’t like the use of whole herbs, preferring known quantification of individual chemicals from the herbs. Available online Feb 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140057/


Herpes virus infections – topical medicinals were reviewed by Paul Bergner in the light of recent research. The best-known herb is Melissa, but this was not found to be superior to other plants with anti-herpes activity – these are Hyssopus, Mentha, Prunella, Rosmarinus, Salvia and Thymus, which were all found to be equal to and sometimes better than Melissa. Medical Herbalism Spring 2011;16(3)


Next time you hear someone say that herbs might be dangerous, use this next piece as ammunition:

Half of people over 65 are taking a lethal drug. Researchers at the University of East Anglia have discovered that half of those aged over 65 are taking a combination of drugs that increases their risk of dementia and dying prematurely. The drugs all have anticholinergic actions, and the most dangerous are antidepressants, tranquillisers, bladder medications and antihistamines. They include codeine and warfarin. They found that 20% of those taking a high-scoring drug, or combination of drugs, were dead within two years, compared with 7% of people who were taking drugs that were not anticholinergic. J. Am. Geriatr. Soc. 2011;59, 1477–83, courtesy of Greenfiles


The clinical evidence for the use of Bacopa monnieri or Brahmi is reviewed by Eric Yarnell and Kathy Abascal. It is a herb with adaptogenic and nervine properties and has been shown to improve cognition and memory, and help with treatment of dementia, anxiety and depression. Alt & Comp Ther 2011;17(1):21–5, courtesy of Greenfiles


Chamomile for acute abdominal distress. Naturopath and herbalist Tania Neubauer writes about the amazing results she has seen when using chamomile (Matricaria recutita) to treat acute abdominal distress in Nicaragua. Hospital access is very limited for some Nicaraguans and, when patients arrived at the clinic in acute pain and would not or could not go to the hospital, large doses of chamomile tincture (typically 1 tablespoon) helped many to a rapid resolution of their pain. Medical Herbalism Spring 2011;16(3)


Peach leaf, allergy and anaphylaxis Herbalist. Kiva Rose writes about her experiences of using peach leaf, Prunus persica, both internally and externally, to treat allergic-type reactions, including anaphylaxis. Although a tea of dried peach leaves acts as a relaxing nervine, she finds that the tincture of fresh leaves and bark is most useful for acute problems, especially venomous bites and stings. She says it is the more fragrant leaves and bark rather than the less fragrant that seem more beneficial and effective in practice. In the case, for example, of bee stings, topical and internal application of peach tincture is helpful: for internal use, 0.5–1ml is an adult dose, given every 15–20 minutes until symptoms recede, which usually happens after 1–3 doses. She has found soaking fresh alder leaf poultices with peach tincture to be even more effective as a topical application. Peach tincture has also been exceptionally helpful in her practice for morning sickness or hyper emesis where ginger may aggravate because of its heat. Medical Herbalism Spring 2011;16(3)


Avena's effect on aspects of cognitive function. Oat (Avena sativa) herb, in its various forms and extracts, has been traditionally known for its physical and psychological properties. Traditional beneficial effects include reduced risk of heart disease, reduced depression, increased energy levels, and ability to cope with stress, reduced anxiety and increased physical performance. However, many of these benefits have not been tested in modern-day clinical trials. A double-blind randomised, crossover trial evaluated the effects of an oat extract on concentration and alertness in 36 elderly participants with below-average cognitive function. The trial also set out to assess whether any effects were dose-dependent. The trial material used was a product called Neuravena, manufactured using green, rapidly dried, aerial parts of Avena sativa L., harvested just before it is in full flower. It is a dry powder comprising an ethanol (30% w/w) extract of A. sativa (3.5:1 concentration), dispensed as 400mg capsules. Participants took either 1600mg, 2400mg or placebo.

Concentration and alertness were measured using the Stroop Colour-Word test. The results showed that the 1600mg dose significantly improved attention, concentration and the ability to maintain task focus in those participating. J Alt & Comp Ther 2011;17(7):635–7, courtesy of Greenfiles


Lemon balm protects against low-dose radiation. A preliminary before and after clinical trial was performed on 55 radiology staff in Iran, to assess the effects of lemon balm ( Melissa officinalis) infusion on markers of oxidative stress. All participants had experienced (unavoidable) exposure to low-dose ionising radiation for at least a 2-year period. They were asked to drink a lemon balm infusion, which was prepared like a tea bag, twice daily (1.5 g/100 mL) for 30 days. Plasma levels of lipid peroxidation, DNA damage, catalase, superoxide dismutase, myeloperoxidase and glutathione peroxidase activity were measurebefore and after drinking lemon balm infusion. Drinking the lemon balm infusion resulted in a significant improvement in participants’ plasma levels of catalase, superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, and a marked reduction inplasma DNA damage, myeloperoxidase and lipid peroxidation. Toxicol Ind Health 2011;27(3):205–21


Comfrey root effective for upper and lower back pain. A randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial assessed the efficacy of a comfrey (Symphytum officinalis ) root ointment in treating acute upper or lower back pain. A total of 120 patients were randomly allocated to receive either 4gm of comfreyointment or 4 gm placebo ointment, three times a day for 5 days. The ointment used was a branded product containing 35% of a comfrey root extract (1:2), ethanol 60% v/v, with less than 0.35ppm pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

The results showed that comfrey root ointment exerted a significantly better reduction in pain than the placebo ointment (average 95.2% reduction in the active group compared with 37.8% in the placebo group) and onset of pain relief was within 1 hour of application. Br J Sports Med 2010;44:637–64, courtesy Greenfiles


Nigella sativa improves glycaemic control in diabetes. A trial was undertaken to assess the efficacy of black seed (Nigella sativa) as an adjuvant therapy to patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus and whose glycaemic control was not optimal. A total of 94 patients were recruited and randomly allocated to 1 of 3 dose groups: 1, 2, or 3gm capsules of Nigella sativa seeds, taken daily for 3 months, alongside their existing medication. Various measures of glycaemic control were tested, including fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, insulin resistance and beta cell function (using homeostatic mode assessment (HOMA2)). Results showed that the 2gm daily dose had a significant effect on various measures: insulin resistance reduced and beta cell function improved; fasting blood glucose and HbA1c reduced. The 1gm daily dose showed trends in improvement, but none of the improvements were significant. Renal and hepatic functions were monitored and found to be unaffected during the trial. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 2010;5(4):344–54, courtesy of Greenfiles

All information above taken from The Herbalist, Winter 2011-2012