Image for Earth Day: Plants for Health
Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (
April 2012

Earth Day: Plants for Health

Natural Standard celebrates Earth Day by highlighting several plants for health.

Feverfew: Feverfew is a short perennial bush reaching a height of 15-60 centimeters that grows naturally throughout Europe and the Americas. The leaves have a strong smell and bitter taste. Because of feverfew's chrysanthemum-like leaves and yellow daisy-like flowers, it is often mistakenly identified as chamomile.

Feverfew is most commonly taken by mouth for the prevention of migraine headache. Most of the available human studies are not high quality and report mixed results. However, overall they do suggest that feverfew may reduce the number of headaches that occur in people with frequent migraines.

Garlic: Garlic is a member of the lily family, which also includes hyacinth, tulip, onion, leek and chives. The bulb, which has a white skin encasing multiple individual cloves, is used both medicinally and as a spice, and may be used fresh or dehydrated.

Multiple studies in humans have reported that eating garlic may cause small reductions in total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins ("bad cholesterol") over short periods of time (4-12 weeks). Effects on high-density lipoproteins ("good cholesterol") are unclear. This remains an area of controversy. Numerous human studies also suggest that garlic may lower blood pressure.

St. John's wort: The genus Hypericum is found throughout the world and encompasses 378 known species. Of these, Hypericum perforatum is the medicinal herb commonly known as St. John's wort. The herb's name is named after John the Baptist, as the plant generally begins to flower around the 25th of June, the feast day of St. John the Baptist.

St. John's wort has been extensively studied in Europe over the last two decades, with more recent research in the United States. Short-term studies (1-3 months) suggest that St. John's wort is more effective than placebo (sugar pill), and equally effective as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate major depression. Comparisons to the more commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac®) or sertraline (Zoloft®), are more limited. However, other data suggest that St. John's wort may be just as effective as SSRIs with fewer side effects. Safety concerns exist as with most conventional and complementary therapies.

Willow bark: White willow is native to Europe, Asia and North America, and may grow in temperate to tropical climates. Willow trees grow 6-18 meters high with supple branches. The yellow male flowers and the green female flowers form catkins, cylindrical clusters of flowers approximately 6-7 centimeters long. The outer bark ranges from yellowish-green to brownish-gray in color and is fairly smooth. The inner bark is smooth and white to pale yellow or cinnamon brown color. The bark of young, two to three year-old willow branches is harvested during the early spring and dried. Willow products include liquids, creams, ointments, tablets and capsules and are typically imported from Eastern Europe.

Willow bark is a traditional analgesic (pain relieving) therapy for osteoarthritis. Several studied have confirmed this finding. Additional study comparing willow bark to conventional medicinal agents for safety and effectiveness is warranted.

For more information about feverfew, garlic, St. John's wort or willow bark, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.

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The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited.