As a disclaimer, I’m simply discussing four of my favourite botanical medicines and won’t be getting into the details of interactions (drugs-herbs, herbs-herbs interactions), contraindications (who these botanicals should NOT be used with), and other important factors when it comes to using these botanicals. As always, you should speak with a healthcare provider before taking any botanical medicine or natural health product… Don’t Dr. Google yourself.
I’m also just skimming the surface when it comes to the uses/potential of these botanicals. These botanicals can work so well on their own for a number of purposes, but often also work synergistically when combined with other botanicals. I’m simply listing my favourite ways to use them, but it goes way beyond that when it comes to the research that is forever-evolving around natural medicines.
Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Why do I love it? It’s an anxiolytic (calming), helps put those racing brains to sleep and is helpful in patients who deal with generalized anxiety disorder (1). Passion Flower modulates the GABA system. (2)
What do I use it for? Those people who aren’t sleeping because they can’t stop thinking (also known as nervous insomnia) (3), and as an adjunct for anxiety disorders.
How do I use it? I personally love it as a tea, but also love the supplemental form of it (cause you can get way higher doses this way).
Other ways NDs might use this botanical therapeutically: neuralgia, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and changes associated with menopause.
Side note: Starbucks used to carry a solo Passion tea, and it was the best tea. It was always my favourite, even before I learnt about the benefits.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Why do I love it? I’ve personally benefited from it when I was dealing with some hormonal acne. It’s considered anti-androgenic – it reduces testosterone by modulating steroid hormone binding globulin (SHBG). (4)
What do I use it for? As an anti-androgen (potentially in patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome), and to help reduce the frequency of seasonal allergies. (5)
How do I use it? Depends on what it’s being used for – I’ll steep the root or leaf, depending on the properties I’m looking for.
Other ways NDs might use this botanical therapeutically: benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis.
Side note: works synergistically when combined with Spearmint (Mentha spicata).
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Why do I love it? It’s used as an adaptogen (reduces mental and physical fatigue, helps adapt to stress more appropriately). (6)
What do I use it for? I use it in people who are dealing with chronic stress and anxiety (7).
How do I use it? Usually as a supplement or tincture (an alcohol-based extraction of the herb).
Other ways NDs might use this botanical therapeutically: as an iron-rich herb, this botanical can be helpful for improving iron-deficiency anemia (6). This botanical can also be used to support sexual performance (6), and may be used as an intervention for male infertility (8).
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Just as quick breakdown, green tea is made up of catechins – let’s break those down further: epigallocatechin-3-gallate (also known as EGCG, approximately 65%) (9, 10, 11), theanine and caffeine (a typical cup of green tea contains 50-100 mg of caffeine). I explain these 3 major components because they each carry their own benefits.
Why do I love it? It’s relatively easy to get someone to drink green tea and it provides so many benefits - I use it for patients who need caffeine but can’t handle the stimulating effects of coffee. The theanine in the green tea somewhat negates some of the negative effects of caffeine. I use the EGCG and theanine components for different things (see below).
What do I use it for?
As a whole: to support mood (12), regulate blood sugars (13, 14), reduce the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) (15).
Green tea (using EGCG extracts) has been studied for its cancer-preventive potential in certain cancers, and findings are promising (p, q, r, s, t, u). This is an entire topic itself, so we’ll keep it at that for now. I have also used EGCG in practice for skin health and with patients dealing with polycystic ovarian syndrome (16).
L-Theanine (found in green tea and some mushrooms):
I find this helpful for acute states of anxiety or emotional disturbance (17) and sleep disturbances (18). In combination with caffeine (naturally, found in green tea), theanine can be helpful for patients who need some help with short-term cognitive performance (attention, memory) (19).
How do I use it? As a tea, or as an EGCG or L-theanine supplement.
Other ways NDs might use this botanical therapeutically: interestingly enough, the topical application of green tea extract can be used to treat external genital and perianal warts (20).
Side note: based on clinical data, high doses of EGCG may be associated with elevated liver enzymes (which was found to be reversible when they stopped taking the EGCG). (21) It’s also important to consider the quality and source of green tea products.
Just FYI: do not drink green tea on an empty stomach, or I pretty much guarantee you will become nauseous.
And hey, let’s talk about the use of herbal/botanical medicines. Upon meeting my patients for the first time, I often discover that they’re using a ton of herbal/botanical medicines that are utterly useless for their concerns. Or they’re not taking these at herbs at useful, therapeutic dosages. Or worse yet, these herbs are interacting with their current medications. Always consider working with a Naturopathic Doctor if you’re going to be incorporating natural health products - book an appointment with me here.
(1) PMID: 11679026
(2) PMID: 21089181
(3) PMID: 21294203
(4) PMID: 7700987
(5) PMID: 19140159
(6) PMID: 10956379
(7) PMID: 19718255
(8) PMID: 19501822
(9) PMID: 28899506
(10) PMID: 16876833
(11) PMID: 22127270
(12) PMID: 30200434
(13) PMID: 15331020
(14) PMID: 18326618
(15) PMID: 15277285
(16) PMID: 24678188
(17) PMID: 11251015
(18) PMID: 11782902
(19) PMID: 12163680
(20) PMID: 12189193
(21) PMID: 19892663
(22) PMID: 28584836
(23) PMID: 21208586
(24) PMID: 27396868
(25) PMID: 28056735
(26) PMID: 18363746
(27) PMID: 28765194