Last Update: July 13, 2023
When we think of medicine today, much of it is synthetic and man-made. Thousands of years ago, however, medicine relied heavily on natural substances like herbs and roots. Medicinal roots and plants have a long history of healing.
Tracing back medicine’s roots (if you’ll pardon the pun) leads directly back to roots and herbal tinctures. A few roots have even experienced a bit of a renaissance lately — the recent turmeric trend, for example (1).
We compiled a list of nine of the most popular roots in herbal medicine. These healthy medicinal roots and plants offer assistance in everything from improving digestion to treating muscle pain and aiding sleep.
Though you probably think of turmeric as a spice, the root is also used in herbal medicine (2). Turmeric has been used in Indian culture for hundreds of years, and part of the reason it’s become so popular recently is for its wide variety of uses. Turmeric root can treat everything from arthritis, to stomach problems, to liver and gallbladder disorders, to menstrual cramps, to headaches and infections (3).
Kava kava root has its origins in the Pacific Islands, where it was mixed with water to make a kind of ceremonial drink (4). While many say the effects are similar to drinking alcohol, kava kava has also been used historically for it’s medicinal properties. This healthy root’s calming properties make it a useful treatment for anxiety, stress, sleep conditions, and even headaches and migraines. Its other uses include treating depression, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, colds and respiratory infections, and as an aphrodisiac (5).
Note: It is worth noting that some countries, including Germany, Switzerland and Canada, have banned kava kava root. Some cases of liver damage and a few deaths have been linked to this healthy root. A court recently overturned the European ban, however, noting that there wasn’t enough evidence about the negative effects for a full ban (6).
Ginger root was originally used as medicine in Eastern cultures (7). Though ginger is most well known for treating upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea, it can also be effective against the common cold, the flu, headaches and congestion. Certain studies also show that ginger may have anti-inflammatory properties, and may help to reduce inflammation, osteoarthritis, and rheumatism (8).
Maca root is native to Peru, where people have cultivated it for more than 3,000 years (9). Recently, maca has gained a reputation as a superfood, as it may be able to enhance energy, stamina, memory, fertility and regulate hormone imbalances (10).
Valerian root has been used to treat sleep disorders since ancient Grecian and Roman times (11). Many people trying to wean themselves off sleeping pills often turn to valerian root. Some studies have also shown that valerian root may help chronic insomniacs fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer. That’s why Valerian is still considered such an important medicinal plant.
Echinacea is native to North America, and was first used as medicine by Native Americans (12). It’s still one of the most popular herbal medicines today, and is used to fight off the common cold and the flu, and help relieve some of the symptoms including sore throat and fever (13).
Goldenseal has a somewhat deceiving reputation. This herb became famous for allegedly being able to mask the signs of illegal drugs in urine tests, which it actually can’t do (14). Goldenseal can be used with echinacea to treat colds and the flu, and is also used to treat allergies, hay fever, urinary tract infections, and menstrual problems (15).
Ashwagandha has gained a reputation as an adaptogen — an herb that helps the body “adapt” during times of stress. It is also widely used to treat everything from arthritis, to asthma, to fibromyalgia, to liver disease. Primarily, ashwagandha is best known for its ability to reduce stress and increase energy naturally (16).
Licorice (the root, not the candy) has been used traditionally to treat stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and sore throats. In Ayurveda, licorice root has been used to combat renal, hepatic, gastric, and respiratory disorders; more recently, licorice root has been studied for its antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, with varying degrees of success (17).
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Thrive Market does not represent or warrant that the nutrition, ingredient, allergen, and other product information on our website is accurate or complete, since this information comes from the product manufacturers. On occasion, manufacturers may improve or change their product formulas and update their labels. We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented on our website and that you review the product’s label or contact the manufacturer directly if you have specific product concerns or questions.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont
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