The Root of the Problem: 9 Medicinal Roots For What Ails You

February 19th, 2015

When we think of medicine today, synthetic powders, pills and serums most likely come to mind. Thousands of years ago, however, we would have thought of herbs and roots.

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.

We compiled a list of nine of the most popular roots in herbal medicine. Check it out and we think you’ll see that roots as medicine isn’t really that strange, after all.

1. Turmeric

Though you probably think of turmeric as a spice, the root is also used in herbal medicine. Part of the reason turmeric became 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.

2. Kava kava

Kava kava root has its origins in the Pacific Islands, where it was mixed with water to make a kind of ceremonial drink. Kava kava drinkers say the effects are similar to drinking alcohol.

On the other hand, kava kava has also been used historically for it’s medicinal properties. The root’s calming properties make it a useful treatment for anxiety, stress, sleep conditions, and even headaches and migraines. It’s other uses include treating depression, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, colds and respiratory infections, and as an aphrodisiac.

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 the root. A court recently overturned the European ban, however, noting that there wasn’t enough evidence about the negative effects for a full ban.

3. Ginger

Ginger root was originally used as medicine in Eastern cultures. 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.

4. Maca

Maca root is native to Peru, where people have cultivated it for more than 3,000 years. Recently, maca has gained a reputation as a superfood, and can enhance energy, stamina, memory, fertility and hormone imbalances.

5. Valerian

Valerian root has been used to treat sleep disorders since ancient Grecian and Roman times. 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.

6. Echinacea

Echinacea is native to America, and was first used as medicine by Native Americans. 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.

7. Goldenseal

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. 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.

8. Ashwagandha

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.

9. Licorice

Licorice (the root, not the candy) has been used traditionally to treat stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and sore throats. Studies have also shown an injectable form of licorice could be an effective treatment for Hepatitis C — although the injectable form of this herb isn’t available in the United States.

Of course, these aren’t all the roots with herbal healing properties. Next time, we’ll cover some of the other roots — including astragalus, ginseng, eleuthero, marshmallow, black cohosh, and even Eastern varieties like Dong Quai. Keep an eye out!

As with any supplement, check with a doctor before taking any of these roots.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

This article is related to: Ginger, Ginger Root, Herbs, Maca, Maca Root, Turmeric, Vegetarian

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Annalise MantzAnnalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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