16. Red pepper for pain relief Capsaicin, the compound that gives red pepper (cayenne) its fiery flavor, is a potent topical pain reliever, found in a German study to reduce pain by 50 percent versus placebo’s 23 percent. When rubbed on the skin, it causes mild burning but that sensation desensitizes nearby pain nerves and soothes pain in deeper tissues.
17. St. John’s wort for depression For mild depression, St. John’s wort often works as well as some antidepressants, but with fewer side effects. “We recently concluded a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on St. John’s wort, and 21 of 23 studies support it for mild to moderate depression,” says Blumenthal. Studies showing benefits have used 600 to 1,800 milligrams a day; most have used 900 milligrams a day. It’s not clear if St. John’s wort is as effective as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac or Zoloft. St. John’s wort interacts with many drugs, including possibly reducing the effectiveness of birth control pills. Depression requires professional care; ask your physician about St. John’s wort.
18. Tea for heart health Tea, particularly green tea, has rocketed to prominence as an herbal medicine. It’s high in antioxidants, which help prevent heart disease. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers tracked the consumption of green tea by 40,530 adults over an 11-year period. Women who drank five or more cups a day reduced their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 31 percent and from stroke by 42 percent, compared to those who drank less than one cup per day.
19. Tea tree oil for athlete’s foot Tea tree is an Australian plant with an antifungal, antiseptic oil. In a double-blind trial, 158 people with athlete’s foot were treated with placebo, a 25 percent tea tree oil solution or a 50 percent tea tree oil solution for four weeks. Results showed that the tea tree oil solutions were more effective than placebo. (In the 50 percent tea tree oil group, 64 percent were cured; in the 25 percent tea tree oil group, 55 percent were cured; in the placebo group, 31 percent were cured.)
20. Turmeric for arthritis and joint injuries Curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric, is an anti-inflammatory. In combination with boswellia, ashwagandha and ginger, it may treat osteoarthritis, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. And a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research in March found curcumin to be comparable in efficacy to a prescription anti-inflammatory for treating rheumatoid arthritis.
21. Valerian for insomnia Studies have shown that valerian aids sleep, often as well as pharmaceutical sedatives but without risk of addiction. In a study in the European Journal of Medical Research, investigators gave 202 insomniacs valerian or a Valium-like tranquilizer. After six weeks, the treatments were equally effective.
22. White willow bark for pain relief White willow bark contains salicin, a close chemical relative of aspirin. A study in Phytomedicine followed people with severe back pain for 18 months. In the group taking white willow bark, 40 percent were pain-free after just four weeks; the same was true of only 18 percent of the second group, who could take whatever prescription drugs they wanted. Like aspirin, willow bark can cause stomach distress, and shouldn’t be given to children.