What are herbal supplements?

Herbal supplements are products derived from plants and/or their oils, roots, seeds, berries, or flowers. Herbal supplements have been used for many centuries. They are believed to have healing properties.

What are the forms of herbal supplements?

Herbal products come in many different forms and may be used internally or externally. The forms of herbal products include:

  • Liquid extracts
  • Teas
  • Tablets and capsules
  • Bath salts
  • Oils
  • Ointments

What are some common herbal supplements and their uses?

There are many herbal supplements that have several different uses. The following are some of the most common:

Aloe Vera: Used topically for burns, psoriasis, and osteoarthritis. Used in the oral form for digestive issues such as gastritis or constipation.

Black cohosh: Used to treat hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and menopausal symptoms. Also used for menstrual irregularities, premenstrual syndrome, and to induce labor.

Chamomile: Used to treat sleeplessness, anxiety, upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea. It is also used topically for skin conditions.

Echinacea: Used to fight cold and flu symptoms.

Flaxseed: Used to lower cholesterol. Good source of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Ginko: Used to treat memory problems and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Can be used along with the antidepressant selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to enhance sex drive and sexual performance in people who have side effects with antidepressant medications.

Peppermint oil: Used to treat digestion problems such as nausea, indigestion, stomach problems, and bowel conditions.

Soy: Used to treat menopausal symptoms, memory problems, and high cholesterol levels.

St. John’s Wort: Used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

Tea tree oil: Used topically to treat several conditions including, acne, athlete's foot, nail fungus, wounds, infections, lice, oral yeast infection (thrush), cold sores, and dandruff.

How popular are herbal supplements?

Herbal supplements are widely used in the United States. A study by the Centers for Disease Control states that more than half of the people in the country take a daily herbal supplement.

Are herbal supplements safe to use?

The Dietary Supplement Health Education Act of October 1994 does not require manufacturers of herbal products to prove that their products are either safe or effective before they are put on the market. However, the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for monitoring the safety of a product after it has become available to consumers.

In many cases, people use herbal supplements with prescribed medicines. This can result in serious health problems due to drug interactions. Always talk to your doctor before you begin using an herbal supplement.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/22/2015…#15829