Before getting to know what the top anti-inflammatory herbs are, it’s important to understand first what inflammation exactly is. Inflammation is a sign of the body’s attempt to protect itself from possibly harmful stimuli such as pathogens, fungi or viruses. For example, bacteria on a wound can result in redness and swelling, and this means that the body is working to fight the infection, and start the process of healing.
Other possible causes of inflammation include: external injuries such as cuts, scrapes, or foreign objects entering the body (e.g. wood splinter in your finger), trauma, burn, chemical irritants, radiation, and certain diseases or medical conditions like bronchitis, dermatitis, and otitis media for example.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is an immediate and temporary response of the body that lasts for a few hours to several days. If the underlying cause isn’t resolved, inflammation may turn into a chronic and longer phase. Redness, swelling, pain, and heat are the common signs. There may also be loss of function when the affected area of the body can no longer move or function.
Inflammation may or may not be helpful. In some cases, the immune system ends up fighting its own cells like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis, among many others. Whatever it is that’s causing inflammation, it’s best to get to the bottom of it to resolve the issue.
One thing that you’ll find helpful in fighting inflammation is the use of anti-inflammatory herbs. You’d think that herbs are merely cooking add-ons that can spice up and bring out the flavor in dishes. That’s not all. Some can also work to help resolve health problems like inflammation and infection. Below, you’ll find the top 20 herbs that have become popular in this purpose.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 1 – Turmeric
A popular spice used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, turmeric contains a potent substance called curcumin, which is effective in curbing swelling and alleviating symptoms common in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Scientific Research: According to experts, the anti-inflammatory powers of turmeric can be compared with those of well-known medications like Motrin and hydrocortisone but without the side effects. In one study from the Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute, it was found that patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who used turmeric supplementation for two weeks experienced vast improvement in morning stiffness and joint swelling.
Another study revealed that the pain in post-operative patients was significantly reduced after taking turmeric supplements. Because of these findings, turmeric has been used for various inflammatory disorders including tendonitis, arthritis, and auto immune conditions.
Warnings: Turmeric should not be used by pregnant women and people who have gallstones or problems with their bile duct without first consulting their medical practitioner. Very rarely, long-term use of turmeric can cause stomach upset or heartburn.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 2 – Ginger
Another widely used herb in Asia known for its strong flavor and aroma, ginger is used in a myriad of dishes, and also in tea. It has long been used in India for its anti-inflammatory qualities of relieving pain and inflammation. It’s also a remedy for cold, flu, headaches, and menstrual cramps.
Scientific Research: A study performed at the Odense University in Denmark in 1992 showed that 75 percent of participants enjoyed relief in pain and other inflammatory symptoms after taking ginger supplements. A similar study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2005 found that ginger has pharmacological properties that inhibit genes that trigger the inflammatory response.
Warning: Side effects from using this herb are rarely reported but in high dosage, ginger can cause diarrhea, irritate the mouth, and trigger a mild heartburn.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 3 – Licorice
When people hear about licorice, the first thing on their minds is candy. This herb, which can also be used for adding flavor to any food and drinks like meat, vegetables, pastries, and tea, is another effective fighter against inflammation having a high amount of flavonoids. It’s not only anti-inflammatory, it’s also anti-depressant, anti-fungal, and anti-ulcer. It can also be used to treat viral infections, liver ailments, asthma, arthritis, and dental problems.
Scientific Research: A 2008 study published in the Pharmacological Research supports the anti-inflammatory properties of licorice that were seen to treat acute inflammation in the participants. According to this research, the herb prevents inflammation by activating the NF-kappa B and STAT-3 pathways.
Warning: Excessive consumption of this herb can cause difficulty in breathing, palpitation, and certain cardiovascular problems.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 4 – Basil
Basil is a fragrant herb that’s commonly sprinkled on salads or added to pasta sauces. The rich aroma and flavor aren’t the only things to love about this herb. It’s been found that basil can inhibit the same enzyme blocked by other anti-inflammatory medications like Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
Scientific Research: Several recent studies have shown the potential of basil as an anti-inflammatory herb. One example is a study published in the Journal of Microbiology Methods in 2003 that revealed that basil can effectively stop certain forms of bacteria that can cause inflammation.
Warning: Basil is usually safe when consumed in foods. But an overdose can pose some risks, as it contains estragole, a chemical said to increase the risk of liver cancer.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 5 – Boswellia
Boswellia, an herb that comes from the boswellia tree, is a common remedy for joint pain in Ayurvedic medicine.
Scientific research: A 2005 study reported in DNA and Cell Biology supported the effectiveness of this herb in treating chronic inflammation. This works because the herb is able to destroy a type of cytokine that’s involved in chronic inflammation. Another 2005 study showed that boswellia has the ability to reduce cells that trigger inflammation.
Warning: Rare side effects of taking this herb include stomach pain, diarrhea, skin rash, stomach discomfort and acid reflux.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 6 – Rosemary
Cultivated in different parts of the world, rosemary has become a household name when it comes to perfecting culinary dishes. Apart from being a flavor enhancer, it also has powerful tonic and diaphoretic effects. And because of having a high content of flavonoids, it’s also efficient as an anti-inflammatory.
Scientific Research: Two separate studies illustrate that the use of rosemary extracts can protect cellular membranes from inflammatory actions.
Warning: Too much of this herb can interfere with the absorption of iron. Although it doesn’t directly cause iron-deficiency anemia, it can worsen pre-existing conditions. This herb is not recommended for pregnant and lactating women.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 7 – Garlic
A kitchen staple that your trip to the supermarket won’t be complete without, garlic is yet another potent anti-inflammatory herb that can treat various ailments including sinus infection, common cold, and hypertension, among others. Garlic works in a way similar to penicillin. It fights inflammation by altering the inflammation-causing cytokines.
Scientific research: A study on garlic extract presented at the 2012 American Heart Association (AHA)’s Scientific Session conference showed that there was a significant decrease in inflammation among the participants who took garlic supplements.
Warning: Although it’s generally safe, garlic can possibly cause heartburn, gas, nausea, bad breath, and diarrhea.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 8 – Cayenne
Cayenne packs a whopping punch with its spicy flavor. This herb, which is rich in calcium, potassium, B complex and vitamin C, can aid in the treatment of various inflammatory disorders such as arthritis. The active ingredient in cayenne is called capsaicin. It decreases inflammation by inhibiting Substance P, a neuropeptide that’s involved in the body’s inflammatory response.
Scientific research: Studies reported by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center show that cayenne has anti-inflammatory activities that can help in the treatment of certain forms of cancer including leukemia.
Warning: As it may interfere with certain medications, it’s a must to consult your doctor first before using any cayenne supplement.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 9 – Cinnamon
Who doesn’t love cinnamon? Added in coffee, cakes, brownies and pastries, cinnamon does more than enhance flavor and aroma. It also works wonders for the health. One is by reducing the body’s inflammatory responses.
Scientific research: Laboratory studies on animals show that cinnamon is indeed effective in fighting bacteria and reducing inflammation.
Warning: Usually, this herb doesn’t have any side effects. But in rare cases, it can cause mouth irritation. Taken in extremely large doses, it can cause liver ailments. People taking antibiotics, blood thinners, heart medications, and drugs for diabetes are not advised to take cinnamon supplements.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 10 – Parsley
Parsley is packed with vital nutrients like vitamin A, B complex, vitamin C and vitamin K. Apart from effectively treating digestive disorders and kidney ailments, this herb can also treat inflammatory problems, and prevent inflammation with its roster of immune system-boosting nutrients.
Scientific Research: According to the findings of a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2008, both parsley and asparagus can effectively tone down inflammation. This is due to their ability to destroy free radicals that bring inflammation as well as cellular damage.
Prior to this study, in 2002, a study published in the Journal of Natural Remedies illustrated that the active components in this herb, namely the tannis, triterpenes, and flavonoids had substantial anti-inflammatory effects in animals.
Warning: Over consumption of parsley can cause headaches, kidney damage, and convulsions. Juice, seeds, and oils made from this herb should not be consumed by pregnant women as they’ve been associated with contractions of the uterus and miscarriage.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 11 – Guggul
The powers of this herb can be compared to that of NSAID drugs like ibuprofen. Guggul has long been used as a detoxifying ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine.
Scientific Research: A clinical study involving 30 patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis showed that guggul supplementation resulted in improvement of the condition after a two-month period.
Warning: Because of its blood-thinning properties, this herb must not be used with other platelet aggregation-reducing medications.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 12 – Neem
In India, neem is famous as the “divine tree” and it’s not a surprise why. Neem leaf and seed extracts are known for their antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and of course, anti-inflammatory properties.
Scientific Research: The use of neem for fighting inflammation has been illustrated in various studies. In one study, neem leaves were proven to block the prostaglandin mechanism, which causes pain. It also showed that this herb can alleviate inflammation among patients with acute paw edema.
Warning: Neem is generally safe but extremely large doses can pose risks to kidneys and liver. Neem bark and oil are not safe for consumption for pregnant women.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 13 – Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is the go-to herb for treating skin burns and wounds. Now, we get to know more about its anti-inflammatory properties that also work inside the body. That’s because it has a cooling effect on the digestive tract, making it helpful for people with peptic ulcers and other inflammatory disorders.
Scientific Research: In one of the many studies done on aloe vera, one showed that its anti-inflammatory effects are even more powerful than a one-percent hydrocortisone cream. According to the researchers, aloe vera gel can effectively treat inflammatory skin conditions like the ultraviolet induced erythema.
Warning: Since aloe vera is a potent laxative, it should be taken with caution. Consult your doctor first before taking an aloe vera supplement especially if you’re expecting.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 14 – Saw Palmetto
Derived from the saw palmetto fan palm, a plant native to the southern part of the United States, this one is an amazing herb that can treat a wide array of health conditions including urinary tract inflammation and testicular inflammation. It does many other things too like stimulate the appetite, boost the metabolism, aid in digestion, and empower the thyroid gland.
Scientific research: Numerous clinical studies have been done on saw palmetto since the 1960s. In a review of 24 of these trials, as published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 1998, it showed that among the 3,000 men who took saw palmetto and placebo, those who ingested the actual herb experienced almost 30 percent improvement in symptoms of urinary tract inflammation.
Warning: Possible side effects of saw palmetto include dizziness, nausea, headaches, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, lower libido, gas, and loss of appetite.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 15 – Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha, an herb that’s commonly grown and used in Pakistan, India, Africa, and Spain, has a long list of medicinal uses—anti-stress, aphrodisiac, immune function booster, and many others. But let’s focus on its anti-inflammatory activity.
Scientific Research: Among the many bodies of research done on this herb, one study demonstrated that its anti-inflammatory properties were at par with a hydrocortisone cream with 5 mg/kg dosage. Another study showed that among five plants evaluated for fighting inflammation, findings pointed to Ashwagandha as the one with the highest capability.
Warning: Use of this herb may possibly bring some side effects like nausea, drowsiness, flatulence, irritation of the gastrointestinal system, diarrhea, vomiting, and lowering of the blood sugar level, particularly for diabetics.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 16 – Arnica
Most herbs can be taken orally. But arnica is different. This perennial herb that can be found in Canada, northern United States, eastern Asia, and in some parts of Europe can only be applied topically. It’s widely used for alleviating inflammation, treating bruises, and sprains, and many others.
Scientific Research: Although no concrete evidence has been found to support this herb’s true efficacy in fighting inflammation, several laboratory studies show that arnica has the ability to inhibit the activity of some types of immune system cells, and this can be helpful for people with inflammation problems.
Warning: Internal use is not recommended as this may cause diarrhea, vomiting, internal bleeding, muscle weakness, rapid heart rate, nosebleeds, and even comatose.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 17 – Gotu Kola
Used in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Madagascar, Gotu Kola is known for its wound healing properties and for treating an array of ailments including varicose ulcers, lupus and eczema. This slender plant with fan shaped leaves is also said to aid in meditation, helping a person develop an energy center at the top of the head.
Scientific Research: Some studies released since 1995 showed that this herb can destroy cultured tumor cells inside the laboratory. Findings point out that Gotu Kola is capable of treating inflammatory diseases of the skin.
Warning: Too much use of this herb can cause some side effects like nausea, stomach upset, drowsiness, and itching.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 18 – Slippery Elm
For many years, slippery elm has been used in North America for healing boils, burns, wounds, and skin inflammation. Taken orally, it was found to relieve common health complaints like upset stomach, cough, sore throat and diarrhea.
Scientific Research: One of the latest studies done on this herb was by a British group, published in 2002 in the Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. It probed the ability of this herb to reduce inflammation of the intestine, particularly for diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. A similar study, this time by a Korean team of researchers, published in Phytotherapy, echoed these findings.
Warning: There is no known danger linked to the use of this herb. But some experts say it can obstruct bowel movement, and should therefore be taken with caution.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 19 – Nutmeg
Native to India, nutmeg has been utilized for its medicinal properties since the 16th century. Among its long list of health benefits is its ability to destroy pathogens that cause diseases. Dr. Joseph Pizzorno and Dr. Michael Murray, authors of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods explain that nutmeg can effectively block more than 25 bacteria species. Nutmeg oil is used as topical ointment for soothing painful muscles and joints.
Scientific Research: In 2009, a team of researchers from the University of Mississippi found that nutmeg can substantially relieve pain in mice by sedating the nervous system.
Warning: Caution should be taken when using nutmeg supplements. Overdose can cause delirium, hallucination, and other mental problems.
Anti-inflammatory herb # 20 – Black pepper
Last but not the least, we have the black pepper. There’s more to this spice than just being salt’s flavoring partner. As the most common culinary spice in the world, it’s one thing that can’t go missing in anyone’s kitchen. It has also been recognized for its anti-inflammatory activities.
Scientific Research: A recent research study investigated how the compounds in black pepper can inhibit the body’s inflammatory response. These compounds include NF-kappaB, COX-1 and -2 enzymes.
Warning: Black pepper is generally safe. But it’s not advisable to apply it on the skin or allow it to get into the eyes, as it causes redness and burning sensation.
All these herbs are backed by scientific research to be effective in curbing the annoying problems of inflammation. But as there are some possible side effects, it’s a must to consult a health practitioner first before using any of these.
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