10 Most Used Medicinal Plants

The study of the natural healing properties of plants remains in its infancy in the United States. The Mayo Clinic points out that because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration evaluates most medicinal botanicals as food supplements--not as medicine--a medical rating system is currently impossible. But many countries, including Germany and China, classify dozens of medicinal botanicals as official disease-fighters. A "top ten" of globally recognized herbs, berries and roots is difficult to compile, due to the staggering diversity of global plant life. But several plants do appear repeatedly in holistic research around the world. Remember to check with your physician before taking any of these botanicals, to verify the claims of herbal supplement manufacturers, and always ask about potential drug interactions.


Perhaps the most universally-utilized medicinal herb, researchers have conducted thousands of separate clinical trials involving ginseng, according to the Colorado-based Herb Research Foundation. Its virtues are said to include the prevention of colds, strengthening of the heart, liver and lungs, circulation improvement and has shown promise in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.


According to Home Remedies Digest, medicine derived from hawthorn berries is used in China and some European countries to stop heart failure during its earliest stages. Along with its use as an overall heart-strengthener, hawthorn may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Milk Thistle

Know as the "liver herb," milk thistle reportedly removes toxins from the liver. Scientists are currently studying its promise in stopping cancer cells from multiplying.

Black Cohosh

Perhaps the most sought-after herb for menopausal symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes, black cohosh apparently also eases problems associated with pre-menstrual syndrome, according to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar.


A classic ingredient in anti-bloating teas, vitamin- and mineral-rich stinging nettle may also ease hay fever symptoms. In the wild, use the fresh leaves to treat wounds and cuts---although wear gloves to collect them.

Ginkgo Biloba

An increasingly popular herbal supplement connected with strengthening memory function, ginkgo biloba may also fight macular degeneration in older patients by increasing blood flow to the eyes. Studies are also exploring ginkgo's suspected effectiveness against vertigo, vascular disorder and inner ear problems.


Bilberry fruit contains the antioxidant anthocyanosides, which are considered especially good for healthy blood flow. By boosting circulation, eye and heart health, in particular, seem to be improved.


That purple cone flower formerly confined flower gardens today graces hundreds of pharmaceutical growing fields. That's because in recent decades, echinacea's popularity as a preventive supplement for fighting colds and flu has soared. The herb's immunity boosting properties apparently come from its stimulation of white blood cells.


Long a folk treatment for upset stomach, ginger's reputation for easing a variety of symptoms relating to upset stomach continues to grow. Among its reported uses are for indigestion, nausea and diarrhea. Ginger may also be effective in treating arthritis, morning sickness and menstrual cramps.


While not everyone loves the taste of licorice, the herb is included in many cough syrups and drops because of its reputation as an expectorant. Studies indicate it may also lower cholesterol.

Keywords: medicinal plants, holistic research, ginkgo biloba, hawthorn berries, Herb Research Foundation, healing botanicals

About this Author

Melissa Jordan-Reilly has been a writer for 20 years, both as a newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit newsletters. Among the publications in which she has published are, "The Winsted Journal," "Taconic" and "Compass Magazine." A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Jordan-Reilly also pursues sustainable agriculture techniques and tends a market garden at her Northwestern Connecticut home.