Herbal drugs are used every day all over the world, and some of them have been used for thousands of years. As supplements and essential oils continue to grow in popularity, it’s important to know which ones live up to the hype, which do nothing at all, and which may actually be dangerous. Learn more about herbal drugs and how to use them safely and responsibly.

Using Herbal Medicines Safely


Most common herbal supplements are free to buy and use without any governmental regulation. That’s both a positive and a negative. The  U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not consider herbs and supplements to be controlled substances, so anyone who wants to can buy and use them. However, manufacturers and vendors that sell herbal medicines don’t have the same regulations that controlled medications do. That means vendors can sell herbal medicines, claiming that they have a variety of benefits that they don’t really have. They may also have a variety of ingredients that are not what you are looking for. When you are trying out an herbal medicine, make sure it’s coming from a trusted source.

Though herbal medicines aren’t regulated drugs, it’s worth doing your homework and making sure the supplements you take are the best for your needs. Never consume something without knowing what it does or what’s in it. It can also be dangerous to self-diagnose. If you have a medical issue that you think might be helped by herbal drugs, it’s essential to speak to a doctor first. If you have a serious condition, herbal supplements might be able to help. Your doctor may also be able to recommend dietary changes and herbal supplements that will be safe for you to use with your current condition and medications. 

It’s also vital to follow label instructions, even with unregulated substances. Most herbal remedies are safe to use in recommended doses but can be more dangerous in high doses. Many substances, even water, can be toxic in high enough amounts. High doses can cause unpleasant symptoms like upset stomach, headaches, diarrhea, and other issues. If you are taking an herbal drug, take note of any unpleasant side effects, and talk to your doctor about anything persistent or getting worse. If you have a severe allergic reaction, seek emergency medical care immediately. 

Common Herbs Used as Medicines

There are dozens of herbs that are used as supplements and as traditional medications. Some have scientific backing, while others are more a product of culture and tradition. However, Some herbal remedies are being investigated for possible significant benefits in treating a host of serious diseases, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and infections. Here are some of the more common herbal medications and their supposed effects. 


Turmeric is an herb that comes from the Curcuma longa plant, especially its roots. The root is powdered and used as a spice in a variety of cuisines including Indian curry. Besides an excellent flavor, the plant also has some supposed benefits as a medicinal herb. Turmeric and one of its components, curcumin, has been used as a traditional medicine in India for hundreds of years. Turmeric is said to have anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin is also said to be a potent anti-oxidant. A study in 1985 posited that it might even have some anti-cancer benefits. Among other herbal medicines and traditional therapies, turmeric has significant scientific support for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits. Another study in 2004 also found that it’s safe to consume in high doses, which means that it can be safely used in medication, especially in rheumatic diseases that cause painful and damaging inflammation. 

Devil’s Claw

Devil’s claw is an herb that comes from the Harpogophytum procumbens plant. Despite its foreboding common name, it is said to have several benefits, including anti-inflammatory effects. However, unlike turmeric, the research into the effectiveness of Devil’s Claw is inconclusive. In 2007, a review of the research surrounding the drug’s effectiveness for osteoarthritis treatment found that there was some support, but some of the results were suspect. They said, “The methodological quality of the existing clinical trials is generally poor, and although they provide some support, there are a considerable number of methodologic caveats that make further clinical investigations warranted.”


Ginger is a bit more well known than some of the other herbs and supplements that some of the other items on this list, partially due to the influence of Asian cuisine in American food culture. Ginger is used for its flavor and for its ability to ease nausea that’s caused by several different factors. Researchers have been investigating ginger for use in patients who have nausea that’s caused by pregnancy, chemotherapy, or other medical issues or treatments. There have also been studies in its potential ability to fight prostate cancer. A 2011 study showed that a certain amount of ginger extract helped to slow the progression of prostate cancer tumors in mice.


Chamomile is a recognizable herb that comes from flowers that are produced by the Asteracaea family of plants. It’s commonly used as an ingredient in tea, which is consumed for its flavor and it’s supposed calming effect. Chamomile advocates often tout it as a cure-all herbal medicine, but it may have some very real benefits that involve anti-anxiety, sedation, and relaxation. One study showed that chamomile essential oils seemed to improve the quality of life and ease anxiety in cancer patients. 


Ginseng is another herb that’s reported to have a wide variety of benefits as an aphrodisiac, tonic, and as a remedy for chronic fatigue. A 2007 study found that American ginseng could have some uses in treating hypoglycemia by increasing insulin production. However, ginseng may also interact negatively with certain medications, including warfarin, heparin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, or digoxin. It can also interact poorly in people with diabetes. 


Echinacea is another common herb that’s used as a cure-all. More specifically, it’s used to treat colds, flu, infections, and healing wounds. The leaf, root, and stalk have all been utilized for medicinal purposes and taking the supplement to treat a cold is common practice in the U.S. However, dozens of studies investigated echinacea’s ability to shorten or treat colds, and none have definitely shown any effect. Other studies demonstrated that it had no effect on colds. A study in 2006 said, “There is some evidence that preparations based on the aerial parts of E. purpurea might be effective for the early treatment of colds in adults, but the results are not fully consistent.”

Herbal Drugs as Recreation

While herbal supplements can offer some positive health benefits, some are used for recreation. Common household spices like nutmeg can have some psychoactive effects and some toxic ones. Salvia is another plant with mild opioid-like properties, that is not regulated in the United States on the federal level, though it is illegal in certain states. 

If you or someone you know has used legal or illegal drugs and may have developed a substance use disorder, you can learn more about addiction and how it’s treated. Speak to an addiction specialist at California Highlands Vistas to learn more about how addiction treatment works. Hear about your different therapy options and how they can help lead to lasting freedom from active addiction. Call any time to take the first steps on the road to recovery.

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