How to Treat Allergies, Migraines and Other Unpleasant Conditions with Herbs

Medicinal herbs are a form of traditional medicine. Many herbs contain compounds that can help treat diseases or relieve symptoms. In fact, some modern medicines have their origins in medicinal herbs. A typical example of this is aspirin, which is a form of salicylic acid, a compound that naturally occurs in the bark of the willow tree.

Whenever possible, it is always best to discuss health and herbal supplements with a qualified healthcare professional. In this article, we’ll take a look at what medicinal herbs are, how they compare to drugs, and some popular herbal remedies for conditions such as allergies, coughs, migraines, and anxiety.

What are medicinal herbs?

Herbs are a form of traditional medicine. They consist of herbs or compounds derived from herbs. They may also contain mushrooms or algae.

Herbal products come in a variety of formats, including a reliable sources:

  • capsules or tablets
  • whole dried plant parts, such as seeds, leaves, flowers, bark, or roots
  • powders that people can add to liquids or food
  • tinctures, which people make by steeping plant parts in a liquid, such as alcohol, to extract the compounds
  • herbal teas or tonics

Historically, herbs have been one of the main ways to treat diseases. Today, they are still a part of many types of complementary medicine, such as herbalism, naturopathy, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine.

Herbal remedies vs. medicines

There are some key differences between medicinal herbs and prescription or over-the-counter drugs. It is important to be aware of these differences before using them.


Many people believe that natural products are safer or gentler than prescription drugs. But like any medicine, herbs can be toxic at the wrong doses. They can also cause side effects, interactions, and allergic reactions.

Herbal products are only tested for safety and effectiveness when consumers or healthcare professionals report problems with them.

For example, some ayurvedic products that are a reliable source contain mercury or lead, while some “natural” products for the treatment of erectile dysfunction contain dangerously high amounts of non-listed prescription-only drugs.

Before using them, you need to make sure that the herbs are safe, just like medications.


Evidence that herbs work can vary greatly. While some have strong evidence that they can be beneficial under certain conditions, others do not. In addition, studies of medicinal herbs are not always of high quality and may include

  • a small number of participants
  • lack of diversity among participants
  • short time frame
  • no placebo control group

This makes it difficult to know whether an herbal medicine will work reliably in a large group of people, what the long-term effects are, or whether it is more effective than a placebo. There may also be no information on the effects on pregnant women and children.

Popular medicinal herbs for allergies

Some of the most popular herbal remedies for allergies include:

Whitefoot: An older systematic review found that six small studies showed that white foot was as effective as modern antihistamines in treating allergies. However, high-quality studies are lacking, and some compounds in the white hoof, known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), can cause liver damage.

Stinging nettle: This plant contains compounds that may act as antihistamines. Several small studies also support the idea that stinging nettle extracts are safe for human use, although more research is needed.

Curcumin: This compound is present in turmeric. In a preliminary study, taking oral curcumin supplements helped relieve nasal congestion and other symptoms, as well as reduce the immune response in people with allergic rhinitis.

Garlic: Both garlic and onions contain quercetin, which is an antioxidant that appears to inhibit histamine production.

Keep in mind that people with pollen or plant allergies may also be allergic to herbs such as white clover.

For migraines

Migraine is a neurological condition that usually causes painful headaches, as well as other symptoms such as nausea and photosensitivity. Some medicinal herbs that people use for migraines include:

Whitefoot: Whitefoot extracts can help reduce the frequency of migraines in children and adults. But in 2015, the American Academy of Neurology stopped recommending it because of the risk of liver damage from PA.

Pyrethrum: Pyrethrum contains compounds that reduce the frequency of migraine symptoms. More research is needed to see how effective pyrethrum is in preventing migraines.

Ginger: A 2020 review from reliable sources concluded that taking ginger seems to reduce migraine symptoms such as pain, nausea, and vomiting without any negative side effects.

Peppermint oil can help with other types of headaches. Peppermint contains menthol, which has a cooling effect on the skin. People can apply it by diluting it with a safe amount of carrier oil and massaging the skin. Menthol is dangerous for children, so do not use this oil around them.

For cough and sore throat

A number of over-the-counter cough products contain compounds derived from plants. For example, cough lozenges often contain menthol to help relieve sore throats.

Examples of herbs that can help reduce coughing include:

Eucalyptus oil: According to a 2015 review by a trusted source, inhaling 12 drops of eucalyptus oil in 150 milliliters of boiling water up to three times a day can help reduce coughs.

Sage: Sage appears to reduce bronchospasm or airway constriction. A 2015 animal study found that liquid sage extract suppressed bronchospasm in rats. This may explain why sage is a historic remedy for coughs and asthma, but more research in humans is needed to prove that it works.

Licorice root: Some people use licorice gargles or lozenges to treat sore throats. It can reduce sore throat after surgery. But excessive amounts can cause high blood pressure.

For stress and anxiety

There are many ancient medicines for stress and anxiety. Here are some examples of herbal products that can help reduce stress and anxiety:

Essential oils: Some essential oils can reduce feelings of stress. Popular choices include lavender and peppermint. People can use essential oil diffusers to inhale the scent or apply certain oils to the skin by diluting them with carrier oil.

German chamomile: In one trusted study, taking 1500 milligrams per day of German chamomile extract for 8 weeks reduced symptoms in people with moderate to severe GAD at a rate similar to treatment with traditional anxiety medications.

Lemon balm: In a 2018 study of 80 people with cardiovascular disease, researchers found that taking 3 grams of lemon balm extract daily for 8 weeks reduced depression, anxiety, and stress.

It’s worth noting that some herbal remedies for anxiety, including lemon balm and chamomile, work by affecting GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that affects mood and sleep. As with sedatives that work by changing GABA levels, these substances can cause side effects.

Safe use of medicinal herbs

If people want to try an herbal remedy, there are steps they can take to use them safely.

Get expert advice and supervision

Always consult a qualified healthcare practitioner before using medicinal herbs. This is especially important for people who are:

  • pregnant or nursing
  • trying to conceive
  • undergoing surgery or other medical treatment
  • are taking other medications

If an herbal remedy is safe to use, follow the instructions on the label or your doctor’s instructions. If symptoms develop or worsen, or if a person takes too much, stop using the product and seek medical attention.

Use quality products

When searching for herbs, choose brands that use third-party testing to ensure that their products are of high quality and free of contaminants.

Never give others medicinal herbs. As with medicines, it is important not to give others herbal products. What helps one person may harm another, so it is important that others seek medical attention when it comes to treating conditions.

Never give children medicinal herbs without a doctor’s instructions. Many medicinal herbs cannot be tested on children, and even those that seem harmless can affect a child’s development.

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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