Natural medicine: Most popular home remedies among Latinos

Natural remedies from herbs and plants for the treatment of diseases is very common among Latinos from different countries.

Due to tradition, or for financial reasons, herbal and natural medicine is widely accepted in some Hispanic cultures, not only in their countries of origin, but also in the United States.

In Mexico particularly a great part of the population is knowledgeable about the medicinal properties of plants; therefore, they’re widely used in home remedies.

However, in spite of being natural, these remedies have not been fully evaluated by science and caution is recommended when using them.

Several studies have been published about the effectiveness of herbs and plants and a wide variety of these studies are available, but it’s still not possible to make generalizations about the effectiveness and safety of so-called natural medicine. Additionally, recent studies underscore the need to understand their interaction with traditional medications.

Before using any type of natural herbal remedy, it’s important to verify that you don’t have allergies or sensitivity to its ingredients, especially in the case of pregnant women, older adults, children, and people with compromised immune systems.

The most common plants and herbs in natural remedies

Of all the plants and herbs growing in Mexico, there are at least 10 that are the most used in natural remedies. These are:

Prickly Pear

Prickly pear leaves have been used as a natural remedy for conditions like type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity, colitis with diarrhea, benign prostate hypertrophy, arteriosclerosis, and to treat hangovers after drinking alcohol in excess.

In spite of the benefits reported in these cases, it can cause slight diarrhea, nausea, increased feces, a sense of satiety, and headaches.

Mint

It’s used in medical compounds and as a flavoring agent. Mint is used for a number of conditions: as a remedy for the common cold, for inflammatory conditions of the mouth and the pharynx, for sinusitis, the liver, the gall bladder and the intestines. It is also used as a remedy for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, flatulence and many other conditions.

Although its effects have not yet been studied on human beings, studies conducted with animals indicate that mint infusions can cause a drop in the production of sperm cells.

Chaparral or “Gobernadora” (Creosote)

It grows in the desert and has served as a remedy for centuries among the native populations of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.

In traditional medicine it’s used for arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, colds, and chronic cutaneous disorders; also for parasites, tuberculosis, venereal diseases and central nervous system disorders, just to mention some of its uses.

In spite of the healing qualities attributed to it, chaparral has been linked to several toxic effects, and since 1990 the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported incidents that show its toxic potential, from hepatitis to cirrhosis and sudden and fatal liver failure.

Dandelion

Many consider it a controversial herb, while others say it’s not toxic. It’s used in home remedies to suppress the appetite, for indigestion, to stimulate bile production, against flatulence, and for gallbladder stones. It’s also used as a diuretic, laxative and circulatory system tonic, among other uses.

Dandelion contains a significant amount of potassium, so it can be harmful if ingested with diuretics. Products containing pollen from the flowers of this plant may cause allergies.

Verbascum (Mullein)

Its leaves and flowers are used for treating a wide variety of respiratory tract diseases, from coughing to the flu, tuberculosis and pneumonia. Those knowledgeable about it say it is also used for intestinal bleeding, migraine, gout, the kidneys, and sleep disorders, although there is no scientific evidence to confirm this.

There are no reports of toxic effects caused by this plant.

Close up of a Chamomile plant
Chamomile is one of the most widely used plants for the preparation of natural remedies and infusions. (All photos by FOTOLIA)

Chamomile

This is one of the most widely used plants for the preparation of natural remedies and infusions.

A tisane of dried chamomile flowers is traditionally used for diverse gastrointestinal conditions like spasms, nervous diarrhea, colitis, gastritis, and hemorrhoids. It is likewise used to treat swelling of nasal mucosa, allergic rhinitis, agitation, varicose ulcers, insomnia, and many other conditions; but take care, because this plant may also cause allergic reactions in some individuals, including severe hypersensitivity and conjunctivitis, according to reports about its toxic effects.

Nettle

The leaves of the nettle are frequently used in the kitchen, although it is popularly used in natural medicine to treat conditions such as allergies, internal bleeding, renal and gastrointestinal diseases, muscular pains, osteoarthritis, alopecia, and others.

There are few reports about nettle’s toxic effects. Its root may cause allergic and gastrointestinal reactions, sweating, hives and swelling of the tongue.

Passionflower

It’s known as a calming herb due to its effects on anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, hysteria and dizzy spells. It is said to be equally effective for the treatment of neuralgia, spasmodic asthma, cardiac rhythm anomalies, hypertension, burns, and for the relief of menopause symptoms.

Its adverse effects are confusion, loss of muscle control and altered consciousness. Some passionflower family varieties contain a substance associated with toxic effects on the pancreas and liver. It’s being studied whether all contain this element.

Linden

An infusion of this plant’s flowers is used to relax the nerves and treat stress-related conditions including anxiety, hysteria and insomnia. It’s also used in traditional remedies for the flu, chest irritation, nasal congestion, headaches and migraines. It’s used as a diuretic and antispasmodic agent.

In Germany, linden in the form of an infusion is an official product of the national pharmacopoeia. There is only one report indicating that linden flower pollen causes allergies.

Aloe Vera

This is a plant with ample health benefits. It’s used to treat gastrointestinal illnesses such as ulcerative colitis and as a laxative. It soothes the pain of osteoarthritis and bursitis, and it’s also used for diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, mucus derived from radiation, and on the skin when it’s burned or irritated due to exposure to the sun or cold temperatures.

Studies suggest that aloe vera gel may lower blood glucose levels and amplify the action of medications for the treatment of diabetes, so it could produce hypoglycemia, a drastic drop in blood sugar levels.

It is estimated that in many Latin American countries great part of the population heavily depends on natural medicine to cover its primary health needs, and when they emigrate to the United States they hold on to these traditions for historic and cultural reasons, in spite of having advanced, fast-acting and effective medications at their disposal.

Graphic on popular herbs among Hispanics

Click on image to enlarge

 

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