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Herbal medicines or supplements are natural compounds from plants’ leaves, bark, roots, seeds, or flowers that people can use for medicinal purposes. They may offer therapeutic benefits when people use them as complementary medicine.

Herbal medicines contain active ingredients from natural plants. Their use dates back thousands of years, even before the invention of conventional medicine.

While many people prefer herbal medicines to some doctor-prescribed medications, others may use them in combination with prescription and nonprescription drugs. Herbal medicinesTrusted Source are natural botanical products, derived from plants, that people may use to treat and prevent diseases.

How a person takes herbal supplements depends on the form. They are available as tablets, capsules, teas, powders, extracts, and fresh or dried plants.

A person can take herbal supplements by:

  • swallowing them as pills, powders, or tinctures
  • applying them to the skin as gels and lotions
  • adding them to bathwater
  • drinking them as teas

Dosages for some herbal supplements may be challenging to get right. Many factors can affect the quality of herbal supplements, including the growing conditions, age, and preparation of the plant.

As a result, there is no standardized way to provide a correct dosage. If a person considers taking an herbal supplement, they should avoid self-prescribingTrusted Source and discuss it with a doctor first.

The doctor will ask questions about a person’s health condition and determine the best dosage for the desired pharmacological effect.

Safe use of herbal medicine also includes:

  • following label instructions carefully
  • taking only the recommended dosage
  • stopping taking an herbal supplement if it is ineffective

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) notes that taking herbal medicine may not be suitable for a person if they are:

  • pregnant
  • breastfeeding
  • taking other prescription or OTC medications
  • over age 65
  • under age 18
  • having surgery

The NHS also notes that anyone taking herbal medicine should disclose it to their doctor before surgery. This is because some herbal medicines may interact with anesthesia drugs and affect blood pressure and blood clotting during and after surgery.

Table of herbal supplements

Some people use herbal supplements to treat specific symptoms, though there is not much formal research on these uses. The table below lists some herbal supplements and some conditions that they may benefit.

Using supplements can be unsafe for people who have certain health conditions or take medications. People who are breastfeeding or pregnant may want to avoid herbal supplements, as there is very little research on their effects.

Always consult a doctor before taking herbal supplements.

Herbal supplementWhat might it help?Precautions and potential side effects
aloe vera• acne
• skin injuries, such as burns
• psoriasis
• digestive problems
• Topical use may causeTrusted Source burning, itching, and eczema.
• Oral aloe latex use may cause abdominal pain and cramping.
• Oral aloe leaf extract may increase acute hepatitis risk.
black cohoshmenopause symptoms• may causeTrusted Source stomach upset, cramping, headache, rash, vaginal spotting, and weight gain
• may lead to liver damage
garlichigh cholesterol• Oral supplements may increaseTrusted Source the risk of bleeding, so they may be unsafe for people taking anticoagulants, such as warfarin, and those needing surgery.
• may interact with saquinavir, a drug used to treat HIV