Herbal Medicines Nurses Should Know

Ginkgo Biloba

Bronchitis Fatigue Tinnitus (ringing or roaring sounds in the ears) Memory improvement Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia Sexual dysfunction Multiple sclerosis

Taking blood thinning drugs
Diagnosed with bleeding disorders Scheduled for surgery

Side Effects and Cautions




skin reactions

Increase bleeding
for Seizures

Some promising results have been seen for Alzheimer’s disease/dementia and intermittent claudication, among others, but larger, well-designed research studies are needed.
Some smaller studies for memory enhancement have had promising results, but a trial sponsored by the National Institute on Aging of more than 200 healthy adults over age 60 found that ginkgo taken for 6 weeks did not improve memory.

St. Johns Worth




Sleep disorders


Nerve pain



Pregnant and Lactating Women

Severely Depressed Patients

Individuals already taking antidepressants

Oral Contraceptives

Preoperative or Postoperative Patients


Patients with HIV
Transplant Patients

Side Effects
Increased sensitivity to sunlight


Dry mouth


Gastrointestinal symptoms



Sexual dysfunction

Interferes with Absorption of Iron

Drug Interactions:
Research shows that St. John’s wort interacts with some drugs. The herb affects the way the body processes or breaks down many drugs; in some cases, it may speed or slow a drug’s breakdown. Drugs that can be affected include:

• Antidepressants

• Birth control pills

• Cyclosporine, which prevents the body from rejecting transplanted organs
• Digoxin, which strengthens heart muscle contractions

• Indinavir and possibly other drugs used to control HIV infection
• Irinotecan and possibly other drugs used to treat cancer

• Warfarin and related anticoagulants

When combined with certain antidepressants, St. John’s wort may increase side effects such as nausea, anxiety, headache, and confusion.

Asian Ginseng
Increasing Immune System

Recovering from illness

Increasing energy & stamina
Improving mental & physical performance
Erectile dysfunction
Hepatitis C
Menopausal symptoms

Lowering blood sugar

Controlling blood pressure

Diabetics Patients with Hypertension
Patients taking opiates for pain relief

Pregnant Women

Side Effects
Sleep problems

Gastrointestinal problems

Allergic reactions

Breast tenderness, Menstrual irregularities
High blood pressure ( Low blood sugar Some studies have shown that Asian ginseng may lower blood glucose.
Other studies indicate possible beneficial effects on immune function.

Research results on Asian ginseng are not conclusive enough to prove health claims associated with the herb. Only a handful of large clinical trials on Asian ginseng have been conducted. Most studies have been small or have had flaws in design and reporting. Some claims for health benefits have been based only on studies conducted in animals.



Colds, flu, and other infections.

Stimulating the immune system
Wounds and skin problems, such as acne or boils

Pregnant women
Patients with autoimmune disorders
Patients with tuburculosis

Young children

Side Effects

ncresed side effects if taken beyond 8 weeks
Stomach problems
Allergic reactions, including rashes, asthma, and anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction), people with Allergies to other plants may be more susceptible

Study results are mixed on whether echinacea effectively treats colds or flu. For example, two NCCAM-funded studies did not find a benefit from echinacea, either as Echinacea purpurea fresh-pressed juice for treating colds in children, or as an unrefined mixture of Echinacea angustifolia root and Echinacea purpurea root and herb in adults. However, other studies have shown that echinacea may be beneficial in treating upper respiratory infections.

Black Cohash


Rheumatism (arthritis and muscle pain)

Menopausal symptoms
Menstrual irregularities and premenstrual syndrome
Labor induction

Pregnant Women

Side Effects
Headaches and stomach discomfort
Heaviness in the legs

Weight problems

Interactions & Cautions

No interactions have been reported between black cohosh and prescription medicines.
It is not clear if black cohosh is safe for women who have had breast cancer or for pregnant women.

Study results are mixed on whether black cohosh effectively relieves menopausal symptoms.
Studies to date have been less than 6 months long, so long-term safety data are not currently available.


Menopausal symptoms



Urinary tract infections


Pregnant & nursing women

People being treated for depression

People with Parkinson’s disease
People with liver problems
People with high blood pressure

Side Effects

Liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure

Dystonia (abnormal muscle spasm or involuntary muscle movements)


Scaly, yellowed skin (associated with long-term use)


Drug Interactions
Kava may interact with several drugs, including drugs used for Parkinson’s disease. What the Science Says Although scientific studies provide some evidence that kava may be beneficial for the management of anxiety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk of severe liver damage.

Evening Primrose

Eczema (a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed, itchy, or scaly because of allergies or other irritation)
Rheumatoid arthritis
Menstrual & menopausal symptoms


Pregnant women



Side Effects and Cautions
Stomach upset

May lower seizure threshold

Evening primrose oil may have modest benefits for eczema, and it may be useful for rheumatoid arthritis and breast pain. However, study results are mixed, and most studies have been small and not well designed.
Evening primrose oil does not appear to affect menopausal symptoms. Although some clinical trials have shown a benefit of evening primrose oil for premenstrual syndrome, the best-designed trials found no effect.

Saw Palmetto

Urinary symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate gland

Chronic pelvic pain

Bladder disorders

Decreased sex drive

Hair loss
Hormone imbalances


Pregnant Women


Side Effects and Cautions:
Stomach discomfort.
Some men have reported side effects such as tender breasts and a decline in sexual desire

Several small studies suggest that saw palmetto may be effective for treating BPH symptoms.
In 2006, a large study of 225 men with moderate-to-severe BPH found no improvement with 320 mg saw palmetto daily for 1 year versus placebo. NCCAM cofunded the study with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. There is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of saw palmetto for reducing the size of an enlarged prostate or for any other conditions.

Banned Herbal Medicine : Ephedra (aka Ma-Huang)

Ephedra is a naturally occurring substance that comes from botanicals. The principal active ingredient ephedrine is an amphetamine-like compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart. In recent years, ephedra products have been marketed as dietary supplements to promote weight loss, increase energy, and enhance athletic performance.

After a careful review of the available evidence about the risks and benefits of ephedra in supplements, the FDA found that these supplements present an unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers. The data showed little evidence of ephedra’s effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss, while confirming that the substance raises blood pressure and stresses the heart. The increased risk of heart problems and strokes negates any benefits of weight loss.

Source: http://www.nursinglink.com/training/articles/4046-herbal-suppliments-that-nurses-should-know
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