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 Herbal Medicine: Sports Herbs  
Maggie was a long-distance runner and avid volleyball player, but last year she pulled a hamstring muscle and was unable to run for two months. Having an extremely active and curious mind, Maggie began to explore ways to speed up the healing process--she felt as if she was stagnating by just sitting and waiting to heal. She explored all the options--everything from allopathy, which offered muscle relaxants and surgery, to acupuncture, consisting of a series of treatments with needles inserted into places where energy might be stagnant, helping the energy to move and speed up healing. Maggie also investigated herbal remedies. She was fortunate in having a German aunt visiting from Munich who told her about a few of the famous healing herbs for injuries in the western tradition--herbs like arnica, calendula, St. John's wort and echinacea.

As an herbalist and sports enthusiast, I have reviewed, both clinically and scientifically, many of the herbs that have been used over the centuries by athletes. This article summarizes my discoveries.

In places like Russia, Germany, Japan and Korea, sports and herbs are not only extremely popular, but strongly supported by the government. Excellence in all kinds of outdoor sports is practically synonymous with the names of these countries, where herbal remedies have been used and revered by athletes since ancient times. Probably the most famous example, and certainly the most graphic, is the use of the herb yarrow by the first super-hero, Achilles, to staunch the wounds of his fellow warriors in the war of Troy. The Latin name for yarrow, Achillea millefolium still reflects this history. Later, yarrow and other herbs were often used as a remedy for helping to heal the cuts, scrapes and flesh wounds of the gladiators.

Often, these herbs were used in their whole natural state--either chewed and applied as a wet poultice, or cooked with lard and employed as a salve or ointment. In China and Japan, warriors, wrestlers and other athletes used a variety of decoctions or teas to increase endurance and strength, and some of these herbs are still used for the same purposes today.

Through the increased knowledge of the chemistry of plants (HPLC, etc.) and enhanced extraction methods, it is possible for herbal manufacturers to offer highly concentrated and standardized preparations of herbs, helping to increase their absorbability and potency.

Naturally, athletes of every sort would put greater energy and endurance at the top of their "wish list" and would be attracted to any kind of pharmaceutical, natural or otherwise, that would offer more of these precious commodities. It is evident, too, from the tremendous number and popularity of products promising to help people increase their muscle mass and definition that serious weight trainers are not the only ones interested in these effects. Most everybody, both women and men, would like to have a more muscular, "sexy" body, while many would like to lose flabby fat to look great in that new bathing suit. For this, as well as many other sports-related uses, herbal remedies are safe and effective, when used wisely. The following section and sidebar focuses on the most common categories of sports herbs, and how to best use them.

The following chart lists my favorite herbs for common sports uses. All of the remedies I list have either a long documented history of use or clinical or laboratory work to support them. They are all commonly available at natural foods stores everywhere. For a list of suggested products, write to xx.

Aerobic support eleuthero, ginkgo, alfalfa, spirulina, chlorella, pollen
Anabolics ginseng, eleuthero, pine pollen
Anti-oxidants ginkgo, greens, spirulina, chlorella, rosemary, chaparral, milk thistle
Athlete's foot tea tree oil, echinacea, black walnut, usnea
Blisters calendula, echinacea, camomile, comfrey
Circulation ginger, cayenne, ginkgo
Cleansing, elimination burdock, echinacea, dandelion, red root, sarsaparilla, yellow dock, golden seal
Cuts, scrapes echinacea, St. John's wort, calendula, comfrey, arnica, witch hazel, gotu kola
Endurance eleuthero, schisandra, ginseng, ashwaganda, fo-ti (ho shou wu)
Energy releasers ginseng, eleuthero, ginger, cayenne, damiana, rosemary, wild oats
Kidney protection rehmannia, cornus, jujube, licorice, white mulberry
Muscle spasms valerian, roman camomile, California poppy, passion flower
Sore feet lavender, rosemary foot bath
Sore muscles essential oils such as wintergreen, camomile, clove
Sprains horsetail extract, comfrey, warming essential oils
Stimulants cola nut, ephedra (ma huang), green tea, coffee, yerba mate, chocolate
Sunburn St. John's wort, calendula, camomile

(Excerpted from Let's Live Magazine)
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 About The Author
Christopher Hobbs LAc, AHG Christopher Hobbs is a fourth generation herbalist and botanist with over 30 years experience with herbs. Founder of Native Herb Custom Extracts (now Rainbow Light Custom Extracts) and the Institute for Natural Products......more
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