Why ask for a prescription or reach for an over-the-counter drug if there are more natural alternatives available? Some health problems do require conventional treatment, but many can be managed safely and effectively with herbal and nutritional medeicine.

1. Antidepressants

St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum): A research report published in The British Medical Journal showed that this herb may be used to treat mild to moderate depression, and has actions similar to orthodox antidepressants. Other health problems that it may help include anxiety, irritability, neuralgia, nerve damage or injury, and nervous tension.
Kava (Piper methysticum): A natural sedative without side effects, this is useful for the anxiety associated with depression. In German clinical studies, kava has proved to be as effective as benzodiazepenes (drugs like Valium), without being addictive.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): A herb that can be used to treat the insomnia that often accompanies depression. Valerian can be combined with passionflower and oats as a nerve tonic and relaxant tea blend.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine): This B-group vitamin helps to improve your mental outlook and stabilise mood swings.

2. Laxatives

Water: First and foremost, make sure you are drinking enough pure water. It is best to drink at least 1.5 litres of water  a day, and to increase this by one glass for every diuretic drink you have, such as tea, coffee, or alcohol.
Vegetables: Vegetables and fruit (both raw and cooked) contain fibre that provides bulk in the intestinal tract, helping to reduce constipation.
Senna (Cassia acutifolia; C. senna; C. angustifolia): A very potent laxative - use only as a last resort because it can cause cramping and diarrhoea.
Rhubarb root (Theum palmatum): Used medicinally for over 2,000 years to treat both constipation and diarrhoea - depending on the dose, it will ease both complaints, having a regulating effect.
Yellow dock (Rumex crispus): A purgative which can bring on a bowel movement within a short time of taking it. While it is fast-acting, it is also gentle and has a cleansing effect in the entire gastrointestinal tract, as well as stimulating liver function.

3. Allergies

Albizzia (Albizzia lebbeck): Has been traditionally used to treat asthma and skin disorders, such as eczema. It displays antifungal and antibacterial actions, and a series of new studies have shown that this herb reduces allergic symptoms.
Baiacal scullcap (Scutellaria baiacalensis): A Chinese herb that contains flavonoids which reduce the allergic response and histamine release in the body. Also reduces inflammation, which tends to accompany allergic reactions.
Vitamin C: This can reduce allergy symptoms due to its ability to act as an antihistamine.
Quercetin: This bioflavonoid helps to reduce inflammation.

4. Colds and flu

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia; E. purpurea): Echinacea can stimulate the immune system and activate white cell production, which increases the body's ability to counteract infection. It has natural antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Take a course of echinacea before the beginning of winter to stave off colds and flu.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Helps to loosen and expel mucus, and so is very useful in treating coughs, asthma, and bronchitis.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): This herb is a diaphoretic, meaning that it induces perspiration, and so is a wonderful help in reducing a fever.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra): Elderflower tea stimulates circulation and promotes sweating, helping to counteract bacterial and viral infections, remove toxins from the body, and break a fever. Use to treat colds and flu, tonsillitis, asthma, sinusitis, catarrh, and throat infections.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Ginger has expectorant qualities and will help break up nasal and chest congestion. Hot ginger tea is very soothing and will improve the circulation, helping to break a fever and speed recovery.
Zinc: Studies have proven that dissolving a zinc lozenge in the mouth every two waking hours reduces the severity and duration of a cold.

5. High blood pressure

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha; C. monogyna): Considered a herb for the heart and circulation, hawthorn has the ability to open the arteries, which improves the blood supply. Its hypotensive action lowers and balances high blood pressure.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): This herb contains glycosides which lower high blood pressure.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Lowers high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. It is a vasodilator, which means it opens up blood vessels to improve blood flow to the tissues.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): This pretty herb lowers blood pressure and acts as a tonic to the heart and circulatory system.
Calcium, magnesium, and potassium: All play a role in lowering high blood pressure, especially potassium, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

6. Antibiotics

Garlic (Allium sativum): Raw garlic contains allicin, a powerful antibacterial ingredient. It is a great remedy for bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections.
Tea trea oil (Melaleuca alternifolia): Has excellent antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Propolis: Has wonderful healing properties, due to its antibacterial and antiviral actions.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia; E. purpurea): Stimulates the immune system and activates white cell production, so increasing the body's ability to counteract infections. Has natural antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral and anti-allergenic properties.
Citrus seed extract: The extract of grapefruit seeds (Citrus paradisi) and other citrus fruits have been studied in laboratory tests and found to be very effective against a wide variety of potentially pathogenic bacteria and fungi.
Probiotics: Including Lactobacillus acidophlius and Bifidobacterium bifidus, probiotics alter the acidity of the gastrotintestinal tract and also produce natural inhibitory substances, meaning they limit the presence of unwanted microorganisms that can create disease within the body.

7. Oestrogen replacement

Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa): Contains diosgenin, which has a balancing effect on hormones.
Soy isoflavones: These act as oestrogen balancers in the body: where there is too much oestrogen, it prevents the excess from becoming active; where there is too little, it steps in and behaves like a hormone.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): Traditionally used for all manner of hormonal imbalances, such as menopausal symptoms, painful periods, and for regulating uterine contractions in childbirth. A German study of 812 women with menopausal symptoms showed that when the patients took a mixture of black cohosh and St John's wort, 90 percent of them experienced improvement in the frequency and severity of their symptoms.

8. Antacids

Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva): Made from the bark of a small tree that grows in North America, its mucilaginous action relieves the symptoms of gastric reflux, heartburn, and the pain caused by peptic ulcers.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria): An excellent herbal remedy for acid problems like heartburn, indigestion, gastritis, and peptic ulcers. It contains mucilage which protects the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Long recognised for treating ulcers, this herb can lower the acid level in the stomach and relieve indigestion and heartburn.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla; Anthemis nobilis): A soothing and calming herb for treating all manner of digestive upsets.
Probiotics: Featuring the major bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus, probiotics balance the gastrointestinal tract flora and ensure good digestion, reducing the need for antacids.

9. Ulcers

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria): See 'Antacids', above. Particularly useful in the treatment of ulcers, due to its healing and protective properties in the gastrointestinal tract.
Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva): Also see 'Antacids', above. The powder coats the lining of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract and promotes healing of ulcers.

10. Analgesics

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium): The leaves of this herb may be used to treat and prevent migraine. In an English survey of migraine sufferers, 72 percent of those who took feverfew found that their attacks were less frequent and less severe. Also, many of those patients who had arthritis found those symptoms had reduced, too.
dl-phenylalanine: This essential amino acid is excellent in the treatment of chronic pain as it has powerful long-lasting, low-toxicity analgesic actions. Correct dosage is best determined by a natural therapist.
Devil's claw (Harpogophytum procumbens): This herb has potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory actions. It is best taken between meals or via enteric-coated capsules to bypass the acidity of the stomach, which tends to reduce its effectiveness.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fish oils and flaxseed, these reduce inflammation in the body. People with arthritis, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, eczema and psoriasis will also find it helpful.

Jan Purser is a naturopathic nutritionist.