Diet Herbs: Licorice, Milk Thistle, Mustard Seed, Parsley, Passion Flower And Plantain


You probably think of licorice as a black, chewy candy, but it is also an important herb used to treat inflammation and bronchial congestion. Licorice is derived from the roots and underground stem of a European plant and is available in capsules, powders, lozenges, and extracts. A few natural weight-loss supplements use it as an ingredient in tiny quantities.

The active compound in licorice responsible for its therapeutic benefits is glycyrrhizin, which gives the herb its sweetness. Licorice also contains an anti-oxidant that may help prevent hardening of the arteries (technically known as atherosclerosis). There are no weight-loss benefits linked to licorice or to glycyrrhizin, however.

Supplementing with high or long-term doses of licorice extracts containing glycyrrhizin is dangerous because it may aggravate heart or kidney problems. Natural weight-loss supplements with licorice contain only traces of the extract, however. A modified form of licorice called DGL is considered safer.

Milk Thistle

Derived from a weed like plant grown in the Mediterranean area, this herb has been used as liver protectant since ancient times.

For more than 60 years, hundreds of studies have confirmed milk thistle's benefit on liver health. Most supplements contain standardized extracts of the herb's active ingredient, silymarin, and are used to treat cirrhosis, hepatitis, and other liver diseases, particularly in Europe. Where weight loss is concerned, milk thistle is thought to be an herbal lipotropic that helps remove fatty substances from the liver.

Supplementing with milk thistle and products containing it appears to be safe.

Mustard Seed

The seed of the mustard plant is ground into a powder and often is found as an ingredient in natural weight-loss supplements. It is high in the mineral magnesium.

Though it is a common ingredient in weight-loss products, mustard seed powder has no proven role in weight control.

Mustard seed powder is considered safe.


You know it best as a garnish on your dinner plate, but parsley has a reputation as a healer dating back to ancient times. And no wonder. It is very nutritious, rich in vitamin A, folic acid, iron, and other minerals.

Therapeutically, parsley can decrease blood pressure and aid indigestion. It is a proven natural diuretic and thus may produce a slight loss of water weight.

Parsley is considered very safe.

Passion Flower

Passion flower is a perennial vine that grows in the eastern United States and is available as an herbal remedy.

The herb exerts a sedative action, and has been found to relieve anxiety and reduce high blood pressure. At least one natural weight-loss supplement on the market lists passion flower as an ingredient, but there is no proof that it has any effect on weight loss. However, passion flower may help curb stress-related eating binges.

Passion flower appears to be safe, and the German Commission E has officially approved it for nervous anxiety.


Plantain is a leafy plant approved by The German Commission E for treating sore throat, inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, and skin inflammation. The herb acts mainly as an astringent and an antibacterial.

An Italian study has confirmed a weight-loss effect with plantain. Women who were severely obese (at least 60 percent over their recommended weight) supplemented with 3 grams of plantain in water half an hour prior to meals. The plantain-supplemented group lost more weight than a control group who simply cut calories. Supposedly, plantain reduces the absorption of fats and makes you feel full which would explain its weight-loss benefit.

In 1977, the FDA issued a warning to consumers that they should stop using dietary supplements with plantain because the products may contain a toxic, digitalis-like substance. Digitalis is the active ingredient in some prescription heart medicines and a powerful heart stimulant. Digitalis can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rate and rhythm, including cardiac arrest.

Reportedly, the substance was detected in samples of raw material labeled as plantain and used in herbal laxatives and tea. The FDA swung into action after receiving a report of a life-threatening heart abnormality in a young woman who had supplemented with a product containing plantain. The news on plantain makes it potentially deadly and not to be fooled with if you're trying to lose weight.

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