There are seemingly endless herbs that populate the natural world, utilized by cultures and traditional medicine practices spanning thousands of years of history. And, there are almost as many herbal supplements, some household names (think echinacea) and others with names that may be less familiar (we’ll get to those soon).
What’s in a name? Often, quite a lot. The nicknames for many herbs reflect their origin stories, says functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. And while some of these names may sound a little odd, we caution judging them too quickly—they could offer just the health support you’re looking for!
Here are four herbs with eyebrow-raising names that are definitely worth learning more about—and perhaps even trying for yourself.
Horny goat weed
Also known as Epimedium sagittatum, horny goat weed has an array of benefits that are unironically related to its funny name. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to support libido, legend has it that horny goat weed got its name when a Chinese goat herder noticed an uptick in his flock’s friskiness after consuming the herb.
In addition to supporting libido, horny goat weed can also be used as hormonal support for older women, to promote mood and cognitive health, and as an antioxidant boost.
Women who are pregnant, lactating, or have hormone-related conditions, as well as people with bleeding disorders, low blood pressure, or who are taking medications for erectile dysfunction should all check in with a qualified health practitioner before adding horny goat weed to their routine, Rodgers advises.
Horny goat weed supplements are easy to find and usually come in servings between 500 and 1,000 milligrams. There’s no official recommended amount, so check with your healthcare provider if you’re interested in adding it to your routine.
This flowering shrub, which is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia, goes by a wide range of names, including Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree, vitex, and even monk’s pepper, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. It has been used for centuries to help balance women’s hormones and support their reproductive health, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Karen Cooney, M.A., C.N., C.H.H.C.
Today, chasteberry continues to be a go-to for women’s health and fertility, supporting a healthy menstrual cycle and more, Cooney explains.
“You can put chasteberry powder (about half a teaspoon) in smoothies or make a chasteberry tea,” suggests Rodgers. However, she recommends that pregnant or lactating women, those taking hormonal contraceptives or participating in hormone replacement therapy, and those with hormone-related conditions talk to their healthcare provider before taking chasteberry.
This herb might sound a little frightening, especially if you’re not a fan of felines, but rest assured it has absolutely nothing to do with cats, other than the fact that its vines are said to resemble cat claws (hence the name).
Cat’s claw grows in the Amazon and other tropical areas of Central and South America, and is most commonly used for its immune-supporting properties, notes Rodgers. In fact, research shows that taking cat’s claw consistently (for two months) has notable benefits for immunity.
While cat’s claw is considered safe for most people, anyone pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as individuals with certain medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, should refrain from using it, according to Rodgers. “It may also interact with certain hormones, vaccines, and medications to suppress the immune system, so if you have an autoimmune disorder, check in with your doctor,” she adds.
Cat’s claw is usually sold as an extract, powder, tea, or capsule supplement. Rodgers recommends drinking tea or mixing one teaspoon of powder with lemon water.
There’s a good reason why the name of this herb makes you want to say “ouch.” The leaves and stems of this plant (which is also known as Urtica dioica) have tiny hair-like projections that release an irritating chemical when touched, explains Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D. Not to worry, though—there’s no stinging involved in taking an herbal preparation of it.
Stinging nettles are abundant in myriad nutrients, including vitamins C, A, K, and several Bs, as well as the minerals magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. Long a staple in traditional medicine practices, the herb has primarily been used to promote immune balance, offer seasonal support, and support joint comfort.
Like many herbs, it’s best not to take stinging nettles if you are pregnant or lactating, Rodgers says. Those on medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as sedatives or lithium, should also avoid this herb, as they can all interact with it.
You’ll find stinging nettles in tea, capsule, tincture, or extract form—and some health organizations recommend taking up to 1,300 milligrams per day. When in doubt, though, talk to your provider about the right approach for you.