The herbal runner

Herbs can play an important role in recovery and performance for the recreational athlete. By boosting the immune system, they can counteract some of the stresses of running. Here's a look at some of the herbs most recommended for runners:

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is most commonly used as an immune-system stimulant, according to Rob McCaleb, director of the Herb Research Foundation based in Boulder, Colorado. The added benefit of astragalus for runners, McCaleb points out, is that by improving endurance capacity, it can enhance performance. In China, astragalus is generally boiled as a tea, but capsules work just as well. Studies have not determined its long-term effectiveness, so take astragalus only as needed to combat fatigue and malaise.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea) is a proven immune booster, but it can lose its effectiveness over time. For optimal effect, McCaleb recommends taking this only when needed—if you're feeling run-down, or are recovering from heavy training.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus
is a performance-enhancing herb, believed to improve blood oxygenation. It has been shown to boost stamina, endurance and even mental performance in runners, according to McCaleb. Since it does not lose effectiveness, ginseng can be taken daily. Although it is traditionally taken as a tea, tablets and capsules are equally effective and more convenient.

Arnica (Arnica montana) alleviates the pain of strains and bruising by enhancing reabsorption of blood that has leaked from the capillaries, essentially reversing the inflammatory process. A number of sports gels and creams on the market now contain arnica. For athletic purposes it should always be used externally.

Proteolytic enzymes. Best known as digestives, these enzymes—which include bromelain, pepsin, and protease—can also have anti-inflammatory effects. Bromelain, extracted from pineapple stems, is widely used in Europe to prevent and treat athletic injuries. It's considered to have far fewer side effects than, for example, ibuprofen.