Herb products can help you stay healthy year-round, but living herbs can create as much joy as health benefits in your life. If you're not the world's best pill popper, it's worthwhile for you to incorporate as many herbs as possible in your daily diet. It also helps to nibble daily on fresh plants from your outdoor or container garden or organic-produce market. Herbs don't have to be dried, bottled and capped to work; in fact, the fresher the better. For a cold, try nibbling on osha or echinacea root. For an upset stomach, try peppermint or ginger. And for aching joints, try cayenne pepper—preferably mixed with garlic and cilantro in a snappy, mouth-watering salsa. Most food is just a salsa delivery system anyway.

If time or memory constraints make it difficult to take your daily garlic supplement, simply add extra garlic to your dinnertime entrée. When you run out of your antioxidant supplement, just sip a cup of rosemary tea with lemon balm and a little honey—both herbs are loaded with antioxidants.

Slowly But Surely
Herbs contain many active ingredients that have beneficial healing and protective effects, facts borne out by scientific studies during the past 70 years. Unlike single prescription drugs, herbs work in a variety of ways to reduce symptoms for many ailments. For those suffering from arthritis or joint inflammation, for instance, new COX-2 (cyclooxygenase-2) inhibitors work only on one route your body uses to create inflammation and pain. A common herb like ginger, however, works not only on the cyclooxygenase pathway, but also affects lipooxygenase and prostaglandins, two other pathways involved with the inflammatory response. Herbs may work more slowly than pharmaceuticals, so you may not feel their healing effects immediately, yet their diverse reactions mean fewer side effects and a more balanced reduction of inflammation and pain.

Herbs work best when used regularly, even daily. When you take herbs every day, you enjoy a variety of benefits—from creating more energy to calming your nervous system, from improving your memory to preventing disease. Today's 20 top-selling herbs have been a staple in homes the world over for eons to help prevent illness and promote longevity, long before pharmaceutical drugs filled the well-stocked medicine chest. For instance, St. John's wort was first recommended for mania by Dioscorides, a Greek physician who lived in the first century AD. The first medical doctor, a German, to prescribe it for depression did so in the 1950s.

Active Herbs and Activity
For optimum results, combine herbs with common-sense health habits. Exercising daily is the single most important activity that will keep you feeling young and healthy longer. Recent research shows that 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and a host of diseases.

Contracting too many colds? Add more garlic to your diet. And when you first experience symptoms, take echinacea in a cup of steaming hot ginger tea several times a day.

For stressful situations, try these best-sellers: kava, St. John's wort or valerian. Healthy stress-reducing habits also include deep breathing, meditation and stretching or participating in a yoga practice for 15 minutes a day.

Herb-Enhanced Diet
You can also maintain your health and extend your life with proper eating habits. Follow the basics: Include more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet. Decrease fat intake, and make certain to get plenty of high-quality protein from fish, beans, tofu and nuts. Integrating a healthful diet with today's most popular herbs will enable you to prevent common illnesses as well as charge your body's cells with vitality.

Christopher Hobbs, LAc, who has authored 20 books on herbal medicine, is an herbalist, botanist and founder of Rainbow Light Herbal Extracts.