Ancient Remedies

Secrets to Healing with Herbs, Essential Oils, CBD, and the Most Powerful Natural Medicine in History


By Dr. Josh Axe

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Bestselling author Dr. Josh Axe explains how to treat more than seventy diseases, lose weight, and increase vitality with traditional healing practices passed down through the ages.

Long before the first pharmaceutical companies opened their doors in the 1850s, doctors treated people, not symptoms. And although we've become used to popping pills, Americans have finally had it with the dangerous side effects, addiction and over-prescribing—and they're desperate for an alternative.

Here's the good news: That alternative has been here all along in the form of ancient treatments used for eons in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and Greek medicine. Ancient Remedies is the first comprehensive layman's guide that will bring together and explain to the masses the very best of these time-tested practices.

In Ancient Remedies, Dr. Axe explores the foundational concepts of ancient healing—eating right for your type and living in sync with your circadian clock. Readers will learn how traditional practitioners identified the root cause of each patient's illness, then treated it with medicinal herbs, mushrooms, CBD, essential oils, and restorative mind-body practices. What's more, they'll discover how they can use these ancient treatments themselves to cope with dozens of diseases, from ADHD to diabetes, hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, and beyond.

Through engaging language and accessible explanations, Ancient Remedies teaches readers everything they need to know about getting, and staying, healthy—without toxic, costly synthetic drugs.



The Wisdom of Ancient Healing


Ancient Medicine for a Modern World

How Pharmaceuticals Took Over Healthcare, and Why We Need to Reclaim It

It’s surprising to think that the practice of Western medicine as we know it began less than two hundred years ago, when the American Medical Association was founded in 1847. The first pharmaceutical companies were formed around the same time, and in the intervening years, the two industries partnered to set unprecedented prices—and reap sky-high profits. The pharmaceutical era gave rise to an increasingly systematic and formulaic approach to healing—one that is focused on treating individual, superficial symptoms instead of addressing the true, underlying root cause of disease, and has forgotten that each human being is a complex, synergistic blend of body, mind, and spirit. In doing so, modern medicine turned its back on thousands of years of medical knowledge about how the body works holistically—and how best to support healing.

Ancient cultures around the world, including those in China, India, Greece, and the Middle East, created sophisticated medical systems at least four thousand years ago—and they’re still in use today in many countries. In fact, interest in ancient remedies is surging, including in the United States. Here’s why: Through years of trial and error, early physicians crafted gentle but powerful holistic therapies that relied on diet, herbs, essential oils, acupuncture, movement, and emotional strategies, like meditation, prayer, and spending time in nature. Their treatments were designed to heal the body on a deep level, curing disease from the inside out and elevating the mind and spirit to make you truly well—energetic, happy, robust, engaged. Today, these ancient approaches have been validated in hundreds of rigorous scientific studies. But most doctors in the United States still don’t prescribe them.

Instead, they dole out pills. Have a fever? Take an antibiotic. High cholesterol? Use a statin. In pain? Pop an opioid. Feeling blue? Try an antidepressant. Seventy-four percent of doctor’s visits end with a scribbled prescription.1 It’s so common, many of us never think to question modern healthcare’s singular focus on medication. As a result, these lab-created drugs have stealthily taken over our lives.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that 50 percent of Americans aged thirty to forty-nine are currently taking prescription medication, as are 75 percent of those in their fifties, and nearly 90 percent of those sixty-five and older. More shocking, a third of people in their fifties—and more than half of those sixty-five and older—take four or more prescription drugs regularly.2 Our culture has come to equate healing with drugs, so much so that many of us expect our doctors to give us medication, and we often feel disregarded or mistreated when we leave an appointment empty-handed.

Antibiotics are a tragic example. If you’ve ever had a chronic cough, or your child has had an ear infection, chances are your doctor prescribed one of these bacteria-killing drugs—and you might have been grateful to receive it. But here’s the thing: We now know that these medications aren’t effective at treating chronic coughs, ear infections, and many other common ailments for which they’re routinely prescribed.

Worse, antibiotics can be far more dangerous than we’ve been led to believe. We’ve known for a long time that they wipe out billions of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract—microbes that play a vital role in helping us digest food, fight inflammation, and maintain a healthy mood and strong immune system. But did you know that taking antibiotics repeatedly might actually increase your risk of cancer? An analysis of a large medical records database, published in the European Journal of Cancer, found that the more courses of antibiotics a patient took in the prior year, the greater their risk of esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, lung, prostate, and breast cancers.3 Healthcare professionals in the United States write roughly 260 million prescriptions for antibiotics every year.4 Although the cancer risk from antibiotics is small, the drugs are jeopardizing millions of people’s health.

As appalling, at least 30 percent of those millions of prescriptions are completely unnecessary, according to the Centers for Disease Control,5 because they’re prescribed for conditions that don’t respond to antibiotics. (I believe that closer to 90 percent are unnecessary, since our bodies are capable of fighting most bacterial infections on their own; and if you need extra help, a number of herbs are effective antimicrobials, with few, if any, side effects.) Those needless rounds of medication not only harm the health of people who take them, but they also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of lethal microbes. At least two million people in the US are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, and twenty-three thousand die because the bacteria have learned to outwit even our most powerful medications.6 Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent public health threats facing the world today. If you have a life-threatening infection, taking antibiotics makes sense. In all other instances, I agree with the sentiment of Francis Bacon, an early champion of the scientific revolution, who noted in the sixteenth century, “Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease.”

Antibiotics are the tip of the iceberg—and few people understand the true scope or seriousness of synthetic pills’ risks. You probably don’t know, for instance, that long-term use of most medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can cause serious nutrient deficiencies. Proton pump inhibitors, which are routinely prescribed for acid reflux, limit the body’s ability to absorb vitamins B12 and C as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and beta-carotene. They also raise your risk of dying from heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and gastrointestinal cancer.7 Likewise, some diuretic drugs for high blood pressure deplete your body of calcium, magnesium, thiamin, zinc, potassium, folate, and iron.8 These nutrients are absolutely essential for the healthy functioning of your brain, heart, and muscles. And those widely used types of drugs are just two examples, among dozens, of pharmaceuticals that can cause dire nutritional deficiencies. Check out this chart on commonly prescribed medications and the dangerous nutrient deficiencies they can cause.

You also may not know that adverse reactions to drugs—everything from allergic reactions to antibiotics (common in children) to hemorrhaging from blood thinners—send nearly six hundred thousand people to the emergency room every year,9 27 percent of whom fall so gravely ill that they’re admitted to the hospital.10 What’s more, for every adverse drug reaction that leads to hospitalization, an estimated thirty minor cases are never brought to a doctor’s attention.

The more meds you take, the greater the risk of an adverse reaction, which means that people over age sixty-five are particularly in danger. A 2019 report by the Lown Institute, an organization focused on exposing problems in healthcare, estimates that in the course of the coming decade, medication overload—the result of taking multiple prescription drugs at the same time—will cause the premature death of 150,000 older people in the United States.11 On top of that, researchers at Johns Hopkins have reported that more than 250,000 people die in the United States every year due to medical errors. Think about that: Western medicine is literally killing hundreds of thousands of people.

I took an oath when I became a doctor, as all physicians do. That oath was “First do no harm.” But how can any doctor be true to that oath if we rely exclusively on pharmaceuticals? As Sir William Osler, a revered Canadian physician in the 1800s, said, “The person who takes medicine must recover twice; once from the disease and once from the medicine.”

What I’ve shared is just a glimpse of the vast pharmaceutical-fueled tragedy that’s quietly unfolding across the country. But there’s a deeper truth that makes our dependence on pharmaceuticals even worse: For years, Western medicine has disregarded, ignored, maligned, and sometimes intentionally buried information about safer ancient alternatives.

Take CBD, a non-euphoric substance in the ancient plant hemp (a variety of cannabis). It has been used for healing for thousands of years, but the US government outlawed its use for any purpose in 1970—putting it in a category with deadly drugs like heroin and, later, methamphetamines. Meanwhile, the government took out a patent on CBD and other so-called cannabinoids (chemicals found in the cannabis plant) in 2003—and is poised to rake in the money when drugs based on those compounds are created. In fact, in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, to treat intractable seizures in children. That same year, the government finally legalized hemp, so long as it contains less than 0.03 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in cannabis that gets you high. That means that CBD from hemp—but not from other forms of cannabis—is legal on a federal level.

In other words, for nearly fifty years, the government prevented you and me and everyone else in the country from legally using CBD and other safe hemp-based substances, even though they knew these chemicals had medical benefits—and were secretly setting themselves up to profit from them.

If you feel as outraged by that as I do, you’ve come to the right place. I wrote Ancient Remedies to let you know that the pills that are making you sick aren’t the only way to treat disease—and to share with you the very best of the ancient secrets from a variety of healing traditions around the world, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic medicine, and Greek, Middle Eastern, and Biblical traditions. In these pages, I’ve gathered the true gems from these therapeutic treasure troves. You’ll learn how to use medicinal herbs (including CBD and other cannabinoids), essential oils, healing movement, meditation, prayer, spending time in nature, acupuncture, and ancient ways of eating that are tailored to your personal needs.

While prescription meds come at a perilous cost, physically and financially, these ancient remedies are gentle but powerful, safe and effective when used properly, and affordable—or even free. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., one of the most renowned physicians of the nineteenth century, said, “I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica [medications], as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind—and all the worse for the fishes.” When I think of the dangerous drugs doctors routinely dole out today, I wholeheartedly agree. If you’re fed up with the big-pharma-driven status quo, and hungry for a natural, safe, and more effective approach, you’ll find hope—and help—in Ancient Remedies.

Dangerous pharmaceuticals—and the safe alternatives no one wants you to know about

My criticism of Western medicine isn’t intended to disparage all of the modern approach. If you’re in a car accident or have a heart attack or brain aneurism or fall prey to a flesh-eating bacterial infection, there’s no better place to be than an American hospital. But if you develop a chronic, preventable illness related to poor diet, stress, age, weight gain, or lack of exercise—the kinds of problems that routinely land most of us in a doctor’s office—the pills your physician is likely to give you may not help. In fact, they’ll almost certainly create another problem that actually makes your health worse.

Nearly every drug doctors prescribe has side effects, and some are severe. Take antidepressants. These drugs are among the most widely used pharmaceuticals ever. Some 15.5 million people in the US have been on an antidepressant for five years,12 and 8.5 million have been on the drugs for a decade or more13—a risky experiment, seeing as clinical trials last only a couple of years, so there’s zero safety data on long-term use.

The side effects we do know about are frightening. A 2017 meta-analysis published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that people taking antidepressants had a 14 percent higher risk of heart attacks and strokes and a 33 percent greater risk of death than those not on the drugs.14 And many users experience problems like weight gain, insomnia, headaches, muscle pain, trouble with blood clotting, and reduced libido. Furthermore, weaning off the drugs isn’t easy. Withdrawal symptoms, like dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision, anxiety, crying spells, and flu-like symptoms, are often so severe many users simply give up and go back on the medication.

For someone who is suicidal, or depressed or anxious to the degree that it seriously impairs their ability to function, the drugs may be helpful. But a study in the journal Health Affairs found that in 73 percent of appointments where antidepressants were prescribed, no official psychiatric diagnosis was reported.15 In other words, millions of people with mild mood issues are putting their health unnecessarily at risk.

Those widely prescribed drugs stand in sharp contrast to the ancient remedies that can help with mood disorders. Take a look at these three time-tested ways of treating mood issues, and you’ll see what I mean:

Herbs. A number of ancient herbs, including saffron, ginseng, and chamomile, can ease depression, but the most thoroughly studied is St. John’s wort, long used by TCM practitioners for treating mood disorders. A meta-analysis of twenty-seven clinical trials published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that the herb is as effective as antidepressants for those with mild to moderate depression.16 It’s widely prescribed by doctors in Europe, but it’s typically ignored, or written off as dangerous, by doctors in the United States. While you shouldn’t use it at the same time as antidepressants, and it can interfere with some medications, like digoxin and contraceptive pills, the truth is it has few, if any, side effects.

Meditation. Practiced since at least 4000 BC, meditation has now been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies, which have proven its benefits for relieving emotional issues. A rigorous literature review published in JAMA Internal Medicine, for instance, looked at forty-seven trials of meditation for dealing with a range of problems, including anxiety and depression, and found consistent, reliable reduction in symptoms across the studies.17 Meditation works, in part, because it teaches you skills to counteract your dispirited or worried thinking. (I’ll explain how to do one particularly beneficial form in chapter 9.) But over time, it also reshapes your brain by calming the amygdala, the fear center, and bulking up the parts devoted to attention. One study found actual brain growth in people who meditated thirty minutes a day for eight weeks.18 What’s more, there are no adverse side effects.

Movement. Yoga’s use as a form of centering and calming the mind can be traced to eleventh-century India, and millions of people can attest to its mood-elevating power today. In recent studies, yoga has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression in everyone from low-income and uninsured patients19 to veterans suffering from PTSD20 and women awaiting in vitro fertilization.21 Instead of merely treating the symptoms of mood disorders, as medications do, yoga helps you learn to cope with your emotional challenges, so you can minimize, or even eliminate, the problem. Similarly, the traditional mind-body exercise known as tai chi, a form of slow, deliberate movement, dates back at least seven hundred years. A recent meta-analysis of thirty-seven randomized, controlled trials, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, found that it was an effective, safe way to ease depression, anxiety, and stress.22 These ancient forms of gentle movement offer benefits that are similar to other contemporary forms of exercise, whether it’s walking, running, cycling, or swimming, which have been shown to be as effective at treating mild to moderate mood problems as antidepressants.23 Movement is helpful because it releases feel-good brain chemicals; promotes the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region that shrinks with depression; and reduces stress, a primary contributor to mood disorders. And unlike antidepressants, which can cause health problems as a side effect, movement offers cardiovascular protection, builds healthy muscle tissue, and imbues practitioners with a can-do sense of self-worth.

Opioids are another example of a dangerous modern drug that could be replaced by safe, ancient alternatives. You undoubtedly know about the risks of opioids. By treating chronic pain (which afflicts an estimated 20 percent of adults in the United States24) with these pills, pharmaceutical companies and doctors have created an addiction crisis the likes of which our country has never seen. An estimated 41 percent of patients who are prescribed opiates for chronic pain misuse them or develop a dependency,25 at which point they often switch to heroin or fentanyl, which are easier to get and even more dangerous. The toll of this tragedy is heartbreaking. More than 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.26 In 2017, sixty-three thousand lives were lost to drug overdoses, the majority to opiates27—a number that’s roughly equivalent to the American casualties in the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined.

Three factors make the epidemic even more galling. First, pharmaceutical companies have always known how addictive the drugs are, but they convinced doctors that they were safe and sold them by the billions anyway. Second, opiates are no more effective at treating chronic pain than over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.28 And third, a number of safe ancient remedies are as effective as opiates for treating pain, but doctors rarely, if ever, suggest them. Here’s a sampling of some of the best:

Acupuncture and acupressure. Several meta-analyses conducted by Cochrane, the esteemed international nonprofit, have found that acupuncture is an effective way to cope with tension headaches and can help prevent migraines as well as, or better than, prescription medication.29 Likewise, a meta-analysis of twenty-nine trials in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which looked at acupuncture for a range of conditions, including arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, and back and neck pain, found that it could reduce pain by 50 percent.30

CBD oil. The non-euphoric substance derived from the cannabis plant may help with arthritis pain by reducing inflammation, one of CBD’s most notable effects. Although CBD research in people is relatively scant since the federal government has impeded its progress, animal studies have revealed that it may actually inhibit pain pathway signaling as well.31

Herbal supplements. Used for centuries in Chinese medicine, astragalus is a known anti-inflammatory, which probably accounts for the pain-relieving effects it has demonstrated in scientific studies on animals with osteoarthritis.32 Likewise, another popular Chinese herb, schisandra, has been shown to ease gut pain in animal studies.33 The herb dong quai contains ligustilide, a substance that has an antispasmodic effect, especially on uterine muscles,34 which makes it a particularly helpful herb for premenstrual abdominal pain and cramping. Turmeric is also an effective treatment for pain, according to a review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food,35 probably because it’s so effective at reducing inflammation. Capsaicin, a substance found in cayenne, helps reduce the amount of substance P, a neuropeptide that tells your brain you’re in pain.36 Applied in a cream, it can be helpful for joint, muscle, and postsurgical pain. Finally, magnesium-rich Epsom salt is an effective painkiller for bone and joint pain and muscle soreness—and has been used for that reason for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years.

Essential oils. The scent of peppermint can reduce pain, particularly headache pain, according to a study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine,37 and frankincense oil applied topically has been shown to be helpful for knee osteoarthritis, according to research reported in Nutrition Journal.38 Both can help manage inflammation. What’s more, a meta-analysis in Pain Research and Treatment revealed that lavender oil aromatherapy can be helpful in relieving a variety of different types of pain,39 probably thanks in part to the fact that it’s relaxing, and pain causes the body to tense up.

Tai chi, yoga, and meditation. These ancient practices have been found to ease pain in people with a variety of conditions. A review published in Scientific Reports, for instance, looked at eighteen randomized, controlled trials of tai chi and found evidence that it can provide effective pain relief for those with osteoarthritis, low back pain, and osteoporosis.40 Yoga has been shown to reduce pain and fatigue in patients with fibromyalgia,41 knee osteoarthritis,42 low back pain,43 and neck pain.44 Meditation, according to a review of thirty-eight studies, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, not only reduces pain but also lifts depression and improves overall quality of life in pain sufferers.45

Healing without harm

It’s clear to me that we’ve placed our faith in a medical industry that puts profits over people—one that is myopically focused on treating individual symptoms instead of seeing human health as a complex mix of physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Contrast that with ancient healers. For them, healing was a partnership. Without the benefit of microscopes or modern technology, they built a vast reservoir of knowledge based on careful physical examination, including listening to their patients’ concerns and paying close attention to their emotional and spiritual well-being. Instead of targeting superficial symptoms, the therapeutics these early healers discovered, like acupuncture, meditation, herbs, and essential oils, work on a deep, holistic level, treating the root cause of disease and restoring the well-being of the body and mind as a whole. And physicians around the world continued to use them through the millennia not because they were profitable, but because they were safe and effective.

Western medicine still dismisses these ancient remedies as “alternative.” But it’s arrogant to marginalize thousands of years of wisdom. In fact, I believe that ancient treatments should be our go-to therapies for non-emergency health problems. And that happens to be the case in many places where people live the longest, including Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Indeed, roughly four billion people around the world—or 80 percent of the population—rely on herbal medicine as a primary source of treatment.46 Herbal remedies, as Yale neurologist Steven Novella has pointed out, “have been part of scientific medicine for decades, if not centuries.” How can treatments that have stood the test of time be “alternative”?

The simple answer: They’re not. Many contemporary drugs are derived from compounds found in herbs and other plants. More than two thousand years ago, Hippocrates prescribed the leaves of the willow plant for his patients with headaches and muscle pain. Fast-forward to the 1800s, when scientists discovered that those leaves contain salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Similarly, in the seventeenth century, Jesuit missionaries in South Africa started using the bark of the cinchona tree to fight malaria, probably because the native population used it as a cure. Two hundred years later, scientists extracted quinine, a common modern malaria treatment, from the tree’s bark.

Similarly, we think of mind-body wellness as a cutting-edge concept. But as early as 2000 BC, ancient Middle Eastern and Asian practitioners knew that our emotional, spiritual, and mental health affects our physical well-being, an idea that was also embraced by Hippocrates and other ancient Greek physicians—it is even mentioned in the Bible. In Proverbs 17:22, King Solomon says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a depressed and broken spirit dries up the bones.”

And while fasting and using herbs might seem ultramodern, Hippocrates actually focused much of his practice on those very approaches. In fact, he documented more than two hundred healing herbs, and he taught that plant-based medicine could save lives. His philosophy was based on this core idea: “Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food.”

Ancient Jewish texts and the Bible are filled with medical wisdom and health advice that’s being “rediscovered” today as well. Prayer, meditation, essential oils, and fasting all have roots in early religious traditions. A passage in James 5:14 reads, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Holy anointing oil was a blend of myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, calamus, and olive—a combination that has potent healing properties. In the book of Leviticus, God tells the Israelites not to eat pork and shellfish, because they can contain toxins—concerns that have been confirmed by modern science.

Unlike the one-size-fits-all Western approach, ancient treatments are tailored to individuals in all their diversity and complexity. And that’s how I believe we need to approach medicine going forward. Since you picked up this book, I assume you’re interested in that idea as well—and I’m glad you’re here.

An abundance of ancient wisdom awaits you in these pages. Some may be familiar to you, some completely foreign. Either way, the information will help you take control of your health and make more informed choices when faced with illness and disease. Every ancient remedy I endorse is effective for treating the ailments that plague modern culture and ruin too many people’s health—and together, these time-tested treatments serve as a powerful antidote to our dangerous reliance on toxic, costly pharmaceuticals.


Curing the Root Cause


On Sale
Feb 2, 2021
Page Count
560 pages
Little Brown Spark

Dr. Josh Axe

About the Author

Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is the founder of the world's #1 most visited natural health website, He is also the bestselling author of Eat Dirt and Keto Diet, and the co-founder of Ancient Nutrition supplement company. Dr. Axe appears regularly on the Dr. Oz Show and has written for Shape, PopSugar, HuffPost, Men's Health, Forbes, Business Insider, Muscle & FitnessHers, and Well+Good.

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