Herbal Medicine for Alcoholism Treatment: Effectiveness

Is herbal medicine for alcoholism useful? Herbal medicine is one of the oldest and most widespread forms of treatment for drinking problems.

There are many plant origins of modern pharmaceuticals.

  • Aspirin (from the willow tree).
  • Digitalis (from the foxglove plant).
  • Quinine (from the cinchona tree).
  • Taxol (from the Pacific yew tree).
  • Artemisin (from the artemisia shrub).
  • Vincristine and vinblastine (from a species of the periwinkle plant).

Until the last few decades, pharmaceutical research depended heavily on the search for medically useful substances in plants.

Herbal Medicine for Alcoholism

herbal medicine for alcoholism


The Chinese have long used roots of the Kudzu vine as herbal medicine for alcoholism. It’s also been used to treat hangovers. (Kudzu is a fast growing vine native to China.) Research is now studying if any of the substances found in Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) are effective. (Unfortunately, it also appears to increase the risk of cervical cancer by about 360% and possibly other cancers.) The Chinese have also used milk thistle seeds to treat the liver and the Reishi mushroom to treat “fatty liver” due to alcohol abuse.

A number of plants have shown promise as herbal medicine for alcoholism. They include Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga). Asian ginseng ( Panax ginseng). Red Sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza). And St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). A common feature of these plants is that they may reduce alcohol absorption in the body.

Other Plants

A wide variety of other plants have been used as herbal medicine for alcoholism. Here are some.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
Angelica (Angelica archangelica).
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous).
Bupleurum (Radix bupleurum).
Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum).
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).
Evening Primrose (Cenothera biennis).
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum).
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba).
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).
Kava (Piper methysticum).
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum).
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).
Poison gooseberry (Withania somnifera).
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum).
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora).
Turmeric (Curcuma longa).
Valerian (Valeriana officinale).

Unfortunately, the herbal remedies being promoted on the internet and elsewhere are not regulated by the FDA. That is, by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, sellers routinely make completely false claims. They also regularly fail to disclose any of the potential health risks posed by many herbals.

Things to Keep in Mind

Here are some things to keep in mind about herbal products.

  • Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s safe or effective. Snake venom, tuberculosis, and many other things are natural but may not be safe or effective in promoting health.
  • There is no legal requirement that herbals be either safe or effective.
  • They are unregulated.
  • Always tell your doctor about any and all herbals or supplements that you are taking.
  • Herbal strength or potency depends on many factors including what part of the plant is used, the time of the year it is harvested, the region and soil in which it is grown, the particulars of the growing season, the processing methods used, and many others.
  • Testing shows that many herbal products do not contain the ingredients listed. Some contain only powdered rice, miscellaneous vegetation, or other substances.
  • Proprietary herbal products do not list their ingredients.
  • Some herbals often have different names. This makes clear identification difficult.
  • Customers generally don’t know the interactions of herbals. For example, St. John’s wort is widely used as an anti-depressant. But it “interacts with many drugs that are used to treat heart disease, depression, seizures, certain cancers, as well as drugs that prevent transplant rejection and pregnancy.”(1)
  • Customers usually don’t know the side effects of herbals. For example, oristolochia, commonly found in Chinese herbal products, is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). It’s banned in many countries. Garlic, ginko biloba and ginsing can all cause undesired blood thinning.
  • When buying herbals, it’s a case of buyer beware.

Resources on Herbal Medicine for Alcoholism

American Botanical Council.

British Herbal Medicine Association.

Herbal Medicine.

International Herb Association.

Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia.

Benzie, I. Herbal Medicine. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2011.

Caral, M., et al. Potential use of medicinal plants in the treatment of alcoholism. Fitoterapia, 2000, 71, Suppl 1:S38-42.

Connors, M. and Altshuler, L. The Everything Guide to Herbal Remedies. Avon, MA: Adams, 2009.

Cornell, D. Alcohol Abuse Revolution: Complementary and Alternative Herbal Remedies. Santa Rosa, CA: People Friendly Books, 2005.

Dasgupta, A. Prescription or Poison? The Benefits and Dangers of Herbal Remedies. Alameda, CA: Hunter, 2010.

Lukas, S., et al. An extract of the Chinese herbal root kudzu reduces alcohol drinking. Alc Clin Exper Res, 2005, 29(5), 756-762.

Overstreet, D., et al. Herbal remedies for alcoholism. Alc Clin Exper Res, 2003, 27(2), 177-185.

Rezvani, A., et al. Attenuation of alcohol intake by extract of Hypericum perforatum.  Alc Alc, 1999, 34(5), 699-705.


Reference for Herbal Medicine for Alcoholism

Price, C. Vitamania. NY: Penguin, 2015. p. 165.