They look like mini pine trees and can be used for a variety of dishes, like poultry, to enhance flavor. Rosemary helps to boost the immune system, making it ideal for the cold and flu season. It improves circulation of the body, so it can benefit the cardiovascular system. It can also help to calm the digestive tract acting as an antimicrobial agent. As an antispasmodic herb it can help to ease cramps or spasms in the muscles. Because of this mechanism of action it can also help to ease physiological tension as well. Using rosemary oil helps to stimulate hair follicles and therefore may assist with premature balding.
Garlic is used so much that you probably don’t think much about it. You likely know that it is a great way to start cooking any dish (olive oil and garlic and possibly onions to start the dish off). However, there is a reason why recipes call for this combination and it is not because it tastes and smells great (well maybe it’s a little of that!). Garlic is a great anti-microbial agent meaning it will kill off bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Basically starting off your cooking with garlic helps to kill off the little buggers that can invade your food.
Garlic has been long used for its benefits to the cardiovascular system, in particular raising HDL cholesterol levels. The dose required for these benefits would be a challenge to get with food alone so supplementation is likely needed.
The active ingredient, allicin, is also used for any health concerns that are bacterial, viral or microbial in nature. Some various uses include rubbing a fresh, raw garlic bulb on a cold sore to help to kill the active virus. Eating a whole clove daily (I recommend baking them) for prophylaxis. Prefer a supplement? Choose one that is enteric-coated to help control the common odor that can permeate the skin and breath.
This is another staple in so many dishes that I suspect most people don’t realize they are getting health benefits from this little leaf. It includes benefits such as reducing inflammation, boosting cardiovascular system, anti-bacterial and cellular protection.
Pesto is the most well-known basil dish, however, it is a staple ingredient to many dishes, especially anything Italian.
Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It can help to reduce inflammation associated to arthritis and digestive concerns. It has been studied for its effects on the brain, such as in Alzheimer’s. Additionally, it has anti-cancer properties. Curcumin is the active constituent of the turmeric root.
It is the spice that adds the yellow-orange color to popular Indian dishes. Some people call it curry, although curry is really a way of cooking.
The most known use of this spice is for diabetics to help manage blood sugar levels. However, for this reason, it is good for everyone to help manage blood sugar levels. As a result you may see cinnamon being spoken off as a catalyst for weight loss. Note, there is no magic pill for weight loss and cinnamon holds true to this as well. Weight loss may be noticed since it is helping to manage blood sugar levels but diet and exercise are still the key factor to this process. It is known to have antiseptic properties to cleanse the body, anti-inflammatory properties and it has been reported to prevent cancer (when taken in high concentrated doses).
Having cinnamon in a dessert defeats the purpose, so use it to sprinkle on a piece of fruit, yogurt or oatmeal or use it as a tea or in your morning cup of coffee for a new, exciting flavor.
For those who like spice in their food, you are likely familiar with cayenne pepper. This contains a substance known as capsaicin, which is what gives the familiar “heat” associated with spicy foods. It is a systemic stimulant and a general tonic. As a stimulant, it helps to increase blood flow and can be used to help with cold hands and feet (as this can be associated to impaired circulation). Cayenne pepper has been associated with helping to cleanse or detoxify the body, calm the digestive tract, and weight loss. Capsaicin can be applied externally as a cream to help relief joint and muscle aches.
If you aren’t a fan of spicy food, go light…just add a little to a recipe to get your taste buds used to the taste. If you love spicy, try using it to make a tea.
Here is another great herb for digestion. It is particularly useful in dyspepsia and if you have a sluggish digestive tract. Sit is also rich in antioxidants helping to prevent cellular damage. Some research indicates it can be useful for childhood bed-wetting as it is a gentle astringent. Thyme oil is an antiseptic and can be applied to wounds. It can be gargled to ease a sore throat and it can sooth a cough. While it can be added to many recipes and tastes fantastic, the therapeutic uses usually include thyme oil or making an infusion of the dried herb, drinking it several times a day.
If you are into making green smoothies, you probably have seen that parsley is a commonly used green for these recipes., or you may know it as garnish on your plate! It is rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin K and is used extensively for cooking. It has 3 main uses. First, it is a diuretic, helping to ease the retention of water. Second, it can aid in stimulating the menstrual cycle (in fact, it is recommended to avoid excessive amounts of parsley during pregnancy). Last, it can ease flatulence and colic.
One of my all time favorites! If you eat sushi, you are very familiar with this power herb. It is placed as a “condiment” on the plate with sushi. However, the reason it is there (besides its great taste) is to help kill off bacteria that could be present on raw fish. It is most researched for motion sickness however uses include stimulating circulation; it promotes perspiration (think of when you are fighting off any infection and want to “sweat it out”), and can be used for digestive concerns. Use it for soups and stews, add it with oil and garlic before cooking poultry or meats, thinly slice it and add hot water for a soothing ginger tea. I love chopping fresh ginger into chicken soup! It is related to turmeric and often used together in recipes.
This is an herb most people are not familiar with. It is most known for aiding in digestion to help relieve flatulence and to stimulate digestion. It is high in antioxidants and Vitamin C, making it good for the immune system and to protect against free- radical damage. Fennel is commonly found as an ingredient to cough syrups.
You can buy the bulb and cut it up into salads or add it to soups and stews. The fennel seeds can be added to a variety of recipes or you chew them after a meal to aid in digestion. Making a fennel tea or infusion can also be an alternative to cough syrups. It has a mild licorice root taste.
NOTE: For therapeutic values of some of these herbs/spices, supplementation may be required since it is hard to consume the levels needed for maximum benefits. Additionally, some herbs should not be consumed during pregnancy. Be sure to check for contraindications before use of supplements.
Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Press Arts. 2003.