So you'd really like to begin using herbs to help improve your health, but, where do you start? There are SO many different herbs and so many different websites touting how this herb will cure this and that herb will cure that.
And then, there's the other websites which say very different things about the very same herbs!
How on earth do you know what is real, what is a marketing ploy, what to believe and what to dismiss?
Well, I thought it may be a good idea to give you a good, basic overview of some of the most common herbs and how they can easily be used to help keep you and your loved ones healthy. There is a TON of information out there, and each herb has a myriad of uses – so, we're just going to concentrate on the basics of herbal medicine in this article.
If you would like to delve more deeply into what various herbs are good to treat, please see our Healing with Herbs section of our site. It has quite a few very comprehensive and well-researched articles on more specific herbal medicine. If you're ready to learn more about how to prepare herbs for medicinal use or how to grow, collect, dry and preserve them, then please browse our Herbal Reference section.
Ok, now, let's get to it, shall we?
Herbs are used commonly in cooking in almost all cultures. Until globalization and cross-cultural cuisine experiences took herbs across the world, the herbs used in a specific area were generally confined to the ones grown in the area.
Herbs in Ancient Times
Herbs have had interesting roles to play in human lives for many years. They have had a role in romances, politics, religion, superstition and health. Anyone who has read Asterix comics will know that ancient Romans created crowns of dill and laurel. These were also used to purify air during banquets and gatherings.
Given the medicinal value that many herbs possess, they were also considered to be magical in nature. Artemisia was thought to be magical by the Chinese. In France it was used as a potent cure against colds. Parsley was used in ancient Greece for stomach ailments and rosemary was a common cure for headaches. Mint leaves were used by Greek athletes for bruises. It was also used as a cleansing agent for water
Growing your own herbs is not a trend that is recent. While it may have become more common these days, ancient homes are known to have herb gardens to be used for cooking and medicinal purposes.
Types of Herbs
The total number of herbs available to us today is debatable. E & A Evetts Ashfields Herb Nursery of Shropshire, England states that there are 57 herbs, 17 onion-type herbs, 16 types of mint, 20 types of sage and 17 types of thyme available. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Herbs indicates that there are 73 different kinds of herbs and lists each one of them.
There are four main types of herbs that are available. However, one herb may fall into multiple categories since it may possess multiple characteristics.
The four main types are:
- Culinary herbs – These are herbs that are used in cooking to season and add flavor to food. Some of the culinary herbs that you may be aware of include parsley, thyme, chives and oregano.
- Aromatic herbs – Some herbs have a very pleasant fragrance. This fragrance may or may not lend itself to food. These herbs can therefore be used in cooking or for making perfumes for different products (wipes, toilet paper, aromatic paper and the like).
- Ornamental herbs – Many herbs have brightly colored blossoms. The crimson blossoms of valerian and the blue colored flowers of chicory and borage make for great decorations.
- Medicinal herbs – herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for many years. These healing properties have been documented in some old scriptures too.
The Basic Herbs for Better Health
Given the knowledge that we now have about the side effects of various drugs, many of us have realized that it is best to use natural remedies to prevent and even cure some of the medical conditions that we face in our daily lives. It is understandable that we may have to resort to chemicals during emergencies or certain infections and illnesses, but for most common ailments herbs can do a good job in helping us to get and remain healthy.
Here are some herbs that have great medicinal properties and the ways you can use them.
Known to help in preserving memory, sage is a good herb to have if you have a history of Alzheimer’s in your family. It prevents an enzyme from destroying acetylcholine, something that is essential for memory and retention. It also helps in providing pain relief to an irritated throat. Herbalists today recommend sipping sage tea to help ease an upset stomach. Sage goes well with parsley, rosemary, thyme and walnuts.
A good herb to consume when you want to keep bad bacteria away, rosemary can help in increasing immunity. It has also been associated with better focus and attention. Studies have shown that rosemary mists allow students to remain more alert and focused during study hours. This herb was also used by ancient Greek scholars in the form of garlands.
Rosemary pairs well with onions, chile peppers, garlic and citrus juices. It is often added to meats as a marinade. Scientists have found that it prevents the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogenic compound that forms when meats are grilled or fried.
While there is no absolute and undeniable proof of the claim, parsley is said to have cancer-fighting properties. This was by scientists of the University of Missouri where they found this herb was beneficial in inhibiting breast cancer cell growth. Herbalists also believe it helps in passing stones, reduces risk of cholesterol build-up and combats deafness.
Most of us ignore the parsley on the side of the dish and some of us even remove it from sauce when eating. Remember these benefits the next time you start to do so. Combine this herb with mint, lemon zest, fish, beef or capers.
The use of oregano in our diet has increased ever since Italian cuisine became popular and for good reason. A teaspoon of oregano contains 6 micro grams of vitamin K that helps make bones stronger. It has also contains phytochemicals called carvacrol and thymol that helps in prevention of stomach flu by fighting off E. Coli, salmonella and listeria bacteria.
Adding oregano to your food is easy. You can sprinkle oodles of it on your pizza or pasta or add it to your soup to give it that extra flavor.
Thyme has antibacterial and antiseptic properties and is also known to suppress inflammation. Studies have shown that thyme reduces COX2 levels by 75 percent. It removes bacteria in less than 60 minutes and prevents staphylococcus aureus, bacteria that is immune to most antibiotics.
Thyme can be used in salads, soups and cooked vegetables. It can be sprinkled on to scrambled eggs or added in a stuffed omelet.
Volatile oils that contain estragole, linalool, myrcene, cineole, eugenol, limonene and sabinene provide this herb the anti-bacterial properties it is known for. It also has anti-inflammatory properties like thyme. High in vitamin A, basil helps in preventing the buildup of cholesterol in the blood too. You can also also look more beautiful by consuming basil since it helps in reducing acne, dry skin and psoriasis.
While adding basil to food, remember that it is best to do so at the end since the volatile oils may escape and you may lose a significant amount of nutrition that you could otherwise have gotten. Add this to your pesto, make a salad sauce out of tomato and mozzarella cheese or simple add a few leaves to your tea.
An herb used predomoninately in Asia, coriander is known to reduce high cholesterol levels in the blood. Not only does this wonder herb prevent cholesterol from forming, it actually dissolves it to help prevent arteriosclerosis and other heart diseases.
It is also known to be great for skin inflammations and disorders like eczema, fungal infections and psoriasis. Cineole, Limonene, Borneol, Alpha-pinene and beta-phelandrene in this herb prevent diarrhea and stomach infections. The high content ensures that hemoglobin remains at healthy levels and protects against anemia.
If you want to start using coriander, you can pluck leaves and add to salads. It is also a great herb to add to curries.
Mint is one of the main ingredients in Ayurvedic medicines created for an upset stomach. It is a great herb to use if you are inclined to irritable bowel syndrome. Mint also helps in reducing headaches and is often suggested to those who suffer from migraines.
Other benefits of mint include relief from congestion and protection against cancer. You can simply add a few mint leaves to water or add them to a cup of tea in order to take advantage of its benefits.
Dill helps in cancer prevention and also protects the stomach lining from inflammation. It has anti-bacterial properties and therefore creates a great internal healing force. The sweet taste of dill makes it easy to use in cooking.
Aloe Vera has become extremely popular in the market today. It is known to contain more than 200 components like amino acids, minerals, enzymes and fatty acids. Aloe helps the body to adapt in order to fight back against the changing environment and new strains of viruses and bacteria. It helps in digestion by keeping us away from diarrhea, constipation and related ailments.
It is a great detox agent and alkalizes the body to help keep the right pH balance. No one really needs to be told that Aloe Vera has many properties that make it good for the skin. It is an antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-fungal too. Aloe Vera can be consumed in the form of a juice. The sap from the thick leaves can also be applied directly to skin, burns and wounds.
Green tea is known to have varied health benefits. The properties range from aiding in weight loss to fighting against certain cancers. Also included are properties that help soothe the gastrointestinal lining, lower cholesterol levels and also aid in better mental alertness.
Quick checklist for top herbs and what ailments/conditions they are effective for:
|Sage||Helps prevent Alzheimer’s, soothes throat pain, relieves upset stomach|
|Rosemary||Increases immunity, enhances mental focus, kills bacteria in food|
|Parsley||Has cancer fighting abilities, helps in passing kidney stones, reduces cholesterol|
|Oregano||Makes bones stronger, prevents stomach flu|
|Thyme||Suppresses inflammation, kills bacteria in food and stomach|
|Turmeric||Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and other chronic illnesses, helps stomach aches, excessive gas, diarrhea, nausea and bloating, helps treat the common cold, bronchitis and chest infections, inhibits the growth of a skin cancer, melanoma and also slows the spread of breast cancer into the lungs, pretreatment with curcumin makes cancer cells more vulnerable to chemo and radiotherapy|
|Basil||Helps prevent cholesterol build up, relieves skin conditions|
|Coriander||Reduces cholesterol levels, cures skin conditions, prevents anemia|
|Mint||Helps prevent and treat irritable bowel syndrome, relieves congestion|
|Dill||Prevents certain kinds of cancers, reduces internal inflammation|
|Aloe Vera||Relieves stomach ailments, maintains pH balance, detoxifies, kills bacteria, virus, microbes and fungi|
|Green tea||Helps in weight loss, prevents certain cancers, increases mental alertness|
|Ashwagandha||Reduces inflammation, relaxes body, strengthens immune system, reduces blood pressure|
|Astragalus||Provides relief from common cold symptoms and allergies|
|Calendula||Eases upset stomach, great for external bruises|
|Cinnamon||Helps regulate blood sugar, reduces arthritis pain, helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), anti-infection properties, effective against ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria and other pathogens, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, may reduce proliferation of cancer cells, natural food preservative, effective for menstrual pain and infertility, reduces chronic inflammation linked with many neurological disorders including Parkinson's, meningitis and Alzheimer's|
|Dandelion||Works as a kidney and liver tonic|
|Lavender||Calms nerves, reduces anxiety, prevents bloating, treats burns|
|Peppermint||Soothes intestinal lining and itchy eyes, calms nausea|
|Neem||Helps prevent fungal infection, cleanses blood, helps prevent hair graying, fights gingivitis and other skin disorders|
|Chives||Good for digestive health|
|Acai||Helps prevent certain cancers, helps in weight loss, detoxifies|
|Cat’s Claw||Improves immunity, detoxifies, relieves chronic pains like gout and arthritis|
|Ginger||Appetite booster, aids absorption and assimilation of essential nutrients, nausea, reduces flatulence (gas), stomach cramping, joint pain, anti-inflammatory, helps clear throat/nose congestion|
|Chamomile||Relaxes body, reduces anxiety, helps with menstrual cramps|
|Hawthorn||Reduces hypertension, helps prevent certain cancers|
|Cumin||Excellent source of iron, helps strengthen immune system, helps digestion through stimulation of pancreatic enzymes, anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties, potent free-radical scavenger, enhances detoxification enzymes in liver|
|Marjoram||Increases digestive enzymes, calms stomach/digestive system, improves appetite, relieves nausea, eliminates flatulence (gas), helps prevent/cure intestinal infections, soothes painful stomach cramps, relieves diarrhea and constipation|
|Cilantro||Good source of fiber, helps protect against salmonell, rich in magnesium and iron, anti-inflammatory, helps lower blood sugar, helps prevent nausea and reduce gas, helps prevent urinary infections, helps lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and rais good cholesterol (HDL), reduces menstrual cramping and hormonal mood swings|
|Skullcap||Induces sleep, relaxes tense muscles and nervous system|
Growing Your Own Herbs – Where to Start
If you have decided to grow your own herbs, you will need to first think of the herbs that you want to grow. You will also need to identify those you use in your daily cooking as well as those that you would like to use. Then give some thought to some that you might want to grow for specific health reasons.
Here are some tips for beginners:
– What to grow – Beginners in this area should try and grow herbs that are relatively hardy. Most herbs are not perennial or annual plants and live for only as much time as is required to grow, flower and produce seeds. Strong herbs like rosemary and sage, herbs with an accent like sweet basil, mint, thyme and dill and herbs for blending like chives and parsley can be a good start.
– Size of herb garden – Your herb garden should be in the Northwest corner of the house. A plot that is 12 inches by 8 inches should be left aside for herbs only. You can choose to plant the brightly colored ones on the border to give it some definition.
– Soil and water – Herbs do not grow too well in wet soil. Make sure that the patch of the garden you use for a herb garden is well drained. You will need to dig for about 18 inches and place a layer of crushed stone. When you replace the soil, make sure to add some compost.
– Sowing – Most herbs grow from seeds. Depending on the variety of herb you are sowing, you will need to decide the place. Mints need to be contained since they spread very quickly. It is a good idea to sow them in boxes in late winter and then transplant them into the garden in spring.
– Harvesting – Plucking the leaves for use should only be done once the plant has reached a threshold to be able to maintain growth.
You can use the leaves of fresh herbs in food or dry them for future use. You can also freeze herbs, but make sure you wash and boil them before packing them in the freezer.
Getting Started with Using Herbal Medicine
Even if you are a typical person with a the modern lifestyle of being overwhelmed with work, family and other responsibilities, you can start now using herbal medicine to help improve the health of yourself and your family. It doesn't take a lot of time, just some creativity!
Tips for Incorporating Herbal Medicine into Your Life
- Buy good, effective organic herbal teas to have on hand. The ones I swear by are Traditional Medicinals. They have a wide range of blended herbal teas for various conditions such as Throat Coat, Gypsy Cold Care (two of my favorites!), Nighty-Night, PMS Tea, Organic Pregnancy Tea, Heartburn Soother, Gas Relief and quite a few more. (They even have an awesome line of herbal teas for kids!) They are SOLID herbal teas. What I mean by that is that the herbs contained in the blends are based on established herbal medicinal properties and dosages. I love them and ALWAYS keep some at hand. Also, getting some single herb teas to have on hand such as peppermint, green tea, sage tea, etc., is a good idea.
- Utilize quality herbal supplements daily. The only place I trust for herbal, homeopathic and compound herbal/homeopathic remedies is Native Remedies. They're effective (I've used quite a few of their remedies for myself and my family), they use the whole herb and they are FDA registered. Oh, and they have a one-year money-back guarantee at Native Remedies also!
- Buy fresh herbs at the grocery store instead of the little spice jars that most of us seem to gravitate toward! Yes, I know the spice jars are convenient, and I have a cupboard full because there are times you just want to shake, spice and git'r done! However, most of us plan at least one meal a week – so for that meal (and any others you plan out), buy fresh herbs whenever you can. They are healthier and retain more of the herb's medicinal properties that those packaged in spice jars and preserved with chemicals!
- Buy organic dried herbs in bulk – this is one thing I do a LOT. I normally shop for my bulk/dried herbs at StarWest Botanicals. They are safer, fresher and don't have the preserving chemicals and artificial colors that ‘spice-jar' herbs from the store have.
- Add some chopped, fresh basil to your favorite pasta or pizza sauce – or even sprinkle a tad on fresh veggies (especially tomatoes!)
- Marinate chicken breasts in lemon juice, dried thyme and rosemary
- Sprinkle oatmeal with some mint or cinnamon for a fresh treat
- Add some fresh, minced thyme, oregano, basil or parsley to your favorite canned soup to add another depth of flavor
- Here's a great recipe on How to Make Herbal Popsicles
Basic Guide to using Herbs and Spices
|Basil||Italian foods (especially tomatoes, pasta, chicken, fish and shellfish)|
|Bay leaf||Bean or meat stews and soups|
|Caraway||Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and winter squash|
|Chervil||French cuisine, fish, shellfish, chicken, peas, green beans, tomatoes and salad greens|
|Chili powder||Bean or meat stews and soups|
|Chives||Sauces, soups, baked potatoes, salads, omelets, pasta, seafood and meat|
|Cilantro||Mexican, Latin American and Asian cuisine; Rice, beans, fish, shellfish, poultry, vegetables, salsas and salads|
|Cinnamon||Apples, berries, chicken, chocolate, coffee, custards, fruit, lamb, teas, oranges, pears, rice|
|Coriander||Curry, fish, ham, lamb, lentils, pork, stuffing, tomatoes, turkey|
|Cumin||Curried vegetables, poultry, fish and beans|
|Dill (fresh)||Seafood, chicken, yogurt, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and beets|
|Dill (seeds)||Rice and fish dishes|
Carrots, chicken, chocolate, fruit, ham, ice cream, melon, onions, pork, pumpkin, rice, tomatoes.
|Marjoram||Tomato-based dishes, fish, meat, poultry, eggs and vegetables|
|Oregano||Italian and Greek cuisine; Meat and poultry dishes|
|Paprika||Spanish dishes, potatoes, soups, stews, baked fish and salad dressings|
Chicken, eggplant, eggs, fish, game, lentils, mushrooms, mussels, pasta, peas, potatoes, poultry, rice, seafood, tomatoes, zucchini, lemon
|Rosemary||Mushrooms, roasted potatoes, stuffing, ripe melon, poultry and meats (especially grilled)|
|Sage||Poultry stuffing, chicken, duck, pork, eggplant, and bean stews and soups|
|Tarragon||Chicken, veal, fish, shellfish, eggs, salad dressings, tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots|
|Thyme||Fish, shellfish, poultry, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, and summer squash|
|Tumeric||Indian cuisine; Adds color and taste to potatoes and light-colored vegetables|
Organic Herbs, Oils and Natural Products for Healthy, Natural Living
Starwest Botanicals is who we trust as our on-line supply source for bulk herbs and natural products. Dried herbs, organic herbs, bulk spices, loose leaf organic teas, organic essential oils and aromatherapy supplies are part of the nearly 3000 natural products to choose from at Starwest Botanicals.
Great herbs, oils and other natural products – at great prices – from a name we here at NHH trust! Learn more about StarWest Botanicals!