Any chef worth his salt will tell you that most dishes can benefit from a dash of herbs. Whether its chopped parsley sprinkled on top of a plate of pasta or a sprig of rosemary stewed with meat and potatoes, herbs breathe new life into every kind of food. Their benefits extend far beyond the last bite of your meal. Many popular herbs are also brimming with health benefits. No wonder they’ve been used since ancient times for everything from sleep aids to fever reducers. We’ve listed the top 10 healthiest herbs and gone over why you should be eating them.
Basil- Pain Relief
Basil is a strong anti-inflammatory herb that can help with achy joints and even arthritis. Used medicinally for centuries, this herb is a staple in the healthy Mediterranean diet. Research conducted in the U.K. found that, when taken orally, concentrated extracts from two types of basil – Ocimum americanum and Ocimum tenuiflorum – reduced joint swelling by up to 73% within just 24 hours- as effective as many artificial drugs with side effects!
These two breeds of Basil are found growing in Southern Asia and India, and are often used in Ayurvedic medical treatment; the leaves are slightly smaller than that of the Sweet Basil found in the western hemisphere. Researchers note that while all basil contains the eugenol for pain relief, it is found in higher quantities in the Easter variety.
Mint- Soothes Stomach Aches
In this case, peppermint, and it’s healing menthol oil. Menthol is known to be a strong antispasmodic- it calms the constriction of the muscles, particularly those of the digestive system- and is often given to colonoscopy patients in order to stop the painful cramping. Menthol also encourages bile to be secreted by the liver and flow into the duodenum, promoting better digestion.
Oregano and Marjoram- Boosts Immune System
Oregano (and its cousing Marjoram) is a powerful herb, known for being an immune booster, antifungal, AND antibacterial. The active agent in oregano is rosmarinic acid, which is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown in studies to support immune system health. Oregano has one of the highest antioxidant activity ratings, with 42 times the antioxidant strength of apples! The other two powerful phytochemicals present in Oregano are carvacol and thymol, both potent antimicrobials.
Rosemary- Vision health
In a study published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Dr Stuart A. Lipton and his colleagues found that a particular component of the herb rosemary, called carnosic acid, promotes eye health. It does so by boosting the production of antioxidant enzymes in cells, and lowering levels of free radicals.
Besides working to slow down and treat macular degeneration, carnosic acid from rosemary also has the potential for use in the treatment of some forms of dementia as well.
Parsley- Strengthens Heart Health
A little garnish of parsley every day can go a long way in protecting your body from cardiovascular issues like strokes, atherosclerosis, and coronary attacks! Parsley is so heart-healthy because it generates the important B vitamin of folic acid. This acid can help you to reduce homocysteine, which although naturally occurring in the body, can damage blood vessels when found in high levels.
Luckily, the folate (or folacin) seen in parsley helps convert homocysteine into harmless molecules- reducing the risk of coronary issues. BONUS: the high levels of chlorophyll found in this herb also reduce halitosis- so next time you’re suffering from bad breath, grab a spoonful of raw Parsley and chew on it!
Dill- Reduce gas, cure hiccups and help with insomnia
Anyone who has ever had the hiccups knows how distracting and uncomfortable they can be. Worry not, dill can help! Hiccups are usually caused by trapped gas or allergies- and dill can help with both due to it’s carminative and sedative properties. As a carminative, dill forces trapped gas down through the digestive tract, and allows it to leave the body in a safe way.
The vitamin-B complex and flavonoids present in the essential oil of Dill activates the secretion of certain enzymes and hormones which have calming and hypnotic effects on the brain and body, thereby helping people get a good night’s sleep. This calming sedative effect also helps alleviate hiccups caused by allergies, nervous disorders, or hyperactivity.
Sage- Reduce fever and may help Alzheimer’s
Common sage, Salvia officinalis has a peppery taste and has been used for centuries to flavor food. For centuries, Chinese medicine has been using a different species of sage, Salvia miltorrhiza, due to it’s healing and medicinal powers. Sage tea has been used to reduce fever and promote sweating.
In the first century C.E. Greek physician Dioscorides reported that the aqueous decoction of sage stopped bleeding of wounds and cleaned ulcers and sores. He also recommended sage juice in warm water for hoarseness and coughs.
Today, new research is emerging showing that sage can help with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting the loss of the acetylcholine messenger in the brain, which is often found in reduced quantities in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Researchers in Iran have shown that extracts of Salvia officinalis improve cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and may reduce agitation. Also, in 2003, researchers at Northumbria University in the U.K. found that healthy adults who had taken Spanish sage oil had a higher word recall than the other participants.
Thyme- Lung Health, cough, bronchitis
While thyme was never a major medicinal plant in Europe, oil of thyme and the dried herb have been found in official medical records since the sixteenth century in England, Germany, and France. Thyme oil has been shown to have antispasmodic, expectorant, and carminative properties and was traditionally applied to relieve the pain of dental caries. It has long been employed to help treat acute bronchitis, laryngitis, whooping cough, gastritis, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. When steeped in baths, it has been used to help relieve rheumatic pains and aid the healing of bruises and sprains.
Cilantro is more than just a flavorful addition to Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes! It has been shown in studies to be effective in toxic metal cleansing by having its chemical compounds bind to toxic metals and loosen them from body tissues. This is particularly effective when the herb is used in juicing, as certain other foods help the released toxins evacuate the body naturally. A 2005 clinical study conducted by The Optimal Wellness Test Research Center in Nevada demonstrated that heavy metal chelation using cilantro and chlorella can naturally remove an average of 87% of lead, 91% of mercury, and 74% of aluminum from the body within 42 days.
Lavender- Stress Relief, Reduced depression, Acne treatment
Lavender, native to the Mediterranean, has been used both internally and by olfaction, for centuries as a treatment for anxiety and depression, as well as for mood imbalances such as anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal distress. Scientific studies show that lavender reduces the severity of depression when taken concurrently with an antidepressant.
Scientific evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. Studies also suggest that massages with essential oils, particularly lavender, result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, better concentration, and reduced anxiety.
In one study, people who received a massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than those who received a simple massage without lavender oil. So stock up on lavender oil and diffuse it in your bedroom oasis for increased relaxation and a break from daily stress!