Using a variety of herbs in your diet will not only please your taste buds, it will do wonders for your health and well-being.
Fresh herbs not only add flavor without calories, they may also serve up health benefits as healing foods. “Herbal medicine has been used as kitchen medicine for thousands of years, and while our body’s response to these natural treatments has not changed, we now have more global choices than ever,” says Steven Chasens, an herbalist and acupuncture physician at Coral Gables Acupuncture in Florida.
“There is no substitute for competent medical care and routine checkups. However, to avoid disease and live strong, a good diet and sensible eating is critical.” A basic knowledge of how food and herbs can help what ails you is key to your sensible eating plan, Chasens explains. Here are 10 healing herbs to add to your recipe rotation.
Rosemary for Heart Health
Rosemary is an herb that may help prevent damage to blood vessels and aid with cardiovascular health, says Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, New York City-based author of The O2 Diet. The healing herb may also help with indigestion and memory function and reduce muscle and joint pain when applied topically. Rosemary’s active ingredient, carnosic acid or carnosol, might also prevent the spread of cancer, a study published in the journal Cancer Treatment Reviews found. A very strongly flavored herb, rosemary goes great with hearty foods, such as meat and potatoes. Butterflied rosemary chicken with pan juices is a tasty recipe to help add rosemary to your diet.
Parsley for Hypertension
Parsley is high in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and the chemical apigenin, which may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells several studies have found. It also has been shown to have heart-healthy effects, reducing high blood pressure. A quick way to put this healing herb in your diet is as a chopped garnish, but it can also play a starring role and add great flavor to dishes like this recipe for chicken creole, which cooks up in just minutes.
Ginger for Gastrointestinal Health
Ginger appears to be effective for treating gastrointestinal disturbances, especially in relieving diarrhea or nausea caused by morning sickness during pregnancy and nausea and vomiting after surgery or after cancer patients’ chemotherapy treatment. A powerful anti-inflammatory, ginger has also been shown to reduce joint pain. In foods, ginger doesn’t have to be reserved for sushi — consider adding this healing food to your dessert, such as this recipe for berry ginger shortcakes.
Cinnamon for Stable Blood Sugar
Cinnamon twig appears to have some antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. This healing food may also help treat gastrointestinal disturbances, including diarrhea and indigestion. Cinnamon seems to have antioxidant effects as well.
Glassman says that cinnamon is excellent for controlling blood sugar levels and has been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Jazzing up carrots is as simple as adding cinnamon, like with this apple-glazed baby carrots recipe.
Garlic for Cancer Protection
Garlic is most well-known for the healing herb’s potential anti-cancer effects, Glassman says, as well as its ability to slow other diseases, including hypertension and even the common cold. One of the most commonplace healing herbs, garlic is a great flavor enhancer in stews and soups, such as this quick-and-easy Asian pork soup.
Stinging Nettle for Joint Pain
Stinging nettle, also known simply as nettle, appears to be effective in reducing the inflammation associated with arthritis. According to Susun Weed, an herbalist with the Wise Woman Center in Woodstock, N. Y., stinging nettle is great for controlling dandruff, making hair glossy, and improving overall hair health. It may also be effective in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that involves enlargement of the prostate. Weed suggests infusing stinging nettle in tea, but this healing food may also be used in soup, pesto, or this creamy polenta recipe.
Chives for Cancer Protection
That tasty green garnish on your baked potato is rich in vitamins A and C, known for their antioxidant effects. The healing herb has also been shown to reduce the risk for gastric cancer. Sprinkling chives on salads and pasta is great, but cooking with chives is equally as delicious. Check out this recipe for blue cheese and chive potato salad to add more of it to your diet.
Coriander for Bad Cholesterol
“Coriander may aid in lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ cholesterol,” Glassman says. “It can also help lower blood sugar levels as well.” This healing food also appears to have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Coriander is a staple in many cuisines, from Indian to Thai. For a light dinner or lunch option, add this healing herb to roasted vegetables or a nourishing stew.
Bay Leaves for Sinus Relief
There’s a reason why bay leaves are in so many cold-soothing stews. “Bay leaves contain an oil with the active ingredient cineole, which eases discomfort caused by sinusitis,” says Rovenia Brock, PhD, a nutrition expert and author. “Studies show that inhaling the essential oil can reduce inflammation and fluid buildup in the sinuses.”
In addition, bay leaves may play a role in preventing heart disease, treating arthritis, and supporting the immune system. Bay leaves are a great type of herb for adding flavor to stews, soups, and sauces. Using bay leaves in a basic pot roast recipe spices up the dish. Just remember to remove them before serving; they generally should not be eaten whole.
Dandelion for Digestion
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, dandelion is considered a natural mild diuretic, which could make the herb helpful in treating poor digestion, liver disorders, and high blood pressure. Dandelion root may also improve gastrointestinal disturbances as well as liver and gall bladder function. “You can use any part of the dandelion — leaves, flowers, roots, even stalks — as medicine,” says Weed. “You can pick it at any time you wish. And you can prepare it as a tea, an infusion, a food, a vinegar, a tincture, or a honey.”
With the wide variety of types of herbs, options for adding healing foods to your meals are abundant. “Herbal medicine is people’s medicine,” Weed says. “It is easy, accessible, and generally safe. We know that drugs can damage our health, so instead reach for a nourishing or aromatic healing herb to help you maintain or regain health.”