Herbs and plants have been used for the treatment of illnesses from as early as 3000 BC. Hippocrates, who is also known as the “Father of Medicine,” classified herbs according to their properties, moist and dry or hot and cold. He is also known to have developed a system of diagnosis and prognosis using herbs.
Herbal medicine is gaining popularity once again due to its clean ingredient profile and easy availability. Herbal skincare products are also making waves among young people for their amazing benefits for hair and skin without harmful side effects.
How can we use herbs to improve health?
Raw herbs are available to prepare herbal teas, while herbs such as neem and sandalwood have been used to create skincare products such as scrubs and face washes. Fragrant flowers such as lavender, jasmine, and rose are also being used to make scented candles, as they have stress-relief properties.
Herbs have also been used to enhance the flavor of many dishes in various cuisines across the globe. Italian and Mediterranean cuisine involves the use of herbs and plant-based oils to improve the taste and aroma of dishes, such as thyme, parsley, basil, sesame oil, and olive oil to name a few.
Now, more than ever, consumers have access to organic and herbal products available commercially. Quality apothecary herbs, which are affordable and in small quantities, are also available to purchase online.
We will now list which herbs have the most health benefits and how you can include them in your diet to improve your health.
Sage is a part of the family of herbs which includes thyme, rosemary, oregano, and basil. Sage contains potent natural antioxidants, such as vitamins K, A, C, and E. These antioxidants help to remove metabolic toxins from the body. A study also found that drinking sage tea two times a day also lowered LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.
Sage has also been found to lower blood sugar levels and improves brain function and memory. It can be used to enhance the aroma of dishes and also can be boiled with other herbs to make herbal tea.
Rosemary contains the active ingredient rosmarinic acid, which has been found to suppress allergic reactions and nasal congestion. If you frequently experience nasal congestion and seasonal allergies, then you may consider using a rosemary nasal inhaler.
Rosemary is also available as dried leaves to season your meals or as fresh leaves to garnish your dishes.
Widely available in South Asia and North Africa as a fresh vegetable or as a dried herb, fenugreek seeds are used in South Asian curries for their sharp aroma.
Fenugreek seeds are found to be high in soluble fiber, which slows down gastric emptying and keeps you full for a longer period. This will also slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, lowering blood glucose levels and helping treat patients with diabetes.
A study published in the Journal of Research in Ayurveda in 2017 reported that a simple addition of a very small quantity of fenugreek seeds reduced the fasting blood glucose levels of enrolled diabetic patients in the 5th month of the study. This proves that fenugreek seeds do have potent benefits which help diabetic patients, but it needs to be consumed regularly to produce their effects.
4. Cayenne Pepper
Native to South America, Cayenne peppers have been used to spice up dishes in cuisines around the world. Packed with vitamins A, C, K, and B6, a spoonful of cayenne pepper powder can provide you with 15% of your daily requirement of vitamin A.
The compound capsaicin present in cayenne peppers is found to lower blood sugar levels and helps in pain relief. This capsaicin is used in analgesic patches applied to athletes for instant relief from superficial injuries.
A study on chili pepper consumption and mortality in Italian adults was conducted in 2019. Including 22,811 adults, it concluded that regular consumption of chili pepper was associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease.
Used to garnish salads, pasta, and pizzas, basil is a member of the mint family. It has been gaining popularity among kitchen gardeners as it is very easy to grow in a small pot and use to your liking.
Packed with powerful antioxidants, the consumption of basil helps to remove metabolic waste products from the body. These can help prevent diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis as well as heart disease. Antioxidants also play a vital role in maintaining liver function and can prevent liver disease in the elderly.
A multi-centric study published in May 2022 reported that basil contains active compounds which can inhibit the spread of cancer cells in the body.
Also labeled the “Elixir of Life,” regular application of basil extract cleans skin impurities, unclogs pores, and prevents acne. Massaging basil oil in hair can also help in fighting dandruff.
Cinnamon is the second most popular spice in the United States and Europe, after black pepper. Native to South America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, cinnamon was found to be used in ancient Egyptian medicine to treat sore throat and cough.
Scientific research has shown that cinnamon mimics the effect of insulin in the bloodstream, helping to lower blood sugar levels. Drinking cinnamon tea after meals at night can help lower sugar levels in diabetic and healthy individuals.
A study also found conclusive evidence that intake of 1-6 grams of cinnamon per day reduces blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Another study proved the antimicrobial properties of cinnamon oil, which showed sensitivity in treating anti-fungal resistant Candida species.
The yellow root of a native South Asian plant, turmeric, has been used to add color and flavor to South Asian cuisine since its inception. It has also been used in Indian and ancient Chinese medicine due to its potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric contains the active compound curcumin, which has been studied extensively for its multiple health benefits. A comprehensive review published in Foods in October 2017 reported curcumin to have scientifically proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which helped in the management of a variety of illnesses such as ulcerative colitis, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemias.
Another study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry concluded that regular intake of turmeric improved memory and attention in non-dementia adults.
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates.
The above quotation by the father of medicine signifies the importance of a healthy diet to prevent diseases. Including herbs and herbal products in your meals can help you fight diseases that may become a burden for you as you age. A healthy diet packed with lean proteins and nutrient-rich herbs can prove to have long-term benefits for your health and fitness.