Adding fresh or dried herbs to your everyday meals is a really easy way to use food as preventative medicine.
I prefer to use fresh herbs when they are available. Herbs are very beneficial for health and not just because of the many vitamins and minerals they contain.
Herbs contain thousands of phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that form the complex flavours and colours found in the leaves, stems, bark, roots and flowers.
Herbs have many unique phytonutrients that you can't obtain from eating fruit and vegetables. When you eat herbs regularly, they can help to protect against illness and chronic disease. They can also be used in larger amounts to relieve acute problems such as stomach ache, sore throat and hot flushes.
In my clinic I find myself recommending the same 5 herbs again and again. To pack a medicinal punch, eat these herbs regularly, not just once a week, but everyday if possible.
While I always believe that variety is the best way to obtain a range of health benefits, these are my top 5 recommended herbs:
I keep parsley on my kitchen windowsill so that I can add it to most meals.
Parsley is rich in iron. Many menstruating women are low in iron and can benefit from eating parsley daily. Parsley is one of a few iron rich foods I recommend as part of a balanced diet.
Parsley is also a source of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens can help to ease some of the symptoms women experience during peri-menopause and menopause. I usually recommend that phytoestrogen foods are eaten at every meal.
Parsley contains many vitamins and other minerals, antioxidants, beta-carotene and chlorophyll which is why it makes it to the top of my top 5.
The flavour of parsley combines well with almost anything and compliments fish, beans, eggs, lentils, meats and other vegetables. I always add parsley to a dish 5 minutes before serving it.
Easy ways to add parsley to meals: tabbouleh, pesto, chimichurri sauce, or finely chopped to most savoury meals and sandwiches.
Sage is one of my favourite herbs for menopause.
Sage contains phytoestrogens and can reduce menopause symptoms if consumed regularly. It is also a herb that can reduce sweating, so it is doubly beneficial for the treatment of sweaty hot flushes and night sweats.
I usually recommend that fresh sage leaves are made into a tea and then sipped throughout the day to assist with hot flushes. Sage tea can also lift your mood, freshen your memory, and sharpen the senses.
The antimicrobial action of sage tea is beneficial when you have a sore throat. You can sip on the tea, or use it as a gargle. I like to combine it with other antimicrobials such as lemon and thyme.
Sage can also support digestive function and has been used traditionally to help the breakdown of fat in a meal and bring relief from gas. It is suited to slow cooking with meats, sausages and beans.
The flavour of sage combines well with onion, tomato, apple, bacon, butter (burnt butter sage), egg, pork, chicken.
Most people think of cinnamon as a spice, but herbalists also classify it as a medicinal herb due to it's health benefits. Cinnamon contains potent antioxidants which fight against oxidative stress.
I recommend cinnamon due to it's ability to help with blood sugar regulation. Clients with polycystic ovarian syndrome, acne, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes can all benefit from daily ingestion of cinnamon.
People with metabolic syndrome can benefit from adding cinnamon to meals because it improves both cholesterol and fasting glucose levels.
Cinnamon can be bought as bark or you can buy it ground. I use both.
Easy ways to add cinnamon to your meals: add to stewed apple, poached pear, porridge, muesli, chia seed pudding, banana cake, teas and smoothies.
Cinnamon is also excellent in savoury dishes: think beef, lamb and pork curries. It's also delicious with walnuts, almonds, coffee, and chocolate.
Rosemary is the herb for longevity. It contains a combination of powerful antioxidants making it one of the best antioxidant foods you can eat.
Rosemary benefits blood circulation, blood sugar metabolism and is know as a herb to support the heart and liver.
Rosemary is good for the memory, partly via the circulation of oxygen to the brain. It is believed that regular consumption of rosemary may be beneficial for the prevention of dementia and Alzheimers Disease.
Luckily, rosemary combines well with a huge number of meats, fruits and vegetables. Rosemary is delicious with all roast meats. It also combines with lemon, orange, apricots, rhubarb and chocolate.
Rosemary is great with onions, garlic, olives, peas and roast potato. My favourite combination is rosemary with sautéed mushrooms.
A herbal tea made from rosemary is uplifting and can relieve a tension headache.
Thyme is a herb that is very useful in the winter for prevention and treatment of coughs and colds. Thyme is antimicrobial and fights against bacteria causing cold symptoms.
For someone with a cough, cold, sore throat, tonsilitis or laryngitis, a warm herbal tea made from fresh or dried thyme can be sipped slowly. I would also add honey and lemon to this tea for an extra medicinal punch.
For bad breath or gum disease, an infusion of thyme can be used as a mouth wash to kill the bacteria present.
In the kitchen, thyme is a very versatile herb. It can be cooked with all meat, fish and seafood. Thyme goes well with onion, garlic, lemon, olives, mushrooms, cheese and tomato.
For a surprise flavour, try thyme with chocolate, custard and ice cream.
Grow your own herbs.
With the exception of cinnamon, all these herbs are easy to grow at home in your own garden or in pots on the balcony. These plants will do reasonably well indoors on a sunny windowsill but will need to be replaced regularly.
Teaching people about the medicinal benefits of herbs is a passion of mine. If you would like to work with me to understand the herbs that most benefit your health condition, please contact me.
I am a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and certified wellness coach with clinics in Gladesville and Surry Hills, Sydney.
This blog contains information from my Bachelor of Health Science degree, continuing research, and from experience gained from working with men and women in my clinic.
The blog is not intended as individual health advice and you should seek assistance for medical conditions. Herbs do not replace medications prescribed by your doctor.